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LINGUIST List 20.2720

Sun Aug 09 2009

Diss: Pragmatics/Semantics/Text/Corpus Ling: Pitts: 'Metamessages...'

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        1.    Alyson Pitts, Metamessages of Denial: The pragmatics of English negation

Message 1: Metamessages of Denial: The pragmatics of English negation
Date: 07-Aug-2009
From: Alyson Pitts <alyson.pittscantab.net>
Subject: Metamessages of Denial: The pragmatics of English negation
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Institution: University of Cambridge
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2009

Author: Alyson Pitts

Dissertation Title: Metamessages of Denial: The pragmatics of English negation

Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Semantics
Text/Corpus Linguistics

Subject Language(s): English (eng)


Dissertation Director(s):
Kasia M. Jaszczolt

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation presents a part rational, part empirical study of negation in
conversation. Assisted by speech data from the International Corpus of English
(GB), I propose a new typology of negation in English, based on the discourse
status of material targeted by the negative operator. This enables a fresh
perspective on the varied use of negation in discourse, and also casts some new
light on so-called 'metalinguistic negation'.

Following an outline of the dissertation in chapter 1, chapter 2 lays the
theoretical foundations by comparing negation in logic with its variable
communicative effects in conversation. Chapter 3 then explores recent literalist
and contextualist stances on 'saying' and 'meaning' in post-Gricean pragmatics,
giving rise in turn to a modified schema recognising three notional tiers of
what is said within any discourse setting which incorporates a sub-propositional
component. In short, these tiers approximate to (A) the level of speech itself;
(B) the conventional meaning of the words uttered; and (C) one of many diffuse
(implied) meanings derived within context. When applied to the material within
the remit of the negation operator, these communicative tiers form the basis for
a new typology of discourse negation; subsequently put to empirical test in
chapter 4, in which all negative tokens in the spoken component of ICE-GB
(realised by the primary negator 'not' or the compressed enclitic '-n't')
provide a means to evaluate the applicability of this scheme in everyday discourse.

Chapter 5 then explores a key account of negation promoted by Horn (1985);
grounded in a 'pragmatic ambiguity' distinguishing between ordinary, truth
functional ('descriptive') and marked ('metalinguistic') uses of negation. This is
followed by attempts to better understand the phenomena involved in this
apparent duality in chapter 6, by inviting comparisons with the revised typology
introduced and explored earlier in chapters 3 and 4. This reconciliation between
the different schemes of negation uncovers new and important ways of explaining
Horn's account of marked, metalinguistic negation as non-semantic in character -
and also brings to light two markedly distinct definitions of 'metalinguistic'
negation within the extant literature. Chapter 7 then reviews recent studies
featuring intonation experiments designed to assess the purported ambiguity of
negation, but key theoretical and methodological caveats emerge when
interpreting the results of both studies. This highlights in turn certain
pitfalls encountered when seeking to verify (or indeed falsify) rule-based
accounts of negation in use - not least when we bear in mind the fluidity and
flexibility of 'negation' itself.

The dissertation concludes in chapter 8 with a summary of the main achievements
and arguments set forth, in which we reject an outright ambiguity in negation.
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