Prosody and the meanings of English negative indefinites

Frances Blanchette, Marianna Nadeu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This paper investigates the acoustic correlates of single 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 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 interpreted as expected and, therefore, produced with the target interpretation. Statistical analysis of the f0 curves revealed a significant difference: DN is associated with a higher fundamental frequency than single negation. In contrast, the single negative and 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 > single negation), suggesting that single negation is more difficult to interpret than DN as a response to a negative question. The results are compared with previous work on Romance, and we demonstrate how English behaves like a prototypical Negative Concord language in that DN is the prosodically marked form.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-139
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
StatePublished - May 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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