Climbing the highest mountain: Children's knowledge of absolute and relative readings of superlatives
Lyn Tieu, Zheng Shen
June 2021

Sentences containing superlative expressions, such as “Donkey climbed the tallest tree”, are ambiguous between an absolute interpretation and a relative interpretation (Szabolcsi 1986; Heim 1999). The two readings differ in their comparison sets, i.e. which set of individuals are to be compared against each other. Corpus studies reveal that child and caregiver productions of superlatives involve the absolute interpretation (Tieu & Shen 2015). In line with this finding, previous experimental data suggest that children have difficulty accessing relative readings, instead preferring absolute readings (Arii 2011). We present two experiments revealing that when the relevant comparison sets for the two interpretations are made salient, children as young as 3 years of age can access both absolute and relative interpretations of superlatives.
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Reference: lingbuzz/005499
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keywords: superlatives, ambiguity, absolute reading, relative reading, comparative reading, degree construction, semantics, syntax
previous versions: v1 [October 2020]
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