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Review of  The Expression of Negation

Reviewer: Pierre Larrivée
Book Title: The Expression of Negation
Book Author: Laurence R Horn
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 21.5023

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EDITOR: Laurence R. Horn
TITLE: The Expression of Negation
SERIES TITLE: The Expression of Cognitive Categories [ECC] 4
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2010

Pierre Larrivée, School of Languages and Social Sciences, Aston University


A universal feature of natural human languages that sets them apart from animal
communication systems is negation. It is addressed in this collection of
articles coordinated by Laurence R. Horn. It presents 8 contributions, opens
with an introduction by Horn, who provides an extensive bibliography of
linguistic publications on negation since 2000 going beyond English-language
work in high-profile outlets (the period before 2000 is covered by the second
edition of Horn's 2001 ''Natural History of Negation''), and is appended with
subject, language and author indexes. This review first provides a summary of
each contribution with local constructive observations, before providing an
overall evaluation of the volume.

The ''Typology of negation'' (pp. 9-38) is presented by Östen Dahl, who is known
for his foundational 1979 article on the subject. He provides a useful review of
current work in the field and highlights data of interest on the
cross-linguistic behaviour of negatives. A meaningful approach to such behaviour
however presupposes an operational classification. One such classification
follows morphosyntactic categorisations (affixes vs. particles and words,
different parts of speech from adverbs to pronouns and negative verbs; little is
said about inherent negatives such as 'deny', 'fear' and 'doubt', the history of
the English items being dealt with by Iyeiri 2010). Another takes a more
sentential perspective, and asks what a standard negative might be and how it
relates to word order, raising the notion of symmetrical negation proposed by
Miestamo 2005 (where Spanish 'No se' is symmetrical with respect to the
affirmative as it requires the addition of one element that does not change the
morphosyntax of the underlying proposition, unlike the English equivalent 'I
don't know'). (A)symmetry helps to frame the issue of non-standard negatives in
imperatives, existential and verbless copular sentences as well as in
subordinates (prohibitives would have deserved a mention). Discussion is offered
on negation and quantification, the relation with focus particles and the
debated issue of n-words, before the evolution of negation is evoked.

An overview of issues relating to ''The Acquistion of negation'' (pp. 39-71) is
provided by Christine Dimroth, who works on first (L1) and second language (L2)
acquisition of negation and focus particles. She offers a synthesis of work on
L1 and L2 acquisition of negation, and presents the debate as to the successive
functions of negatives through the acquisition of mother tongue, at the one-word
stage, and at the multi-word stage; the fact that negation first expresses
non-existence before it does rejection and denial might relate to the more
immediate access to objects in the immediate experience than to sentences.
Negatives are first communicated by autonomous sentence-like expressions ('No!')
before the markers are gradually integrated into the sentence, a process
dependent on the acquisition of finite inflections on the verb in first and
second language. Once the target position is learned, the interaction with
quantifiers and indefinites still needs to be acquired, and recent research on
this is discussed. A useful comparison is provided between L2 and L1
acquisition, the main difference being that L2 acquisition does not have to go
through the one-word stage; divergence may be observed as to scope and focus
relations, although these require more research.

Johan van der Auwera reviews the issues ''On the diachrony of negation'' (pp.
73-109). He is concerned with the diachronic source of negatives. The Jespersen
cycle is investigated by which a preverbal marker in an initial stage is
supported by a postverbal one in stage 2 to remain the only marker in stage 3
once the preverbal marker has disappeared. While the postverbal marker is
generally different from the preverbal one, this is not the case in Brazilian
Portuguese and Dutch, the former having the expected emphatic value justifying
the inception of stage 2, but not Dutch. Other unexpected instances in stage 3
include the preverbal marker being maintained to be exapted to another function,
or being maintained with a third negative taken on. The later scenario would
yield a clear case of asymmetrical negation, and non-standard negative
prohibition, verbless copular and existential sentences are revisited, as is the
debate around n-words.

The question of multiple negatives is addressed by Laurence Horn in the chapter
''Multiple negation in English and other languages'' (pp. 111-148). Horn reviews
cases of double negation (not uncharacteristically, this isn't not like him),
before moving to 'hypernegation' configurations where extra negatives spread
through a sentence (the iconic 'I can't get no satisfaction'), acquire an
expletive value under the command of an inherently negative item ('deny',
'fear', 'doubt', 'before'), or in a subordinate ('Don't be surprised if it
doesn't rain') due to performance errors; resumptive negatives ('It won't rain,
I don't think, not even in the cool of the night') are mentioned. The
ambivalence between the expletive and negative values of approximation
expressions is illustrated by Spanish and Mandarin data. Ample attestations from
contemporary English, as well as French, Italian and Japanese among other
languages, are referred to, as are views from logicians of yore. The discussion
disentangles lexical, usage and pragmatic factors, to propose the overall
pragmatic conclusion that special reasons justify the use of marked forms,
although these reasons might well differ according to which Gricean reasoning is
to be referred to. On the whole, as special forms that flout the maxim of
manner, double negation qualifies an assertion, whereas hypernegation displays a
strong commitment to the negative.

