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Learning to suspend implicated contrast

Joris Wolterbeek, Lisa van Dijke, Lotte Hogeweg,

Abstract: Children acquire the meaning of ook ‘also’ in Dutch relatively late (Bergsma 2006), although this focus particle is highly frequent. We argue that this late acquisition is caused by a pragmatic rule: contrastive implicature. We follow Sæbø (2004), who argues that additives are used because without them, the sentences they appear in would be interpreted as contrastive in relation to the context. Data from a sentence completion task administered to Dutch L1 learners (N = 62, ages 4;0–5;11) show that, on average, four-year-olds do not distinguish sentences with ook from sentences without ook. Five-year-olds do better on sentences with ook but worse on sentences without it. We argue that they have generally acquired contrastive implicature: they apply the correct contrastive interpretation to sentences without ook, but overgeneralize this implicature to sentences with ook, before completely acquiring the meaning of ook.
Keywords: Children / late / ook / implicature / Dutch / olds / overgeneralize / distinguish / worse

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