Blanchette & Nadeu (2017) – Prosody and the meanings of English negative indefinites

Prosody and the meanings of English negative indefinites
Frances Blanchette, Marianna Nadeu
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September 2017
This paper investigates the acoustic correlates of Negative Concord (NC) and Double Negation (DN) readings of English negative indefinites in question-answer pairs. Productions of four negative words (no one, nobody, nothing, and nowhere) were elicited from 20 native English speakers as responses to negative questions such as “What didn’t you eat?” in contexts designed to generate either a single negation NC reading or a logically affirmative DN reading. A control condition with no negation in the question was employed for comparison. A verification question following each item determined whether tokens were produced with the target interpretation. Statistical analysis of the f0 curves revealed a significant difference: DN is associated with a higher fundamental frequency than NC. In contrast, the NC and single negative control conditions were not significantly different with respect to f0. Analysis of the verification question responses showed significant differences between all three conditions (Control > DN > NC), in support of the hypothesis that participants assigned DN and NC structures to the single negative words in the critical conditions. The results are compared with previous work on Romance, and we demonstrate how English behaves like a prototypical NC language in that DN is the prosodically marked form.

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Reference: lingbuzz/003667
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keywords: double negation, negative concord, prosody, syntax, english, denial negation, semantics, syntax, phonology
previous versions: v1 [September 2017]