[PS-3.51] Pragmatic aspects of negation processing: Evidence from eye-tracking studies

de la Vega, I. , Leuthold, H. & Kaup, B.

Eberhard Karls University Tübingen

Negated utterances are associated with very specific pragmatic inferences (Moeschler, 1992). They are usually used when something deviates from an assumption (Givón, 1978); therefore, using negation implies that the speaker assumes the listener holds something for true. In two eye-tracking studies, we tested whether these pragmatic inferences of negation influence sentence processing. In Study 1, participants read sentences (adapted from Rayner et al., 2004) such as (a) 'John did not use a knife to chop the onions' or (b) 'John did not use an axe to chop the onions', that is, sentences containing either a plausible (knife) or implausible (axe) instrument. The use of negation renders sentences containing an implausible instrument plausible, and sentences containing a plausible instrument implausible. However, negation is pragmatically felicitous in (a), but infelicitous in (b). Despite its plausibility, we found longer fixations on the patient ('onions') in (b) as compared to (a), probably due to the fact that negation is not pragmatically licensed in these sentences. To license the use of negation, we introduced hedges at the beginning of the sentence such as 'of course' in Study 2. Results were identical to Study 1. We conclude that more context is needed to license negation.