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The pragmatics of descriptive and metalinguistic negation: experimental data from French - Experiment 1

Resource Type
  • Grisot, Cristina
  • Blochowiak, Joanna
Publication Date
  • FORS - Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences
  • Abstract

    The phenomenon of descriptive and metalinguistic negation has been debated for a long time from a theoretical perspective. On the one hand, there are defenders of the ambiguist approach to negation, in which the descriptive negation basically serves to deny an utterance’s propositional content, and that this takes place by default (Horn 1985; 1989; Burton-Roberts 1989), while the metalinguistic negation surfaces only when the descriptive negation cannot be applied, and targets the non-truth-conditional contents of the utterance (e.g. implicatures, its register, its morphology or its phonology). Only the former is truth-functional, and the latter is claimed to be non-truth-functional as it does not operate on propositions. On the other hand, there are proponents of the non-ambiguist approach, who maintain that both types of negation are truth-functional since, in the case of metalinguistic negation, the process of pragmatic enrichment guarantees that the full proposition on which negation can operate will be reached (Carston 1996; 2002; Noh 1998; 2000; Moeschler 2010; 2013; 2017). Regarding processing, the ambiguist account predicts that it will take more time to treat metalinguistic negation because it always occurs as the second of two steps; in contrast, the non-ambiguist account makes no such prediction, since the interpretation of negation is contextually driven and the right context will issue the correct interpretation from the start. This paper will be devoted to the presentation of two self-paced reading experiments and of one offline elicitation experiment we carried out on French descriptive and metalinguistic negation. Our findings provide evidence in favor of the non-ambiguist approach.
Temporal Coverage
  • 2016-2018
Geographic Coverage
  • Switzerland (CH)
  • Belgium (BE)
Sampled Universe
Students in Humanities (age range: 19-23)
Random sampling :
Collection Mode
  • Experiment
We created 16 pairs of DN and MN stimuli divided into two lists, with each list including only one sentence from each pair, and 16 fillers. Each participant saw only one list. The experiment was run using the E-prime self-paced reading software (Schneider et al. 2012). The software presented the items and the fillers in a randomized order for each participant. Participants saw a series of three segments: the first was NEG; the second, the COR follow up sentence; and the last one was a wrap up sentence, whose function was to finalize the task and to avoid a reading time measure taken on a series-final segment. The three segments were followed by a yes/no question, where the ostensible task was to decide whether or not the situation described by the three segments (NEG, COR and the wrap up sentence) correctly described the picture. All the experimental items correctly described the corresponding pictures. There was a mixture of true and false answers in the case of the fillers. All the sentences were formulated in the present tense and had simple vocabulary. The number of syllables of NEG and COR varied between 5 and 6. The two target segments for which the reading time measures were taken were NEG and COR. Each participant was invited to sit in front of the computer screen where the instructions explaining the experiment were displayed. They were informed that they would see a picture, that they should take the time to look at it, that they would read three sentences and that they would have to decide whether the three segments did or did not describe the picture. Each session began with written instructions, followed by a training phase, in which participants read sentences similar to the experimental items and the fillers. At the end of the training phase, which was carried out on 4 items similar to experimental items and 4 items similar to fillers, they had the opportunity to ask questions of the experimenter before the actual experiment began. All the trials began with a fixation cross in the middle of the screen, which lasted for 1000ms. Then the picture appeared, remaining until the participants pressed the space bar. After that, participants could read the sentences one after another, by pressing the space bar. There was no time constraint imposed for the task, and each participant completed the experiment within approximately 8 minutes
No restriction

Update Metadata: 2019-07-03 | Issue Number: 1 | Registration Date: 2019-07-03

Grisot, Cristina; Blochowiak, Joanna (2019): The pragmatics of descriptive and metalinguistic negation: experimental data from French - Experiment 1. Version: 1.0.0. FORS - Swiss Center for Expertise in Social Research. Dataset.