LINGUIST List 32.1502

Fri Apr 30 2021

Qs: Input from Linguists/Semanticists: “Negation task” to Study Semantic Components – is there a file drawer problem?

Editor for this issue: Everett Green <>

Date: 30-Apr-2021
From: Sam Theunissen <>
Subject: Input from Linguists/Semanticists: “Negation task” to Study Semantic Components – is there a file drawer problem?
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Dear researchers,

I am working on the lexical semantics of verbs as part of my master's at Radboud University. We are thinking of creating an online experiment in the form of a so-called 'negation task' as used by Schreuder (1978) and referenced in Levelt et al. (1978). In this task, people are asked to complete sentences like the following with another motion verb:

“They do not walk, but they …”

The goal of the task is to identify the semantic components that are most salient for the meaning of a given verb. This builds on the principle of minimal negation, according to which negation will only affect the asserted meaning, but not the presupposed meaning of a word. For example, “Leslie is not a knight” does not negate that Leslie is a man (a presupposition of knight), but only that he has been raised to honorary military rank (the assertion of knight) (see Miller, 1969).

However, the study by Levelt et al. is the only empirical paper we have been able to find to have reported a negation task – this is the reason I am looking for input from other researchers.

I wonder if the negation task cannot be found in the literature because it simply has been forgotten about, or because it was used in studies that ended up not being published? In order to know if we are dealing with a file-drawer problem regarding the negation task, we would like to hear from you.

If you have ever used the negation task (be it with verbs or a different type of words), please let me know by sending an e-mail to It would be wonderful if you could add a brief summary of your results to your e-mail. That would help us gain insight into the effectiveness of the task.

I hope to hear from some of you! Thank you in advance.

Best regards,
Sam Theunissen

Levelt, W. J. M., Schreuder, R., & Hoenkamp, E. (1978). Structure and use of verbs of motion. Recent Advances in the Psychology of Language, 137–162.
Miller, G. A. (1969). A psychological method to investigate verbal concepts. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 6(2), 169–191.
Schreuder, R. (1978). Studies in psycholexicology with special reference to verbs of motion [Doctoral dissertation]. University of Nijmegen.

Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics

Page Updated: 30-Apr-2021