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Linguistic Inquiry

Summer 2009, Vol. 40, No. 3, Pages 446-486
(doi: 10.1162/ling.2009.40.3.446)
© 2009 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Equal Treatment for All Antecedents: How Children Succeed with Principle B
Article PDF (358.03 KB)

Children have repeatedly been found to exhibit Principle B violations, with some reports that these violations occur only with nonquantified antecedents. This quantificational asymmetry (QA) in the delay of Principle B effect (DPBE) has been taken as support for a theory that restricts the scope of binding theory to bound variable anaphora (Reinhart 1983). However, the QA has been challenged, on the basis of discrepant findings and methodological concerns (Elbourne 2005). Here, we resolve the status of the QA with 3 studies and a review of over 30 previous studies. Using improved experimental materials, we show that children disallow local pronoun binding with both referential and quantificational antecedents when Principle B is at issue (Experiment 1), but not when Principle B is neutralized (Experiment 2). When methodological flaws are reintroduced, we replicate the QA (Experiment 3). Drawing on evidence from adult language processing, we suggest that the role of Principle B as a filter on representations during sentence understanding, in concert with pragmatic infelicities in the tasks used, accounts for the wide variability in the DPBE in the literature.