Anything negatives can do affirmatives can do just as well, except for some metaphors

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In this study I look into some of the functions people believe are specific to negation vis-à-vis affirmation in order to question the asymmetry between the two, which is the received view prevalent among many formal linguists, pragmatists, and psycholinguists (see, Horn 1989; Clark and Clark, 1977). On the assumption that "[m]uch of the speculative, theoretical, and empirical work on negation over the last twenty-three centuries has focused on the relatively marked or complex nature of the negative statement vis-à-vis its affirmative counterpart" (Horn, 1989:xiii), I examine here the extent to which negation is indeed pragmatically different from affirmation. Based on findings from both naturally occurring and laboratory data, I argue against an asymmetrical view of negation and affirmation (for a different view, see Horn, 1989:201). The pragmatic and functional similarity found here between negation and affirmation can be explained only by higher level processing mechanisms that are governed by pragmatic sensitivity (Giora, 1985; Sperber and Wilson, 1986/1995).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)981-1014
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2006


  • Emphatic effects
  • Mitigation
  • Negation
  • Relevance
  • Retention
  • Suppression


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