LINGUIST List 21.5023

Sat Dec 11 2010

Review: Lang Acquisition; Pragmatics; Semantics; Syntax: Horn (2010)

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        1.     Pierre Larrivée , The Expression of Negation

Message 1: The Expression of Negation
Date: 11-Dec-2010
From: Pierre Larrivée <>
Subject: The Expression of Negation
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EDITOR: Laurence R. HornTITLE: The Expression of NegationSERIES TITLE: The Expression of Cognitive Categories [ECC] 4PUBLISHER: De Gruyter MoutonYEAR: 2010

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


A universal feature of natural human languages that sets them apart from animalcommunication systems is negation. It is addressed in this collection ofarticles coordinated by Laurence R. Horn. It presents 8 contributions, openswith an introduction by Horn, who provides an extensive bibliography oflinguistic publications on negation since 2000 going beyond English-languagework in high-profile outlets (the period before 2000 is covered by the secondedition of Horn's 2001 ''Natural History of Negation''), and is appended withsubject, language and author indexes. This review first provides a summary ofeach contribution with local constructive observations, before providing anoverall evaluation of the volume.

The ''Typology of negation'' (pp. 9-38) is presented by Östen Dahl, who is knownfor his foundational 1979 article on the subject. He provides a useful review ofcurrent work in the field and highlights data of interest on thecross-linguistic behaviour of negatives. A meaningful approach to such behaviourhowever presupposes an operational classification. One such classificationfollows morphosyntactic categorisations (affixes vs. particles and words,different parts of speech from adverbs to pronouns and negative verbs; little issaid about inherent negatives such as 'deny', 'fear' and 'doubt', the history ofthe English items being dealt with by Iyeiri 2010). Another takes a moresentential perspective, and asks what a standard negative might be and how itrelates to word order, raising the notion of symmetrical negation proposed byMiestamo 2005 (where Spanish 'No se' is symmetrical with respect to theaffirmative as it requires the addition of one element that does not change themorphosyntax of the underlying proposition, unlike the English equivalent 'Idon't know'). (A)symmetry helps to frame the issue of non-standard negatives inimperatives, existential and verbless copular sentences as well as insubordinates (prohibitives would have deserved a mention). Discussion is offeredon negation and quantification, the relation with focus particles and thedebated issue of n-words, before the evolution of negation is evoked.

An overview of issues relating to ''The Acquistion of negation'' (pp. 39-71) isprovided by Christine Dimroth, who works on first (L1) and second language (L2)acquisition of negation and focus particles. She offers a synthesis of work onL1 and L2 acquisition of negation, and presents the debate as to the successivefunctions of negatives through the acquisition of mother tongue, at the one-wordstage, and at the multi-word stage; the fact that negation first expressesnon-existence before it does rejection and denial might relate to the moreimmediate 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 processdependent on the acquisition of finite inflections on the verb in first andsecond language. Once the target position is learned, the interaction withquantifiers and indefinites still needs to be acquired, and recent research onthis is discussed. A useful comparison is provided between L2 and L1acquisition, the main difference being that L2 acquisition does not have to gothrough the one-word stage; divergence may be observed as to scope and focusrelations, 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 Jespersencycle is investigated by which a preverbal marker in an initial stage issupported by a postverbal one in stage 2 to remain the only marker in stage 3once the preverbal marker has disappeared. While the postverbal marker isgenerally different from the preverbal one, this is not the case in BrazilianPortuguese and Dutch, the former having the expected emphatic value justifyingthe inception of stage 2, but not Dutch. Other unexpected instances in stage 3include the preverbal marker being maintained to be exapted to another function,or being maintained with a third negative taken on. The later scenario wouldyield a clear case of asymmetrical negation, and non-standard negativeprohibition, verbless copular and existential sentences are revisited, as is thedebate 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 reviewscases of double negation (not uncharacteristically, this isn't not like him),before moving to 'hypernegation' configurations where extra negatives spreadthrough a sentence (the iconic 'I can't get no satisfaction'), acquire anexpletive value under the command of an inherently negative item ('deny','fear', 'doubt', 'before'), or in a subordinate ('Don't be surprised if itdoesn'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. Theambivalence between the expletive and negative values of approximationexpressions is illustrated by Spanish and Mandarin data. Ample attestations fromcontemporary English, as well as French, Italian and Japanese among otherlanguages, are referred to, as are views from logicians of yore. The discussiondisentangles lexical, usage and pragmatic factors, to propose the overallpragmatic conclusion that special reasons justify the use of marked forms,although these reasons might well differ according to which Gricean reasoning isto be referred to. On the whole, as special forms that flout the maxim ofmanner, double negation qualifies an assertion, whereas hypernegation displays astrong commitment to the negative.

The next chapter by Gunnel Tottie and Anja Neukom-Hermann pursues the questionof ''Quantifier-negation interaction in English: A corpus linguistic study ofall...not constructions'' (pp. 149-185). A negation focusing on a precedinguniversal quantifier ('All the bills don't amount to £50', some but not all) hasbeen an enduring object of wonder, as it reverses the expected order of focusrelations, and is amenable to variation: apart from acquisitional and regionaldifferences, notable interpretative vagaries are found, with the possiblenegative focus on the verb ('All the bills do simply not amount to £50', eachamounts to less) or the attested collective reading of the quantifier ('All ofthe bills put together don't amount to £50'). A thorough review of the internaland external factors is presented that govern the reading of the 452attestations of the configuration found in spoken and written communication inthe British National Corpus. The quantifier focus accounts for 54% of readingsoverall, is prevalent when 'all' is the NP head ('All is not lost'), andpredominant with formulaic sequences in the written medium, speakers tending touse less formulaic language and prefer the negative focusing on the verb. Thissuggests that inverse quantifier focus is a feature of higher registers that hasto be learned. Whatever the case may be, this is a substantial addition to theseries of important corpus studies of negation for which the first author is noted.