The next chapter by Gunnel Tottie and Anja Neukom-Hermann pursues the question
of ''Quantifier-negation interaction in English: A corpus linguistic study of
all...not constructions'' (pp. 149-185). A negation focusing on a preceding
universal quantifier ('All the bills don't amount to £50', some but not all) has
been an enduring object of wonder, as it reverses the expected order of focus
relations, and is amenable to variation: apart from acquisitional and regional
differences, notable interpretative vagaries are found, with the possible
negative focus on the verb ('All the bills do simply not amount to £50', each
amounts to less) or the attested collective reading of the quantifier ('All of
the bills put together don't amount to £50'). A thorough review of the internal
and external factors is presented that govern the reading of the 452
attestations of the configuration found in spoken and written communication in
the British National Corpus. The quantifier focus accounts for 54% of readings
overall, is prevalent when 'all' is the NP head ('All is not lost'), and
predominant with formulaic sequences in the written medium, speakers tending to
use less formulaic language and prefer the negative focusing on the verb. This
suggests that inverse quantifier focus is a feature of higher registers that has
to be learned. Whatever the case may be, this is a substantial addition to the
series of important corpus studies of negation for which the first author is noted.

Another corpus endeavour supports the study of ''Negative and negative polarity
items: An investigation of the interplay of lexical meaning and global
conditions on expression'' (pp. 187-224). Jack Hoeksema explores the disparity
between the expected distribution of negative polarity items (NPIs) as items
licensed by nonveridical contexts (Giannakidou 1998), and their actual usage.
The licensing requirements of NPIs would lead to the expectation that they are
to be found with negation, in conditionals and questions among others, yet these
contexts are not always attested, and German 'auch nur' is found in most
environments except with negation itself (p. 190). Some contexts are more
frequent with a particular NPI, and quantitative data are provided for weak
triggers of 'any', 'ever', and modal 'need', with comparison between English,
German and Dutch for the latter two. The licensing environment is not the only
collocational restriction on NPIs, and the various noun phrases literally
referring to animals to deny the presence of people such as French 'pas un
chat', Flemish 'geen kat' and Danish 'ikke en kat' (all literally ''not a cat'')
seem infelicitous with verbs of speaking for instance. Quantified data on other
idiomatic NPIs such as 'the likes of which', '(not a N) in sight', '(not) an X
goes by (without Y)', '(not) all that (X)' and their German and Dutch
equivalents support the conclusions that the distribution of particular items
cannot be ignored.

An experimental approach to the interpretation of negation is provided in
''Negation as a metaphor-inducing operator'' by Rachel Giora, Ofer Fein, Nili
Metuki and Pnina Stern (pp. 225-256). The issue that is pursued with the study
of ''metaphorical'' uses of negation is whether concepts under negation have the
same psycholinguistic accessibility as concepts in positive environments, where
'You are not my maid' is used not literally to deny the occupation of a
particular function, but metaphorically to reject some implied property of
maids. (A not unimportant quibble here: it might be preferable to speak of an
'attributive' reading of the complement phrase, which finds itself negated;
while it is true as shown in this article that negative contexts make the
attributive reading of 'I'm not Rockefeller' ¬more likely than a positive
context 'I'm Rockefeller', it is clearly not the negation that is metaphorical,
but the reading of the proper noun.) The relevant interpretation is tested
through three experiments supplemented by a corpus investigation. The first
establishes whether negation does indeed promote a metaphorical reading more
readily than positive environments, by asking 48 participants whether the
positive and negative versions of sentences such as 'You're my maid' have a
literal or metaphorical interpretation. Similar judgment by 24 subjects of the
negative version compared to a semantically equivalent version with 'almost' in
the second experiment confirms the relation between negation and metaphorical
readings. The third one asks 48 subjects to indicate the interpretation of
sequences on a Likert scale at each end of which figure metaphorical and literal
interpretations of sentences. The relation between negation and metaphorical
interpretations is confirmed by a corpus study of the relevant sequences in
English, German and Russian.

