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La Négation

Stéphanie Bonnefille
Sébastien Salbayre

Linguistique : négation, stratégies discursives et processus mentaux

A Cognitive-Interactional Model of Direct and Indirect Negation

Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk


Negation is interpreted in the paper in a broad sense of the term. It covers explicit sentential negation as well as the elements of negativity, implicit in some meanings and their presuppositions. Relevant is also discourse negatibility, dormant in speakers’ interactional contributions, in terms of the speakers’ ratification of an utterance and its potential refutability. Philosophical and psychological conditioning of negation is discussed and a mapping approach to negation is presented in terms of a cognitive-interactional model. The model assumes that a positive state of affairs has to be activated as an input space in negation and followed by a number of operations, which lead to the construction of spaces of a negative (counterfactual) type. For a positive state of affairs to be activated in negative contexts, the elements must be both embedded in a familiar frame and salient enough extralinguistically, i.e. foregrounded either by convention, context or individual subject’s experience. Indirect negation is identified on lexical, sentential and discourse levels, as exemplified in neg-raising and non-commitment cases, which involve suspended assessment and inclination, resolved towards positive or negative judgement in larger context. It invariably involves building complex multiple-space models, with the negated elements located in different parts of the structure, which affects the incrementation processes in current Discourse Domains

Texte intégral


  • 1 The main thesis of this paper is based on Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (1996). Parts of sections 1, 2, 3 (...)
  • 2 The concept of counterfactuality is taken here to refer to a relationship between mental spaces, on (...)

1Negation is a polysemous concept. It can be understood either as an explicit narrow change of the lexical or sentential polarity, introduced by the negative affix or the particle not or else it can be taken broadly, as any manifestation of absence or counterfactuality2, explicit or implicit, on the lexical, sentential or discourse level. When negation is taken in the broad sense of the term I call it negativity. It covers both explicit sentential negation as well as the elements of negativity, implicit in some meanings and their presuppositions contained in the structures that have no surface linguistic negation at all, such as in the nouns wig or pretense, verbs of change break or close, or the adjective bald. Negativity is explicitly present in the force-dynamic structures Jim dissuaded Peter from leaving or is present implicitly in such utterances as He is rich but honest or Why do it? Negativity underlies also such phenomena as irony, hyperbole, or metaphor. Relevant to the topic of negation is discourse negatibility, dormant in speakers'interactional contributions, in terms of the speakers'ratification of an utterance and its potential refutability (cf. Huebler, 1983; Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, 1996).


2The question of formal ontology of the states of affairs and the relative status of positive and negative states of affairs has been a matter of long disputes in philosophy. The sentence There is an elephant in this room, which refers to a positive state of affairs, is fairly easy to interpret, when there is an elephant in this room. A question arises, however, as to what “state of affairs” the sentence There is NO elephant in this room refers to. What do we mean when we say that a sentence expresses a negative state of affairs? It cannot be taken to mean that the negative sentence mirrors the outside world as negative referents are not present in this reality by definition. Furthermore, the negative sentence with the elephant can refer to an infinite number of instances in which no elephant is in this room.

3Philosophers and linguists approach the question of states of affairs and negative judgements from various perspectives. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1953) considers all states of affairs to be positive. For other philosophers (Reinach, 1911), there exist both positive and negative states of affairs and although their epistemological properties are different, they are considered indistinguishable in their mode of being. The Polish philosopher Roman Ingarden (1971) argues for an autonomous existence of the positive states of affairs, while the negative states of affairs are taken to be primarily thought of or intended-conceptualized – I would say – carried into the situation from a different source than the positive judgement. As the negative state of affairs and negative judgements do not have a corollary in the real world, they can only be products of the mind. The germ of such a theory is found already in St. Thomas's Being and Essence, in which, as interpreted by Gale (1976):

... it is held that privation and negations acquire existence because the intellect, knowing privations through characters and negations through affirmations, in some way forms in itself some sort of image of a thing lacking. (1976: 60)

4Gale further adds that although some instances of negation involve the occurrence of positive events, another type would point rather to “a higher-order thesis” of “a timeless relation of incompatibility or otherness between abstract entities” (Gale, 1976: 44). Such a philosophical tradition is an old one. We also find it in the Indian philosophical thought, where, for example in Navya-nyāya literature, negation is identified with absence, the absence of something (Matilal, 1968). The doctrine of negation there, however, is different from Western philosophical systems. As was put by the editor of the Harvard Oriental Series, D. H. H. Ingalls, Navya-nyäya metaphysics “hypostatizes” absence “into a category... [They] insisted against the opposition of all other schools, that one can see the absence of an object in a given place” (Matilal, 1968: VIII). In this sense, pure negation is not accepted there and while the absence of something is not in itself an instrument of true cognition, it is an object of true cognition.