Another corpus endeavour supports the study of ''Negative and negative polarityitems: An investigation of the interplay of lexical meaning and globalconditions on expression'' (pp. 187-224). Jack Hoeksema explores the disparitybetween the expected distribution of negative polarity items (NPIs) as itemslicensed by nonveridical contexts (Giannakidou 1998), and their actual usage.The licensing requirements of NPIs would lead to the expectation that they areto be found with negation, in conditionals and questions among others, yet thesecontexts are not always attested, and German 'auch nur' is found in mostenvironments except with negation itself (p. 190). Some contexts are morefrequent with a particular NPI, and quantitative data are provided for weaktriggers of 'any', 'ever', and modal 'need', with comparison between English,German and Dutch for the latter two. The licensing environment is not the onlycollocational restriction on NPIs, and the various noun phrases literallyreferring to animals to deny the presence of people such as French 'pas unchat', Flemish 'geen kat' and Danish 'ikke en kat' (all literally ''not a cat'')seem infelicitous with verbs of speaking for instance. Quantified data on otheridiomatic NPIs such as 'the likes of which', '(not a N) in sight', '(not) an Xgoes by (without Y)', '(not) all that (X)' and their German and Dutchequivalents support the conclusions that the distribution of particular itemscannot be ignored.

An experimental approach to the interpretation of negation is provided in''Negation as a metaphor-inducing operator'' by Rachel Giora, Ofer Fein, NiliMetuki and Pnina Stern (pp. 225-256). The issue that is pursued with the studyof ''metaphorical'' uses of negation is whether concepts under negation have thesame psycholinguistic accessibility as concepts in positive environments, where'You are not my maid' is used not literally to deny the occupation of aparticular function, but metaphorically to reject some implied property ofmaids. (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 theattributive reading of 'I'm not Rockefeller' ¬more likely than a positivecontext 'I'm Rockefeller', it is clearly not the negation that is metaphorical,but the reading of the proper noun.) The relevant interpretation is testedthrough three experiments supplemented by a corpus investigation. The firstestablishes whether negation does indeed promote a metaphorical reading morereadily than positive environments, by asking 48 participants whether thepositive and negative versions of sentences such as 'You're my maid' have aliteral or metaphorical interpretation. Similar judgment by 24 subjects of thenegative version compared to a semantically equivalent version with 'almost' inthe second experiment confirms the relation between negation and metaphoricalreadings. The third one asks 48 subjects to indicate the interpretation ofsequences on a Likert scale at each end of which figure metaphorical and literalinterpretations of sentences. The relation between negation and metaphoricalinterpretations is confirmed by a corpus study of the relevant sequences inEnglish, German and Russian.

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


This volume is a collection of essays by leading authors that covers a range ofquestions of contemporary interest on the topic of negation. Possible additionswould have been current sociolinguistic developments, or the experimentalpragmatics of implicatures and presuppositions, which are nonetheless touchedupon in the volume. The chapters are divided between overviews of the currentdebates and controversies, for typology, acquisition, evolution and concord ofmultiple negatives, and novel empirical contributions on negative polarityitems, negative focus, relation to information structure, and to attributivereadings. The empirical contributions all rely on corpora to yield importantresults: reverse focus relates preponderantly to formulaic sequences in writtenlanguage, important collocational restrictions attach to the distribution ofmany a negative polarity item, the position of negation is indicative of theinformational status of the sentence and may separate the clausal core from itsleft periphery, and concepts are not any less accessible under negation thanthey are in the positive (although possibly with a different reading). Thecorpus data are used in conjunction with experimental procedures by Giora andher colleagues, to demonstrate how fruitful this joint approach can be and whyit should be adopted widely. What will not be found in this volume is extensivespeculation bound to particular theoretical models, although some of theirpredictions are considered. By its empirical focus and its wide coverage ofcutting-edge issues, this volume is very much in the spirit of the 2000collection edited by Horn with Kato, and finds an enviable place amongst majorrecent or forthcoming publications on negation (contributions in van Gelderen2009, de Swart 2010 for syntax, typology in Breitbarth, Lucas and Willisforthcoming and evolution in Larrivée and Ingham forthcoming).

One central issue for future research is the need for transferable workingdefinitions of some of the central concepts that define the behaviour ofnegation. I have expressed elsewhere (Larrivée 2010) my concerns that a notionsuch as emphasis remains so vague as to make it difficult to ascertain whetherit is expressed by Lewo negative tripling (p. 84), and precision is needed if aquestion such as that of ''the principles by which languages with more than onenegative construction choose between them'' (Dahl, p. 34) is to be answeredconclusively. Similar uncertainties apply to speculative categories in L1acquisition such as 'absence', on which much time and effort have been devotedwhile having been neither defined, nor diagnosed, nor shown to correspond toanything reported in typology, evolution or variation. If the field is toelucidate new generalisations, testable characterisations, diagnostics anddelimited applications are needed.

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


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

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

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

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

Iyeiri, Yoko. 2010. 'Verbs of implicit negation and their complements in thehistory 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 ofNegation: Beyond the Jespersen Cycle'. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Miestamo, Matti. 2005. 'Standard Negation. The Negation of Declarative VerbalMain 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'.

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