Dynamic Pragmatic View of Negation Processing

  • Ye TianEmail author
  • Richard Breheny
Part of the Language, Cognition, and Mind book series (LCAM, volume 1)


Many psycholinguistic studies have found that processing negative sentences is difficult, and often involves the representation of the positive argument. Current rejection accounts suggest that processing the positive argument is the mandatory first step of negation processing, and the difficulty of negation comes from the extra step of embedding. We argue for a dynamic pragmatic view, suggesting that even when processing a sentence without context, comprehenders retrieve contextual information such as its Question Under Discussion (QUD), using linguistic cues. Without supporting context, negation acts as a cue for retrieving and accommodating the most prominent QUD, where the truth of the positive counterpart is at issue. QUD accommodation happens incrementally and automatically, which triggers the representation of the positive argument and contributes to the extra processing cost related to negation.


Negation Question under discussion Pragmatics Semantics Sentence processing 


  1. Altmann, G., & Kamide, Y. (1999). Incremental interpretation at verbs: Restricting the domain of subsequent reference. Cognition, 73(3), 247–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Altmann, G., & Kamide, Y. (2007). The real-time mediation of visual attention by language and world knowledge: Linking anticipatory (and other) eye movements to linguistic processing. Journal of Memory and Language, 57(4), 502–518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Altmann, G., & Kamide, Y. (2009). Discourse-mediation of the mapping between language and the visual world: Eye movements and mental representation. Cognition, 111(1), 55–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arroyo, F. (1982). Negatives in context. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 21(1), 118–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barr, D. J. (2008). Pragmatic expectations and linguistic evidence: Listeners anticipate but do not integrate common ground. Cognition, 109(1), 18–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barsalou, L. W. (1999). Perceptual symbol systems. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22(04), 577–660.Google Scholar
  7. Breheny, R., Ferguson, H. J., & Katsos, N. (2013). Taking the epistemic step: Toward a model of on-line access to conversational implicatures. Cognition, 126(3), 423–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brown-Schmidt, S., Gunlogson, C., & Tanenhaus, M. (2008). Addressees distinguish shared from private information when interpreting questions during interactive conversation. Cognition, 107(3), 1122–1134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carlson, L. (1983). Dialogue games: An approach to discourse analysis. Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  10. Carpenter, P. A., & Just, M. A. (1975). Sentence comprehension: A psycholinguistic processing model of verification. Psychological Review, 82(1), 45–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clark, H. H. (1976). Semantics and comprehension. The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar
  12. Clark, H. H., & Chase, W. G. (1972). On the process of comparing sentences against pictures. Cognitive Psychology, 3(3), 472–517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cooper, R. (1974). The control of eye fixation by the meaning of spoken language: A new methodology for the real-time investigation of speech perception, memory, and language processing. Cognitive Psychology, 6, 84–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cornish, E., & Wason, P. (1970). The recall of affirmative and negative sentences in an incidental learning task. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 22(2), 109–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dale, R., & Duran, N. D. (2011). The cognitive dynamics of negated sentence verification. Cognitive Science, 35(5), 983–996.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Evans, J. S. B. T., Clibbens, J., & Rood, B. (1996). The role of implicit and explicit negation in conditional reasoning bias. Journal of Memory and Language, 35(3), 392–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fischler, I., Bloom, P. A., Childers, D. G., Roucos, S. E., & Perry, N. W. (1983). Brain potentials related to stages of sentence verification. Psychophysiology, 20(4), 400–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ginzburg, J. (2012). The interactive stance: Meaning for conversation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Giora, R. (2006). Anything negatives can do affirmatives can do just as well, except for some metaphors. Journal of Pragmatics, 38(7), 981–1014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Giora, R. (2016, this volume). When negatives are easier to understand than affirmatives: The case of negative sarcasm. In P. Larrivée & C. Lee (Eds.), Negation and polarity: Experimental perspectives (pp. 127–143). Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  21. Glenberg, A. M. (1997). What memory is for: Creating meaning in the service of action. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 20(1), 41–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Glenberg, A. M., Robertson, D. A., Jansen, J. L., & Johnson-Glenberg, M. C. (1999). Not propositions. Cognitive Systems Research, 1(1), 19–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gough, P. (1965). Grammatical transformations and speed of understanding. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 4(2), 107–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Grice, H. (1975). Logic and conversation. In R. Stainton (Ed.), Perspectives in the philosophy of language (pp. 41–58). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Google Scholar
  25. Hasson, U., & Glucksberg, S. (2006). Does understanding negation entail affirmation? An examination of negated metaphors. Journal of Pragmatics, 38(7), 1015–1032.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hedberg, N., & Sosa, J. (2003). Pitch contours in negative sentences. Poster presented at the 15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Barcelona.Google Scholar
  27. Hindy, N. C., Solomon, S. H., Altmann, G. T. M., & Thompson-Schill, S. L. (2013). A cortical network for the encoding of object change. Cerebral Cortex, bht275.Google Scholar
  28. Horn, L. R. (1978). Lexical incorporation, implicature, and the least effort hypothesis. CLS, 14, 196–209.Google Scholar
  29. Huettig, F., Rommers, J., & Meyer, A. S. (2011). Using the visual world paradigm to study language processing: A review and critical evaluation. Acta Psychologica, 137(2), 151–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Karttunen, L. (1974). Presupposition and linguistic context. Theoretical Linguistics, 1(1), 181–194.Google Scholar
  31. Kaup, B., Yaxley, R. H., Madden, C. J., Zwaan, R., & Lüdtke, J. (2007a). Experiential simulations of negated text information. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60, 976–990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kaup, B., Zwaan, R., & Lüdtke, J. (2005). Effects of negation, truth value, and delay on picture recognition after reading affirmative and negative sentences. In B. G. Bara et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 27th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1114–1119). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  33. Kaup, B., Zwaan, R., & Lüdtke, J. (2006). Procesing negated sentences with contradictory predicates: Is a door that is not open mentally closed? Journal of Pragmatics, 38, 1033–1050.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kaup, B., Zwaan, R., & Lüdtke, J. (2007b). The experiential view of language comprehension: How is negated text information represented? In F. Schmalhofer & C. A. Perfetti (Eds.), Higher level language processes in the brain: Inference and comprehension processes (pp. 255–288). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  35. Lee, C. (2016, this volume). Metalinguistically negated versus descriptively negated adverbials: ERP and other evidence. In P. Larrivée & C. Lee (Eds.), Negation and polarity: Experimental perspectives (pp. 229–255). Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  36. Levinson, S. C. (1983). Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Lewis, D. (1979). Scorekeeping in a language game. Journal of Philosophical Logic, 8(1), 339–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lüdtke, J., Friedrich, C. K., De Filippis, M., & Kaup, B. (2008). Event-related potential correlates of negation in a sentence-picture verification paradigm. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20(8), 1355–1370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lüdtke, J., & Kaup, B. (2006). Context effects when reading negative and affirmative sentences. In R. Sun & N. Miyake (Eds.), Proceedings of the 28th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1735–1740). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  40. Mckinstry, C., Dale, R., & Spivey, M. J. (2008). Action dynamics reveal parallel competition in decision making. Psychological Science, 19(1), 22–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Nieuwland, M. S., & Kuperberg, G. R. (2008). When the truth is not too hard to handle: an event-related potential study on the pragmatics of negation. Psychological Science: A Journal of the American Psychological Society/APS, 19(12), 1213–1218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Oaksford, M., & Stenning, K. (1992). Reasoning with conditionals containing negated constituents. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 18(4), 835.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Prado, J., & Noveck, I. A. (2006). How reaction time measures elucidate the matching bias and the way negations are processed. Thinking & Reasoning, 12(3), 309–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Roberts, C. (2012). Information structure in discourse: Towards an integrated formal theory of pragmatics. Semantics and Pragmatics, 5(6), 1–69.Google Scholar
