Linguistics Colloquium Series: Investigating the natural properties of stigmatized structures: The case of English Negative Concord

A Talk by Dr. Frances Blanchette, Assistant Director of the Center for Language Science at Penn State

Thursday, March 22, 2018 7:30 PM to 9:00 PM
Merten Hall (formerly University Hall), #3300

Traditional theoretical models assume a grammatical distinction between Negative Concord (NC) and Double Negation (DN) languages (Zeijlstra 2004). In NC, two or more syntactic negations yield a single semantic one (e.g., the ‘I ate nothing’ reading of “I didn’t eat nothing”), and in DN each negation contributes to the semantics (e.g. ‘It is not the case that I ate nothing’). English NC is associated with a heavy social stigma (Horn 2010). As such, traditional forms of usage and acceptability judgment data may obscure speakers’ grammatical knowledge of the construction. This paper contributes controlled experimental data to inform theoretical models of English NC and DN. A growing body of experimental work demonstrates that DN is possible in prototypical NC languages, including Spanish, Catalan, and French (Espinal & Prieto 2011; Prieto et al. 2013; Déprez et al. 2015; Espinal et al. 2016). In these languages, DN readings are associated with denial contexts (Geurts 1998), as well as marked prosody and gesture. I present data from a series of experiments that corroborate these findings for “Standard English”, typically assumed to be a DN language, which show how syntax, pragmatic context, and prosody shape the production, interpretation, and perception of English sentences with two negatives. The results demonstrate that, like in prototypical NC languages (Espinal et al. 2016), English speakers reliably exploit both syntactic and pragmatic cues in selecting an NC or a DN interpretation.