Shadow playing with Romanian 5-year-olds. Epistemic adverbs are a kind of magic!

Adina Camelia Bleotu, Anton Benz, Nicole Gotzner


The current paper employs a novel Shadow Play Paradigm to investigate the semantic knowledge and pragmatic ability of Romanian 5-year-olds with respect to the epistemic adverbs poate 'maybe' and sigur 'certainly'. The paradigm is an improved version of the Hidden Object Paradigm, where, instead of merely looking at an inaccessible entity, participants can now infer the presence of the entity on the basis of evidence (a shadow, as well as a specific sound). We argue that Romanian children as young as 5 are able to derive implicatures with epistemic adverbs at an almost adult-like level. However, they exhibit the tendency to accept overly strong statements (i.e., statements where a certainty adverb is wrongly used instead of a possibility adverb) as optimal to a much higher degree than adults. This can be explained as a cognitive/communicative strategy to reduce multiple alternatives to a single one in cases of uncertainty.


Language acquisition; Romanian L1; scalar implicatures; modality; epistemic adverbs; premature closure hypothesis

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Copyright (c) 2021 Adina Camelia Bleotu, Anton Benz, Nicole Gotzner

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