Genericity and the interpretation of the copulas by Spanish-speaking children

Carolina Holtheuer Beausire, Karen Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In Spanish the copulas ser and estar correlate with generic and specific interpretations, respectively. Likewise, both adjective types (scalar vs. non-scalar) and animacy of the sentential subject have been found to impact generic vs. specific interpretations in speakers. The current study extends upon previous research by investigating the interplay between copula, adjective type, and animacy in children's ability to access the generic vs. specific readings of the two copulas. The results of two comprehension experiments indicate that children treat the two copulas differently, associating ser + adjective constructions to generic interpretations significantly more often than they do for estar + adjective constructions. Nevertheless, the results also show that children do not reach adult levels on their interpretation of estar + adjective constructions. Instead, children's performance also depends on adjective type (scalar vs. non-scalar) and animacy of the subject. The results suggest that children have knowledge of the generic and existential interpretations associated with ser and estar, but that, in addition, they use the semantic structure of adjectives and their knowledge of the world (typicality of properties and how they apply to animate v. inanimate subjects) to assign generic and existential interpretations to the copulas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-130
Number of pages24
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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