5Basing negation on its corresponding affirmation may be acceptable for the majority of cases. As some say: The Ten Commandments were made up for those who were ready to act otherwise. On the other hand, as Horn asks (1989: 1.1): if I say I don't love you, does that mean that I must love somebody else? I think such a presupposition is not quite correct. The negative utterance of this kind conveys the presupposition of a different kind: the Speaker thinks that the Addressee thinks that he loves her, which is not the case. The question of loving somebody else does not have to be of direct relevance here.

6Dependence of negation on the affirmative context in terms of a given world-model is clearly visible in such examples as those discussed in Fillmore (1985). There is an obvious difference between He has no nose and He has no noses, although the truth conditions of the two sentences are identical. Even though the range of situations that a negative sentence can refer to is larger than that of a positive statement, the probability of occurrence of a given negative sentence in actual interaction is directly relative to a (positive) world model a language user possesses. Therefore, as Fillmore suggests, in the world where human beings have typically a single smelling and breathing organ, it is the former utterance above and not the latter that would be considered more natural.

7In a logico-linguistic essay, Atlas (1989: 119) presents a traditional problem of negation in the formulation of Sir Alfred Ayer (1954: 46-7):

If I say that the Mediterranean Sea is blue, I am referring to an individual object and ascribing a quality to it; my statement, if it is true, states a positive fact. But if I say that the Atlantic is not blue, though I am again referring to an individual, I am not ascribing any quality to it; and while, if my statement is true, there must be some positive fact which makes it so, it cannot, so the argument runs, be the fact that the Atlantic is not blue, since this is not positive, and so, strictly speaking, not a fact at all. Thus it would seem either that the apparently negative statement is somehow doing duty for one that is affirmative, or that it is made true, if it is true, by some fact which it does not state. And it is thought that both alternatives are paradoxical.

8Locke's conception of abstract ideas may perhaps throw some light on the interpretation of the notion of “negative facts”:

External objects furnish the mind with the ideas of sensible qualities, which are all those different perceptions they produce in us; and the mind furnishes the understanding with ideas of its own operations. (Locke 1679 Ch. 1, On Ideas in General and Their Original Bk. II. 5.)

  • 3 However, cf. Ayer's quotation above, in which the author discredits the concept of “negative facts”

9If we reach for Russell (1919 [1956]: 211), we come to the conclusion that the solution to the dilemma of negative judgments may be by positing the existence of “negative facts” after all, similar to Lockian mental facts3.\In Russell's view, the negative fact the Atlantic is not blue is the fact which is distinct from other facts in which the Atlantic has a property of any colour with the exception of blue. In other words, the negative act, according to Russell, is not synonymous with a range of positive facts in which the Atlantic is green, grey, turquoise, etc. (cf. Atlas, 1989: 120). Frege (1966 [1919]), in his work on negation, argues for a similar interpretation of negation, but extends it with the idea that although negation is not synonymous with a range of positive facts, it must be completed by some further thought:

If one thought contradicts another, then from a sentence whose sense is the one it is easy to construct a sentence expressing the other. Consequently the thought that contradicts another thought appears as made up of that thought and negatioa (I do not mean by this, the act of denial.) But the words “made up of” “consist of,” “component,” “part” may lead to our looking at it the wrong way. If we choose to speak of parts in this connection, all the same these parts are not mutually independent in the way that we are elsewhere used to find when we have parts of a whole. The thought does not, by its make-up, stand in any need of completion; it is self-sufficient. Negation on the other hand needs to be completed by a thought. [emphasis added] (Frege, 1966 [1919]: 131-32)

10I take it then that negative states of affairs are mental constructs. Both to produce as well as to interpret negation linguistically one has to refer to a positive state of affairs. Going further along the same line of thought, we can suggest that any (positive) scene described in language can, in principle, invoke an infinite number of negative statements. Sentence (1) implies not only (2) but can imply variants of (3) or even (4):

(1) The cat is sitting on the mat.