  45. Russell, B. (1948). Human knowledge: Its scope and limits. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  46. Stalnaker, R. (1973). Presuppositions. Journal of Philosophical Logic, 2, 447–457.Google Scholar
  47. Stalnaker, R. (1978). Assertion. In P. Cole (Ed.), Syntax and semantics (pp. 315–332). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  48. Stalnaker, R. (1998). On the representation of context. Journal of Logic, Language and Information, 7, 3–19.Google Scholar
  49. Tanenhaus, M. K., Carroll, J., & Bever, T. (1976). Sentence-picture verification models as theories of sentence comprehension: A critique of Carpenter and Just. Psychological Review, 83(4), 310–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Tanenhaus, M. K., Spivey-Knowlton, M., Eberhard, K., & Sedivy, J. (1995). Integration of visual and linguistic information in spoken language comprehension. Science, 268(5217), 1632–1634.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tettamanti, M., Manenti, R., Della Rosa, P. A., Falini, A., Perani, D., Cappa, S. F., & Moro, A. (2008). Negation in the brain: Modulating action representations. Neuroimage, 43(2), 358–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tian, Y. (2014). Negation processing: A dynamic pragmatic account. Ph.D. dissertation, University College London.Google Scholar
  53. Tian, Y., & Breheny, R. (Under review). A new look at negative sentence verification.Google Scholar
  54. Tian, Y., Breheny, R., & Ferguson, H. (2010). Why we simulate negated information: A dynamic pragmatic account. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 63(12), 2305–2312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Tian, Y., Ferguson, H., & Breheny, R. (Under review). Processing negation without context—Why and when we represent the positive counterpart.Google Scholar
  56. Tomasino, B., Weiss, P. H., & Fink, G. R. (2010). To move or not to move: imperatives modulate action-related verb processing in the motor system. Neuroscience, 169(1), 246–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Tottie, G. (1991). Negation in English speech and writing: A study in variation. San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  58. Trabasso, T., & Rollins, H. (1971). Storage and verification stages in processing concepts. Cognitive Psychology, 2(3), 239–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Van Berkum, J., van den Brink, D., Tesink, C. M. J. Y., Kos, M., & Hagoort, P. (2008). The neural integration of speaker and message. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20(4), 580–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Van der Sandt, R. (1988). Context and presupposition. London: Croom Helm.Google Scholar
  61. von Fintel, K. (2004). Would you believe it? The king of France is back! Presuppositions and truth-value intuitions. In M. Reimer & A. Bezuidenhout (Eds.), Descriptions and beyond (pp. 315–341). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  62. von Fintel, K. (2008). What is presupposition accommodation, again? Philosophical Perspectives, 22(1), 137–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wales, R. J., & Grieve, R. (1969). What is so difficult about negation? Perception and Psychophysics, 6(6), 327–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wallage, P. (2016, this volume). Identifying the role of pragmatic activation in the changes to the expression of English negation. In P. Larrivée & C. Lee (Eds.), Negation and polarity: Experimental perspectives (pp. 199–227). Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  65. Wason, P. (1961). Response to affirmative and negative binary statements. British Journal of Psychology, 52, 133–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Wason, P. (1965). The contexts of plausible denial. Journal of Verbal Learning Verbal Behavior, 4(1), 7–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Young, R., & Chase, W. G. (1971). Additive stages in the comparison of sentences and pictures. Paper presented at the Midwestern Psychological Association meetings, Chicago.Google Scholar
  68. Zwaan, R. (2004). The immersed experiencer: Toward an embodied theory of language comprehension. Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 44, 35–62.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Université Paris DiderotParisFrance
  2. 2.University College LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations