Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 53–90 | Cite as

Investigating the form-meaning mapping in the acquisition of English and Japanese measure phrase comparatives

  • Tomoe Arii
  • Kristen Syrett
  • Takuya Goro


We present a set of experiments investigating how English- and Japanese-speaking children interpret Measure Phrase comparatives (e.g., X is 10 meters taller than Y / X-wa Y-yori 10-meters takai). We show that despite overt cues to the comparative interpretation (i.e., the comparative -er morpheme in English, and explicit linguistic and visual reference to a contextual standard), children representing both languages diverge from their adult counterparts in that they access a non-adult-like ‘absolute measurement’ interpretation (i.e., X is 10 meters tall). We propose to account for their response pattern by appealing to proposals by Svenonius and Kennedy (in Frascarelli, ed., Phases of interpretation, Mouton de Gruyter, 2006) and Sawada and Grano (Nat Lang Semant 19:191−226, 2011) that Meas in the head of the DegP, which houses the differential, selects for an absolute minimal value: zero. We argue that young children appeal to this absolute zero minimum in lieu of the correct derived standard, and must learn to override this value by appealing to the context to set the standard of comparison when interpretation requires them to do so.


Language acquisition Measure phrases Differentials Comparative constructions English Japanese 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishUniversity of TokyoTokyoJapan
  2. 2.Department of Linguistics at RutgersThe State University of New Jersey-New BrunswickNew BrunswickUSA
  3. 3.English Language, Culture & Literature Department at Tsuda CollegeTokyoJapan

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