Term Paper: Aliya Ghumaan Dr. Gianina Iordachioaia

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Aliya Ghumaan

Dr. Gianina Iordachioaia

Negation, Polarity, Negative Concord

How to Say No

Convention tells us that negation is the semantic reversal of an assertion, but as shown by Horn, Geurts, etc., the definition is problematic in the face of example like The king of France is not bald because there is no king of France. How does one define negation to account for pragmatic denials as well as semantic reversals? There has been much debate revolving around the issue, and Horn and Geurts are the fulcrum. In this paper, I reviewed their research and supplied suggestions for future research.

Negation is simply defined as the semantic reversal of an assertion, i.e.:

My parents know I'm gay.

My parents don't know I'm gay.

The conventional interpretations of 1b yield a traditional, internal negation reading. However, a problem with the definition of negation arises in statements like 1c where it is not the assertion being reversed, but the assertion's assertability:

1. c. My parents don't know I'm gay, because I'm straight.

In this paper, I will review two perspectives on the issue and make suggestions for future research.

Metalinguistic Negation

Supporters of three-valued logics (statements are either true, false, or truth-valueless) explain this as a semantic ambiguity, but there is really nothing ambiguous about it. Monoguists are searching for one truth-functional/semantically general theory of negation that applies in all cases. Neither of these views satisfied Horn (362) who was looking for a unified theory of negation. He saw that there were clearly two distinct uses of sentential negation, which rejects the monoguist perspective, and that the kind of negation exemplified by 1c is not a truth-functional/semantic operator on propositions, but rather a rejection of the presuppositions, implications, style, register, morphology, and/or phonetic realization of an utterance, the denial of which Horn terms metalinguistic negation.

Background for the Debate

First, the ambiguity favored by three-valued logicians came about because they needed to allow two interpretations of the negative operator or give the negative operator dual scope possibilities in order to explain how true negative statements like 1c can exist when their affirmative complements like 1a are truth-valueless. However, this theory by necessity multiplies the lexical senses of negative operators, defying the principle that the simplest answer is the best (Occam's Razor). Moreover, these cases of negation are not obviously examples of semantic ambiguity, and the periphrasing in 1d does not clearly disambiguate as it should according to three-valued logics.

1. d. It is not the case that my parents know that I'm gay.

On top of that, it is difficult to prove that the internal negation in 1b with its presupposition-laden understanding is semantically distinct from the external negation in 1c, which doffs the presupposition, "I am gay." It is particularly telling that even languages with multiple negative operators don't distinguish between internal and external negation (qtd. In Horn 366). Numerous languages (French and Swahili, among others) utilize different forms of negation for various syntactic, semantic, and/or synchronic situations, but never for the one distinction that three-valued logician/ambiguists would predict. The three-valued logicians response is that the underlying form of external negation reads, "It is not {true/the fact} that . . ." But this condition is neither necessary nor sufficient for the nonpresuppositional reading of 1b.

Ambiguists like Karttunen and Peters (qtd. In Horn 368), who do not rely on the truth conditions of presuppositions in their analysis of negation, call on examples like 2a-2c to illustrate that while both 2a and 2b conventionally implicate 2c, with the right intonation contour and sentential continuation in 2d, we see a contradiction negation that rejects the initial implicature:

2. a. Chris managed to solve the problem.

b. Chris didn't manage to solve the problem.

c. The problem was difficult to solve.

d. Chris didn't manage to solve the problem; he found it quite easy. (Horn, p. 368)

Karttunen and Peters point out that this contradiction negation never elicits negative polarity items like any or yet. Take 2e-2g for example:

2. e. Chris managed to solve some problems.

f. Chris didn't manage to solve any problems.

g. Chris didn't manage to solve {some/*any} problems -- they were easy for him. (Horn, p. 368)

The placement of any in 2g would be nonsensical. Similarly, take for example 3a-3c:

3. a. Mom already remembered that I'm supposed to be grounded.

b. Mom didn't remember that I'm supposed to be grounded yet.

c. Mom didn't {already / . . . } remember that I'm supposed to be grounded { . . . / *yet}, because I'm not supposed to be grounded.