(2) The cat is not walking/jumping etc. on the mat.

(3) The dog/squirrel/mouse/elephant, etc. is not sitting on the mat.

(4) Peter, etc. is not dancing, etc. on the mat, etc.

11Negative sentence (5) below on the other hand does not tell us much about the cat itself but more about our expectations, presuppositions, etc. concerning the entities and the state of affairs involved:

(5) The cat is not sitting on the mat.

12All the negative sentences invoke in the speaker and addressee what is called in existentialism the experience of absence, or hypostasis of absence as dubbed by Matilal, the experience, which must be differentiated from the absence of experience of a certain sensation and conception.

13A thesis that should be discussed at this point refers to various categories of indirect (implicit) negation. Indirect negation involves, as can be proposed, building a multiple mental space model, in which positive properties are mapped onto the negative (absent) salient entities, properties, or events. In this complex model though, the “absence” may occur in the part of the model that represents the presuppositional, encyclopaedic, and/or implicational knowledge involving a linguistic unit (word, phrase, sentence, discourse) at its so-called literal or more figurative sense interpretation. The broad meaning of such units embraces not only the conceptual structure of the entities referred to in an utterance, but the whole discourse context, including the speaker (and the addressee), together with (the strength of) their beliefs and convictions in more quantitative epistemological terms. The question is as to whether such models, incorporating different degrees of complexity, that can be proposed with reference to indirect as opposed to, simpler, direct negatives, are cognitively plausible. In other words, one may wonder whether such models can be observed in first language development and acquisition of negation.


14There exist certain properties of the real world surrounding us which seem to be naturally acquired by human beings. People are able to perceive and represent some of its dimensions directly, such as spatial relations, distance, shape, things (detachable from other objects and from the background), colour. Some other categories seem to be acquired indirectly. Clark and Clark (1977:537) mention a distinction maintained by some psychologists, who differentiate between the former, calling them perceptual categories, and the latter, named cognitive categories, such as number, cause and effect, time. Clark and Clark maintain that “there may be no principled way to distinguish these from perceptual categories” (1977: 537), and consider both kinds to belong to different types of cognitive categories, the difference being that the former act as cognitive anchor for the latter. Number, cause and effect, time, may be thought of in terms of physical perceptual space (acquired by vision, hearing) and contact (touch). Negativity is probably one of the latter categories and can be conceptualized in terms of spatial relations such as OUT rather than IN, LESS rather than MORE, DISJOINING rather than CONJOINING, SPLITTING rather than COMBINING, etc. (cf. Johnson, 1987 for a more complete list of such image schemas). Morphologically, negation in many languages is realized as MORE rather than LESS. The negative is more complex than the positive as negation opens up a larger range of options. It also takes up more effort to define what something is not rather than what something is. Clark and Clark suggest that “people normally use positive rather than negative representations so that they can represent knowledge as simply and directly as possible”. (1977: 538). A positive statement or a positive attribute are probably more salient than a negative one, representing the absence. From the point of view of linguistic markedness on the other hand, the negative is more marked, less frequent and, as observed in corpus materials, interactionally a less preferred option.

15The fact then, that explicitly negative statements are physically longer can be accounted for by the fact that they are conceptually more complex, which agrees with the principle of iconicity. In the case of implicit lexical negatives such as enemy, bald or bad, negation is incorporated in the conceptual/semantic structure of one, morphologically simpler, lexical item and is represented as a shorter form, more readily processed. A similar meaning expressed as a weaker, less salient, more marked, explicit negative (not a friend, not good, etc.,) is represented as a longer form and may require more processual effort.

16The manifestations of early negativity can be observed in young infants'intentional, also pre-linguistic (cf. Piaget, 1954), behaviour of acceptance and rejection (cf. Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, 1996 for the description and comments given in the next paragraphs).

17In first language development, negation first appears as an overt sentential operator either in the initial or in the final position of an utterance. Its primary function is to express refusal or rejection (examples below come from my own corpus):

(6) Polish: Dzidzia aa nie
(lit. Baby sleep no)
“I don't want/I refuse to go to bed.”

