"Most" is easy but "least" is hard: Novel determiner learning in 4-year-olds

Angela Xiaoxue He, Alexis Wellwood

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingConference proceedingpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Some linguistic features are more readily learned than others,and are thereby more likely to be maintained in diachronic language change, giving rise to typological universals. Less readily learned features may give rise to typological gaps. We consider an apparent typological gap—that a morphologically superlative determiner (e.g., gleebest in gleebest of the cows) with a negative meaning is cross-linguistically unattested—and ask whether it reflects an underlying learning bias. We find 4-year-olds know that such determiners indicate quantity (replicating Wellwood, Gagliardi, & Lidz, 2016), but only when positive (‘most’), but not negative (‘least’). Importantly, the observed bias is not specific to the apparent typologicalgap: same-age children showed difficulty learning the negative meaning of a non-superlative determiner, though such meanings are attested. The data thus suggest that children are generally biased against negativity, consistent with much prior work on conceptual bias and language learning/processing.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 44th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society
EditorsJ. Culbertson, A. Perfors, H. Rabagliati, V. Ramenzoni
PublishereScholarship University of California
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022
Event44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society - Toronto, Canada
Duration: 27 Jul 202230 Jul 2022
https://cognitivesciencesociety.org/cogsci-2022/ (Conference website)
https://escholarship.org/uc/cognitivesciencesociety (Conference proceedings)

Publication series

NameProceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society
ISSN (Print)1069-7977


Conference44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society
Internet address


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