LINGUIST List 10.1799

Thu Nov 25 1999

Sum: For Query: 10.1587 Negation in French

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  1. Kitamoto, For Query: 10.1587 Negation in French

Message 1: For Query: 10.1587 Negation in French

Date: Thu, 25 Nov 1999 10:37:23 +0900 (JST)
From: Kitamoto <>
Subject: For Query: 10.1587 Negation in French

For Query Linguist list 10.1587 Negation in French

Dear linguists,

About a month ago, I sent a query to the Linguists asking native speakers
of French to make interpretation on sentences involving single negation and
double negation. I'm amazed by many responses. I received a great deal of
useful information from many people named below. In particular, thanks to
Gilles Bernard for thoughtful interpretations, David Gaatone, Aurelien Max,
 John Reighard for helpful contexts, De Brabanter Philippe, Sylvain
Kahane, Georges Rebuschi, Marie-Lucie Tarpent, Remy Viredaz for French
intonation or accentuation to distinguish ambiguity and Neil Coffey, Eddy
Gaytan, Pierre Larrivee, Uri Strauss for comments and suggestions for
further research. 

I am very grateful to everybody who replied:
Gilles Bernard <>
Roger Billerey <>
Neil Coffey <>
Celia Colmerauer <>
De Brabanter Philippe<>
David Gaatone <> 
Jocelyn Gagnon<>
Eddy Gaytan <egaytan`>
Pierre Larrivee <p.larrivee>
Sylvain Kahane<> 
Patrick-Andr Mather <>
Aurelien Max <>
Philippe Mennecier <>
Dominique Nouveau <>
Robert Papen<> 
Montserrat Perez-Parent<>
Thierry Poibeau<Thierry.>
Georges Rebuschi<>
John Reighard<>
Martine Smets<>
Uri Strauss<>
Marie-Lucie Tarpent<>
Alain Theriault<theriaalMAGELLAN.UMontreal.CA>
Brian Ulicny<>
Remy Viredaz<>
Jim Walker<>

Here are the original example and quetions. 

(1) Personne n'aime personne.

My question is : 
Is (1) interpreted as single negation or double negation (two negative
arguments cancel each other, implying affirmative sentence)?

If it is interpreted as single negation, it will be paraphrased as
(a) Nobody loves anybody. 

If it is interpreted as double negation, it will be paraphrased as 
(b)Nobody loves nobody. = Somebody loves somebody. 

Does focus distinguish single negation or double negation?

The summary of responses of 26 speakers are the followings.
18 speakers get (a) interpretation. 4 speakers get interpretation (b).
(Pair list reading: Mary loves Bob. Tom loves Ann.........) But 19 speakers
give (unspecific) interpretation (c) below, rather than (b) as double

(c) Everybody loves somebody. 

12 speakers get both (a) and (c) interpretations. 6 speakers' response
is (a) interpretation. 7 speakers' response is (c) interpretation. 1
speaker's response is (b) interpretation. 2 speakers' response is (a) and
(b). 1 speaker's responses (a), (b), and (c).

Some speakers give a context for each interpretation as the followings.
Gilles Bernard: (a) "ici, personne n'aime personne"
David Gaatone: (a) "dans cette famille personne n'aime personne"
 (c) "il y a des gens qui n'aiment personne. mais
non, personne n'aime personne." 
Aurelien Max: (a) disenchanted statement on life in general.
John Reighhard: (a)--Les gens s'entendent bien ici?
 --Pas du tout! Personne n'aime personne!
 (c)--Un misanthrope, c'est quelqu'un qui n'aime
 -- Mais personne n'aime personne!
Remy Viredaz: (a) the situation is terrible sad.
 (c) in reply to a sentence that was felt to imply
that some people don't love anybody. 

My another question is (repeated here) :
Does focus distinguish single negation or double negation?

The answers for distinction among (a) (b) (c) are:(Each comment is given
by one speaker.)

(a) needs normal intonation.
(a) requires symmetrical emphasis on both 'personne'.
(b) an accent on the first 'personne' 
(Gilles Bernard gave the following :"I can't absolutely exclude the second
meaning (somebody loves somebody), but it needs a special prosody, with an
accent on the first "personne", and even then,it looks to me an
(artificial) logical proposition, the translation of some formula. However,
this meaning has to be translated by love and not by like; I think the
difference is about the "fact" that love is a one to one relationship,
while like is a one to many relationship." )
(c) requires focus stress on the subject 'personne'. (2 speakers)
(c) requires high fall on the syllable"-sonne" in the first occurrence of
(c) requires heavy stress on the second 'personne'. 
(c) needs a pause after 'personne': Personne#n'aime personne.
Sylvain Kahane gave very kindful another example:
a) Personne ne parle personne
 'neg(somebody speaks to somebody)'
b)Personne # ne parle personne
 'everybody speaks to somebody'
c)A personne # personne ne parle
 'to everybod, somebody speaks'

I will forward the original answers on request. Once again, thank you to
all the above mentioned speakers for their help. A draft of a paper making
use of the above information is now being written. I will send the paper
to anyone who is interested in it. Comments welcome.

Best wishes,

Ms. Misako Kitamoto

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