Unnaturalness of Negation – an Old Wives’ Tale Retold
Keywords:negation, multiple negation, double negation, negative concord, psycholinguistics
Negation has a very long history of study. In the realm of logic, negation is seen as a simple operation that turns an affirmative to a negative. This assumption strongly affected the linguistic study of negation, and led to some misconceptions. For example, negation in natural languages is seen as something unnatural, artificial and syntactically as well as semantically dependant on affirmation. It is perceived as a logical/mathematical operation that turns affirmatives into negatives by way of syntactic transformation and semantic cancellation of multiple negatives. To refute some of these misconceptions, the paper investigates the nature of negation as a linguistic phenomenon, and shows that negation in logic and linguistics should not and cannot be treated in the same fashion. Special attention is paid to the problems of structural complexity, the syntactic notion of multiple negation and its different semantic interpretations. With regard to the semantic interpretation of multiple negation, languages, by and large, allow for two possibilities: negative concord and double negation. Negative concord, which interprets two negatives as a single negation, seems to represent the natural course of language development, while double negation, which allows the cancellation of two negatives resulting in affirmation, was introduced into languages under the influence of logic in the 17th and 18th centuries.
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