On the acquisition of either and too

Naomi Francis, Shuli Jones, Leo Rosenstein, Martin Hackl


This paper presents an experimental investigation of how English-learning children acquire the additive discourse particles either and too. In the target grammar these items exhibit near-complementary distribution conditioned on the polarity of their host sentence. The path leading to that grammar appears to be rather intricate. We present comprehension data showing that for an extended period of time (3–5 ya) learners find both items acceptable in both polarity environments, exhibiting only a weak adult-like tendency of preferring either in negative and too in positive sentences. At 6 ya, their grammar appears categorical wrt. either in that they no longer tolerate it in positive sentences while still exhibiting only a weak dispreference for too in negative environments. These findings are even more striking in the context of production data. We find that child-directed speech is essentially categorical, providing unambiguous evidence for the adult grammar. Moreover, we find essentially categorical, adult-like use of either and too in child production from the earliest stage of development. These observations raise a number of challenges for theories of either and too and for approaches to learning focus particles more generally. Perhaps most strikingly, the protracted insensitivity of the learner's grammar to accumulation of unambiguous evidence constitutes a novel argument from the abundance of evidence for encapsulated learning.


additivity; focus particles; polarity sensitivity; L1 acquisition

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/elm.1.4889

Copyright (c) 2021 Naomi Francis, Shuli Jones, Leo Rosenstein, and Martin Hackl

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