Shifting Standards: Children's Understanding of Gradable Adjectives

Kristen Syrett, Evan Bradley, Christopher Kennedy, Jeffrey Lidz

Two studies demonstrate that children have knowledge of scalar distinctions between three sub-classes of gradable adjectives: relative (big, long), absolute with a maximal standard (full), and absolute with a minimal standard (spotted). Performance on these adjectives is compared with controls (shape, color, mood). Children appropriately shift the standard of comparison with context-dependent, relative gradable adjectives, and do not do so for the others. Reasons for non-adult-like performance with full are discussed. Evidence is presented that children know about the presuppositions of singular definite descriptions, suggesting that children as young as three have an accurate semantic representation of the.