Generics as default? Comparing the acquisition of universals and generics in Spanish

Elena Castroviejo, Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga, Marta Ponciano, Agustí­n Vicente


This paper reports an experiment that investigates interpretive distinctions
between two different expressions of generalization in Spanish. In particular, our aim
was to find out when the distinction between generic statements (GS) such as Tigers
have stripes and universal quantified statements (UQS) such as All tigers have stripes
was acquired in Spanish-speaking children of two different age groups (4/5-year-olds
and 8/9-year-olds), and then compare these results with adults. The starting point of
this research was the semantic distinction between GS and UQS in that the former
admits exceptions, unlike the latter. On the other hand, cognitive psychologists have
observed a Generic overgeneralization effect (GOG) consisting in allowing for UQS
to be felicitous in the face of exceptions, thus proposing that this “error” stems from
people misinterpreting UQS as GS and from GS being defaults (simpler, more easily
learned and processed) instead of involving quasi-universal quantification, which was
the learned view from semantics. In the current paper we aimed to test the “Generics as
Default” (GAD) hypothesis by comparing GS and UQS in three different age ranges.
Our data show that, overall, participants accept GS more often than they reject UQS.
Moreover, we also confirm a hypothesized interaction between age and NP type (GS
vs UQS). Further, we present several data points that are not predicted by the GAD,
including an observed decline in the accuracy of GS in the older group of children as
well as in adults with respect to younger children, and that children fail at rejecting
generics that adults reject.


genericity; quantification; generics as default; acquisition; Spanish

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Copyright (c) 2021 Elena Castroviejo, Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga, Marta Ponciano, Agustín Vicente

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