English negative concord and double negation: The division of labor between syntax and pragmatics

Frances Blanchette, Marianna Nadeu, Jeremy Yeaton, Viviane Deprez


Recent research demonstrates that prototypical negative concord (NC) languages allow double negation (DN) (Espinal & Prieto 2011; Prieto et al. 2013; Déprez et al. 2015; Espinal et al. 2016). 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’). That NC and DN have been shown to coexist calls into question the hypothesis that grammars are either NC or DN (Zeijlstra 2004), and supports micro-parametric views of these phenomena (Déprez 2011; Blanchette 2017). Our study informs this debate with new experimental data from American English. We explore the role of syntax and speaker intent in shaping the perception and interpretation of English sentences with two negatives. Our results demonstrate that, like in prototypical NC languages (Espinal et al. 2016), English speakers reliably exploit syntactic, pragmatic, and acoustic cues to in selecting an NC or a DN interpretation.


negation; negative concord; syntax-pragmatics-prosody interface

Full Text:


DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v3i1.4349

Copyright (c) 2018 Frances Blanchette, Marianna Nadeu, Jeremy Yeaton, Viviane Deprez

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Donate to the Open-Access Fund of the LSA

Linguistic Society of America

Advancing the Scientific Study of Language

ISSN (online): 2473-8689

This publication is made available for free to readers and with no charge to authors thanks in part to your continuing LSA membership and your donations to the open access fund.