What Does ‘every’ Mean to Young ESL Learners?

Lina Mukhopadhyay, Prodipta Bhattacharjee


Investigation of sentences that have multiple quantifications like the ones with a combination of a universal quantifier every preceding an existential quantifier a/an (e.g., Every boy is on a tractor) have led to qualitatively different conclusions about children’s linguistic knowledge. This study with young Indian ESL learners was undertaken to understand their knowledge on one universal quantifier every in combination with the existential quantifier ‘a/an’ in sentential context. A picture-based truth-value judgment task was used to ascertain knowledge of abstract generalizations quantifying expressions hold over objects and the properties they refer to (Chierchia & Ginet, 2000). Picture cues were constructed to make the task felicitous and fulfill ‘Condition of Plausible Dissent’ (Crain et al. 1996)1. The findings suggest that children’s knowledge of every runs deep and shows the positive impact of task conditions on generating almost adult-like interpretations. In other words, the findings reveal that even at early stages of second language acquisition, as long as the sentences are presented in felicitous contexts with picture support, children’s interpretation of multiple quantifications appears to be UG governed. A pedagogical implication of this study would be that if young ESL/EFL learners show knowledge of interpretation of quantifiers in English, then their ability to mathematize or compute numerical figures would be easy to achieve in word problems. Therefore, if teachers use contextually rich tasks to help learners notice and arrive at multiple interpretations of quantifiers as presented through different syntactic combinations, then the learnability issue of multiple interpretations of quantifiers would be well addressed.


second language acquisition, universal quantification, task felicity, condition of plausible dissent, scope, ambiguity, Universal Grammar

Full Text:



Balusu, R. (2010). Children’s command of quantification: Some investigations in Dravidian. EFL Journal. 1(2), 61-76.

Bley-Vroman, R. (1989). What is the logical problem of foreign language learning?. In S Gass, S., & Schachter, J. (1989). (eds.) Linguistic Perspectives on Second Language Acquisition. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Brooks, P, & Braine, M. (1996). What do children know about the universal quantifiers all and each?. Cognition, 60, 235–268.

Brown, R. (1973). A first language: the early stages. Penguin.

Chierchia, G, & Ginet, S. (2000). Quantification and Logical Form: Meaning and Grammar: An Introduction to Semantics. Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Chomsky, N. (1959). A review of B.F Skinner’s Verbal Behaviour. Language, 35(1), 26-58.

Clark, E.V. (2009). First Language Acquisition. New York. Cambridge University Press.

Crain, S, T, Rosalind, B, Carol, Conway, L, Lillo-Martin, D, & Woodams, E. (1996). Quantification without Qualification. Lagunage Acquisition. 5(2), 83–153.

Crain, S., Thornton, R. (1998). Universal Quantification. Investigations in Universal Grammar- A Guide to Experiments on the Acquisition of Syntax and Semantics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

DelliCarpini, M. (2003). Developmental stages in the semantic acquisition of quantification by adult L2 learners of English: A Pilot Study. Proceedings of 6th GASAL Conference, Somerville, MA: Cascadila Proceedings Project.

Gentner, D. (1982). Why Nouns are Learned Before Verbs: Linguistic Relativity versus Natural Partitioning. In S. A. Kuczaj (Ed.), Language development: Language, thought and culture. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Gil, D. (1995). Universal quantifiers and distributivity. In E. Bach, E. Jelinek, A. Kratzer & B. H. Partee (Eds.). Quantification in natural languages. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Gleitman, L. R., & Gleitman, H. (1992). A picture is worth a thousand words, but that’s the problem: The role of syntax in vocabulary acquisition. Current Directions in Psycho- logical Science, 1, 31–35.

Gleitman, L. R., Cassidy, K., Papafragou, A., Nappa, R., & Trueswell, J. T. (2005). Hard words. Journal of Language Learning and Development, 1, 23–64.

Goldin-Meadow, S., Seligman, M., & Gelman, R. (1976). Language in the two-year-old. Cognition, 4, 189–202.

Gordon, P. (1981). Syntactic acquisition of the count/ mass distinction. In Papers and reports on child language development. Department of linguistics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

Gualmini, A., Meroni, L., & Crain, S. (2003). An asymmetric universal in child language. In Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung (Vol. 7, pp. 136-148).

Haegeman, L. (2000). Introduction to Government and Binding Theory. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Inc.

Hollebrandse, B. (2006). Temporal Quantification in Child Language. Boston University Child Language Development Conference 31, 1-10.

Inhelder, B., & Piaget, J. (1964). The Early Growth of Logic in the Child: Classification and Seriation (E. A. Lunzer & D. Papert, Trans.). New York, Evanston: Harper & Row.

Jackendoff, R.S. (1968). Quantifiers in English. Foundations of Language. 4(4), 422-442.

Jensen, B., Notley, A., Crain, S. (2008). Universal quantification in children’s English.

Johnson, J., Newport, E. (1989). Critical period effects in second language learning: the influence of maturational state on the acquisition of ESL. Cognitive Psychology. 2, 60-99.

Katsos, N. et al. (2012). The acquisition of quantification across languages: some predictions. BUCLD 36 Proceedings: Cascadilla Press, 1-11.

Katsos, N., Bishop, Dorothy, V. M. (2011). Pragmatic tolerance: implications for the acquisition of informativeness and implicature. Cognition, 20, 67-81.

Lee, T. (2009). Quantification in Chinese: the perspective from child language. Paper presented at the Workshop on quantification and Number, Plurality, and Person in the Languages of Asia. July 5, 2009. CRLAO, EHESS, Paris.

Lidz, J. (2016). Quantification in Child Language. In (eds.) J, Lidz, W. Snyder, & J. Pater, The Oxford Handbook of Developmental Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lidz, Jeffrey, & Musolino, Julien. (2002). Children’s command of quantification. Cognition, 84, 113-154.

Musolino, J., Crain, S., & Thornton, R. (2000). Navigating negative quantificational space. Linguistics, 38(1), 1-32.

Philip, W. (1995). Event quantification in the acquisition of universal quantification. Doctoral dissertation. University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Amherst, MA.

Quine, W.V. (1969). Ontological relativity. Ontological relativity and other essays. Columbia University Press.

Schwartz, B.D., & Sprouse, R. A. (1994). L2 cognitive states and the Full Transfer/Full Access model. Second Language Research, 12 (1), 40-72.

Szabolcsi, A. (2010). Quantification. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Valian, V. (1986). Syntactic categories in the speech of young children. Developmental Psychology,22 (4), 562-79.

Vijaya. (2004). Early Vocabulary Acquisition in Children. Journal of English and Foreign Languages, 33, 20-26.

White, L. (1989). Universal Grammar and Second Language Acquisition. Philadelphia: J. Benjamins Publishing Company.

White, L. (2003). Second Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Xiangjun, D. (2010). Quantification in Early Child English. Term Project. Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages. The Chinese University of Hong Kong.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2020 Journal of Applied Linguistics and Language Research