In this example, already in the stead of yet removes the implicature associated with remember.

Against Monoguists and Ambiguists

Horn disagrees with the monoguists that there is no ambiguity occurring in these instances of negation, but unlike the ambiguists, Horn does not believe this ambiguity is semantic, but pragmatic. It is easier to see this in examples where the target of negation is a conversational implactum as in 4a and 4b:

4. a. Some men aren't chauvinists -- all men are.

b. Chris didn't manage to solve some of the problems -- he solved all of them. (Horn, p. 370)

Unlike in example 2g, it is the inference not all being negated, rather than the connotation of difficulty contained in managed. This brings the conversational implicatum into the logical form of the sentence, but conversational implicata by definition are not part of the logical form (qtd. In Horn 370). Horn uses examples like 5a-d to blow the issue of semantics completely out of the waters of negation:

5. a. We didn't hike up the ['mae-n?

n], we hiked up the ['mae-nth-n].

b. It's not a mountainy region; it's mountainous.

c. She's not "knocked up," she's with child.

These examples decimate the case for a generalized semantic account of marked negation because they bring phonetics, inflectional morphology, and the pragmatics of register into the scope of negation. Horn also overthrows the case for truth-conditional arguments with examples like the following where the negation is followed up by a rectification identical in meaning:

6. a. I'm not her big sister; she's my little sister.

b. Ben Ward is not a black Police Commissioner but a Police Commissioner who is black.

c. The glass isn't half full -- it's half empty.

d. They're not the best at what they do -- they're the only ones who do it! (Horn, p. 371-372)

e. You don't put your shoes and socks on; you put your socks and shoes on.

f. She's not a chick, she's a young lady.

g. (I saw you with a woman at the bar last night.)

That wasn't a woman -- that was my wife!

Note that in this last example, the speaker does not mean to say that his wife is not a woman, but is rather rejecting the implication that he was meeting up with a potential love interest to whom he was not married.

All of Horn's examples of metalinguistic negation (a term first used by Oswold Ducrot in 1972) have three things in common, namely they are reactions to previous utterances, they follow a contradiction intonation contour, and they are followed by a rectification of the objectionable utterance. This is why he has decided to group presupposition cancelling along with the other forms of negation we have seen under the same heading of metalinguistic negation.

In summary, Horn sees two types of negation: descriptive negation with a truth-functional operation and metalinguistic negation, which serves to reject the assertability of an utterance on any grounds whatsoever.

Three Diagnostic Tests for Metalinguistic Negation

Horn proposed three tests for identifying metalinguistic negation: incorporated negation, negative polarity items, and the not x but y construction.

Incorporated Negation

One major difference between descriptive negation and metalinguistic negation is that the latter cannot incorporate negation into its morphology. For example, 7a-c are invalid sentences with incorporated negation:

7. a. The king of France is {not happy / *unhappy} -- there is no king of France.

b. I {don't believe/*disbelieve} they'll win -- I know they will.

c. It's {not interesting/*uninteresting} but fascinating. (Horn, p. 392)

Because incorporation is not possible, the negation is on a different level of analysis than it would be for ordinary descriptive negation.

Negative Polarity Items

Also because of the fact that metalinguistic negation does not operate on the same level as the clause in which it is contained, it does not trigger negative polarity items. In fact, metalinguistic negation triggers positive polarity items, which do not naturally occur within the scope of descriptive negation. See 8a-b for examples.

8. a. (The Sox have already clinched the pennant.) The Sox haven't {already/*yet} clinched the pennant -- they still have a long way to go. (Horn, p. 397)

b. He isn't {pretty / . . .} tall {. . . / *at all} -- he's humongous!

c. (I always rather liked him.) You didn't {rather / . . .} like him {. . . / *at all}… [END OF PREVIEW]

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