Measuring the cognitive cost of downward monotonicity by controlling for negative polarity

Galit Agmon*, Yonatan Loewenstein, Yosef Grodzinsky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our goal in this study was to behaviorally characterize the property (or properties) that render negative quantifiers more complex in processing compared to their positive counterparts (e.g. the pair few/many). We examined two sources: (i) negative polarity; (ii) entailment reversal (aka downward monotonicity). While negative polarity can be found in other pairs in language such as dimensional adjectives (e.g. the pair small/large), only in quantifiers does negative polarity also reverse the entailment pattern of the sentence. By comparing the processing traits of negative quantifiers with those of non-monotone expressions that contain negative adjectives, using a verification task and measuring reaction times, we found that negative polarity is cognitively costly, but in downward monotone quantifiers it is even more so. We therefore conclude that both negative polarity and downward monotonicity contribute to the processing complexity of negative quantifiers.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
Gatsby Charitable Foundation


    • Downward monotonicty
    • Gradable adjectives
    • Language processing
    • Negative polarity
    • Quantifiers
    • Verification


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