Two groups of preschoolers and one group of young grade-schoolers were tested for their comprehension of presuppositions and negation in complex syntax. Four types of sentences were presented to each child: affirmative and negative versions of sentences with factive main predicates, which presuppose the truth of the proposition of the complement clause, and non-factive main predicates, which do not. A forced-choice design was used: the children chose the agent subject mentioned in the complement clause, thus affirming the complement; or the unmentioned agent, thus denying the complement. Five factive predicates and five non-factive predicates were used so as to permit a comparison within each group. Competence increased into the early school years: the oldest group of participants showed a fair mastery of the syntax-semantics of the predicates of the study. The younger children showed errors of two different kinds, described as the Overextended Negation Tendency and the Overextended Affirmation Tendency. Both of these errors decreased markedly in the oldest group. The non-unitary nature of the acquired competence is discussed. In particular, it is pointed out that (1) factivity is not a grammatically marked operation and as such leads to what appears to be a gradual acquisition pattern; (2) the test of factivity comprehension employed here demanded a competence beyond that of normal use.
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[•] We are particularly grateful to Carl Johnson for his many contributions in the for-mulation of this research. The authors thank Mary Wojda and the staff of excellent teachers at the Lake Harriet Nursery School for their uncompromising assistance, advice and friendship. The statistical tests were conceived and executed with the help of Steve Froman and P. Terrence Hopmann. This assistance and their supportive friendship are gratefully acknowledged. This research was supported in part by National Institute of Mental Health predoctoral traineeship no. 2 Toi MH06668 held by the first author and in part by University of Minnesota Graduate School grant no. 450-0350-4909-02 and NICHD no. 01136 held and co-held, respectively, by the second author. Address for correspondence: M. R. Hopmann, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455.