An eye-tracking study examining the role of question-answer congruency in children’s comprehension of only: A preliminary report

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‘Crain’s puzzle’ is a term that has been used to describe children’s difficulty comprehending the focus operator only when it is in subject position (subject-only), showing a tendency to interpret only as if it preceded the verb phrase instead. While some researchers attribute children’s difficulty to impoverished pragmatics in the discourse (Hackl et al., 2015), others argue that children’s grammar fundamentally differs from adults’ Notley et al. (2009), yielding a debate regarding whether children’s misinterpretation reflects a non-adult-like linguistic representation of only or some computational burden on their processing of meaning. This study addresses this debate by using eye-tracking to examine whether pragmatic felicity guides children’s eye-movements to incorporate the necessary information during processing on par with adults. Following Hackl et al. (2015), we experimentally manipulated whether the prompt question preceding the target sentence is pragmatically congruent or incongruent in felicitously introducing the only-statement in terms of which element in the sentence is focused by only. Emerging findings reveal that pragmatic richness in the discourse affected processing in both adults and children in a condition that was logically false. Results thus far provide support for an account which posits an important role for pragmatics.

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Covey, Lauren, Caitlin E. Coughlin, and Utako Minai. “An Eye-Tracking Study Examining the Role of Question-Answer Congruency in Children’s Comprehension of Only: A Preliminary Report.” Working Paper. University of Kansas Department of Linguistics, 2018, p/ 1-20. . https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/handle/1808/26856.