British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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Volume 2 Issue 2 (June 1984), Pages 95-190

Less obscure? Pragmatics and 3–4‐year‐old children's semantics (pages 95-103)

Young children's understanding of the terms more and less is considered. In a context where a response bias operates in favour of appropriate responses to more, 3–4‐year‐old children respond to less as they do to more, apparently indicating assimilation of meaning. However, in a context where there is an absence of any response bias, children respond to less at random. Further, young children can respond appropriately to an alternative expression for the concept of lesser amount, doesn't have many. These results suggest that young children's observed difficulties with the term less do not arise from assimilating the meaning of less to that of more. Rather, difficulties with less stem from young children's failure to understand the meaning of that particular term, responses to instructions containing less being determined by pragmatic rather than semantic factors. When the context exhibits a response bias, children's responses to less are in accord with it. When there is no response bias, children guess and respond to less at random.

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