Halberda, J., Taing, L. & Lidz, J. (2008). The development of “most” comprehension and its potential dependence on counting-ability in preschoolers. Language Learning and Development.
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Quantifiers are a test case for an interface between psychological questions, which attempt to specify the numerical content that supports the semantics of quantifiers, and linguistic questions, which uncover the range of possible quantifier meanings allowable within the constraints of the syntax. Here we explore the development of comprehension of most in English, of particular interest as it calls on precise numerical content that, in adults, requires an understanding of large exact numerosities (e.g. 23 blue dots and 17 yellow is an instance of “most of the dots are blue”). In a sample of 100 children 2 to 5 years of age we find that: 1) successful most comprehension in cases with two salient subsets is achieved at 3 years-7 months of age, and 2) most comprehension is independent of knowledge of large exact number words; i.e. knowledge of large exact number words is neither necessary, as evidenced by children who understand “most” but not “four”, nor sufficient, as evidenced by children who understand “nine” but not “most”.
Counting ability was measured for each child (e.g. a one-knower knows the meaning of “one” but no other numbers in their countlist). Second, ”most”-comprehension was measured for cases of two salient subsets over multiple trials that varied ratio. Children called out a color on each trial. Click play to view a trial.
Special thanks to Fred Heberle for help with 3D surface modeling