The acquisition of epistemic modality

Papafragou, A., & Ozturk, O. (2006). The acquisition of epistemic modality. In A. Botinis (Ed.), Proceedings of ITRW on Experimental Linguistics in ExLing-2006 (pp. 201-204). ISCA Archive.
In this paper we try to contribute to the body of knowledge about the acquisition of English epistemic modal verbs (e.g. Mary may/has to be at school). Semantically, these verbs encode possibility or necessity with respect to available evidence. Pragmatically, the use of epistemic modals often gives rise to scalar conversational inferences (Mary may be at school -> Mary doesn’t have to be at school). The acquisition of epistemic modals is challenging for children on both these levels. In this paper, we present findings from two studies which were conducted with 5-year-old children and adults. Our findings, unlike previous work, show that 5-yr-olds have mastered epistemic modal semantics, including the notions of necessity and possibility. However, they are still in the process of acquiring epistemic modal pragmatics.
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