[PS-2.74] The encoding of uncountability. A study in language acquisition

Zanini, C. 1 , Benavides-Varela, S. 2 , Lorusso, R. 1 & Franzon, F. 1, 3

1 Department of Neuroscience, University of Padova
2 Department of Developmental Psychology and Socialization, University of Padova
3 Department of Linguistic and Literature Studies, University of Padova

Children show a bias for the count interpretation during language acquisition: they prefer the count morphosyntax over the mass morphosyntax and assume a new word to refer to a whole-object, not to the substance of the object. Is the mass interpretation disfavored only for linguistic reasons?
In this study, 58 preschool children (age range: 62-76 months) were asked to judge 80 sentences in which the same nouns occurred both in count and in mass morphosyntactic contexts. Nouns were: mass (sand), count (ring), and neutral (nouns that appear in mass and count contexts with similar frequency, e.g. pizza). Differently from previous studies, items were selected after a corpus study of Italian (the language of the participants) and a subjective frequency rating. Acquisition of the nouns was assured.
Results were in line with previous studies: children were more accurate with count nouns (80.0%) than with mass nouns (51.2%); and neutral nouns were mostly rejected in mass context. Additional analyses showed that children?s performance with mass -but not count- morphosyntax positively correlated with their performance in the Logical Operations and Conservation test on abstraction abilities. These results suggest that the processing of uncountability relates with extra-linguistic cognitive abilities.