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  • 1 Hungarian Academy of Sciences Research Institute for Linguistics Budapest Hungary
  • 2 Eötvös Loránd University Budapest Hungary
  • 3 Budapest University of Technology and Economics Department of Cognitive Science Budapest Hungary

Focus sentences in Hungarian are claimed to express exhaustive identification by a syntactic-semantic operator in standard generative descriptions, but there are also arguments against this view. Our study aimed to gather empirical evidence for the exhaustive interpretation of focus sentences and to explore developmental changes with age. Two groups of children (mean ages 6;3 and 10;8 years) and a group of adults participated in a picture-sentence verification task that systematically varied sentence and context types. Adults showed a marked sensitivity for focus as a group, but focus sensitivity was not evident in either group of children. All participant groups were remarkably inconsistent in distinguishing neutral and focus sentences. In spite of the measurable sensitivity to focus in adults, the pattern of the results contradicts the predictions of the syntactic-semantic operator model concerning exhaustive interpretation, and urges further research.

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