The final chapter offers a detailed treatment of Classical Japanese. Yasuhiko
Kato is concerned here with negation in 10th-11th century Japanese as attested
in literary sources. Negation is expressed by at least four items, often
preceded by a preverbal 'e' that had at an earlier stage a potentiality meaning,
could communicate negation on its own with categorical judgment, compared to the
thetic judgment speculated to characterise negative sentences in its absence.
Another form of embracing negation involved in metalinguistic negation is
evoked, and the general cases of double negation and negative polarity items are
discussed. A detailed discussion follows of the placement of preverbal 'e' that
can precede a variety of preverbal phrases. The examination of the attestations
shows that 'e' defines the limits of the left periphery, situated below Focus
and above Wh-Focus.


This volume is a collection of essays by leading authors that covers a range of
questions of contemporary interest on the topic of negation. Possible additions
would have been current sociolinguistic developments, or the experimental
pragmatics of implicatures and presuppositions, which are nonetheless touched
upon in the volume. The chapters are divided between overviews of the current
debates and controversies, for typology, acquisition, evolution and concord of
multiple negatives, and novel empirical contributions on negative polarity
items, negative focus, relation to information structure, and to attributive
readings. The empirical contributions all rely on corpora to yield important
results: reverse focus relates preponderantly to formulaic sequences in written
language, important collocational restrictions attach to the distribution of
many a negative polarity item, the position of negation is indicative of the
informational status of the sentence and may separate the clausal core from its
left periphery, and concepts are not any less accessible under negation than
they are in the positive (although possibly with a different reading). The
corpus data are used in conjunction with experimental procedures by Giora and
her colleagues, to demonstrate how fruitful this joint approach can be and why
it should be adopted widely. What will not be found in this volume is extensive
speculation bound to particular theoretical models, although some of their
predictions are considered. By its empirical focus and its wide coverage of
cutting-edge issues, this volume is very much in the spirit of the 2000
collection edited by Horn with Kato, and finds an enviable place amongst major
recent or forthcoming publications on negation (contributions in van Gelderen
2009, de Swart 2010 for syntax, typology in Breitbarth, Lucas and Willis
forthcoming and evolution in Larrivée and Ingham forthcoming).

One central issue for future research is the need for transferable working
definitions of some of the central concepts that define the behaviour of
negation. I have expressed elsewhere (Larrivée 2010) my concerns that a notion
such as emphasis remains so vague as to make it difficult to ascertain whether
it is expressed by Lewo negative tripling (p. 84), and precision is needed if a
question such as that of ''the principles by which languages with more than one
negative construction choose between them'' (Dahl, p. 34) is to be answered
conclusively. Similar uncertainties apply to speculative categories in L1
acquisition such as 'absence', on which much time and effort have been devoted
while having been neither defined, nor diagnosed, nor shown to correspond to
anything reported in typology, evolution or variation. If the field is to
elucidate new generalisations, testable characterisations, diagnostics and
delimited applications are needed.

This work constitutes important reading for specialists on negation and those
interested in grammatical systems.


Breitbarth, Anne, Christopher Lucas and David Willis (Eds.). (Forthcoming). 'The
Development of Negation: the Languages of Europe and the Mediterranean'. Two
volumes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

van Gelderen, Elly. 2009. 'Cyclical change'. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins.
Giannakidou, Anastasia. 1998. 'Polarity Sensitivity as (Non) Veridical
Dependency'. Amsterdam: Benjamins

Horn, Laurence R. 2001. 'A Natural history of negation'. Stanford: CSLI.

Horn, Laurence R. and Yasuhiko Kato. 2000. 'Negation and polarity: syntactic and
semantic perspectives'. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Iyeiri, Yoko. 2010. 'Verbs of implicit negation and their complements in the
history of English'. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Larrivée, Pierre. 2010. The Pragmatic motifs of the Jespersen Cycle. Default,
activation and the history of negation in French. 'Lingua' 120,9, 2240-2258.

Larrivée, Pierre and Richard Ingham (Eds). (Forthcoming). 'The Evolution of
Negation: Beyond the Jespersen Cycle'. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Miestamo, Matti. 2005. 'Standard Negation. The Negation of Declarative Verbal
Main Clauses in a Typological Perspective'. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

de Swart, Henriëtte. 2010. 'Expression and interpretation of negation'.
Dordrecht: Springer.

Pierre Larrivée is a Reader in French Linguistics at Aston University (Birmingham, UK). He has published extensively on interpretative issues relating to negation and scalarity, and is currently the Principal Investigator for the International Network ''Cycles of Grammaticalization: Comparative views on the history of negation'.