18Only later in child language development is negation used to express a referential truth-value denial:

(7) Pol. Auto nie
(8) Nie auto
(lit. car no/no car)
“‘This is not a car.” (as one of the possible interpretations)

19Implicit – weaker – negative meanings, also those lexically expressed, appear only later in language development. Sentential negation as first used by a child is, to put it generally, a negative response to undesired and/or false contextual stimuli. First manifestations of children's sensitivity to some negative elements in the surrounding is the verbal play, which can be observed in infants'peek-a-boo or hiding-objects games. These would be instances of what I would call “negative” games, where expectancy of the infants is violated and which are, according to Howard Gardner and Ellen Winner (1986), first steps towards understanding more elaborated, indirectly conveyed, instances of negativity such as the violation of children's sense of language literalness. In connection with this kind of situation, Gardner and Winner gathered materials concerning children's understanding of metaphor and sarcasm. They propose that in understanding metaphor children face a pragmatic and a conceptual problem. The former refers to the realization that the speaker says one thing and by it means another thing. The conceptual problem children face concerns the identification of the metaphor vehicle and its topic. When compared with the recognition of sarcasm with children, the authors obtained very interesting results. In both kinds the utterances are discrepant from the truth. This recognition was easier for sarcasm than for metaphor. However, the speakers'intentions and their negative attitude conveyed by their sarcastic remarks were not readily recognized by children even as old as between 6 and 13 years. Similar results were obtained when Gardner and Winner extended their experiments to also cover other truth violating interactional strategies such as understatement and hyperbole. It turns out that although preschoolers can hold contradictory elements in mind, use the same principles of categorization as adults and are able to infer other persons'internal states, they commit errors in understanding metaphor, sarcasm, hyperbole, and understatement into the early elementary school years. In their paper on literal and non-literal falsehood, Winner et al. (1987: 29) suggested that sarcasm may be easier to understand by children because “sarcasm presents the listener with a more blatant violation of truth”. The hypothesis proposed by Gardner and Winner (1986) is that children are not ready to infer the conveyed message for first few years of their lives. And yet, there exists some evidence that children do understand some of such “alternative realities” contexts. This is manifested in their early abilities to participate in pretend plays and their ability to conceptualize pretense as a mental representational state rather than a simple action (cf. Lillard, 1993a and 1993b).

20There are many studies geared towards children's ability to understand and draw conclusions from sentences containing what we would call negative predicates such as pretend, forget, etc. Harris (1975), for example, examined children's and adults'comprehension of presuppositional consequences for the truth of the complement clause involving factive predicates (know and be happy), nonfactive predicates (say and whisper) and counterfactive predicates, which carry the presupposition that the complement clause is false, (wish and pretend). Not one child in the experiment (ages 4 to 12) was able to recognize that nonfactives do not carry any presupposition concerning the truth of the complement; they tended to judge them as true. Children had also problems with the recognition of presupposed falsity of counterfactive complements. DeHart and Maratsos (1984) also report other studies on presuppositional usages of different group of predicates, e. g. those which examined differences in children's understanding between the nonfactive think and factive know and found out that while 3-year-olds do not grasp this distinction, 4-year olds do. Macnamara et al. (1976), interested in the children's ability to infer truth-falsity of the complement of pretend, forget, and know, confirm that 4-year-olds show partial understanding of these matters. All such studies, however, suggest that, in DeHart and Maratsos wording (1984: 267): “the evidence across studies argues for gradual acquisition of the factivity distinction on a verb-by-verb basis, rather than more general, sudden, once-and-for-all acquisition”. De Villiers notes, however, that there is in fact not much attention paid to indirect negatives in acquisitional literature so, consequently, the analysis of all form-function intricacies of negation and their acquisition is greatly impoverished (de Villiers, 1984: 231). However, even this brief sketch of the problems experienced by children in the processes of indirect negation acquisition can be considered evidence supporting the thesis that negativity must involve more complex processing models than direct negation.


21As we tried to argue in the above sections, the negative conviction and negative judgement cannot exist without the activating and construction of a number of mental spaces. Neither would they be possible without the mapping of one (positive input space) onto a new (“negative”) one, where what is profiled is, as was discussed above, a hypostasized absence of part of the input space properties. For the hypostatis to occur however, a property, thing or action absent must first of all strike the subject for its absence. It thus must be both embedded in a familiar frame and salient enough extralinguistically, i. e. foregrounded either by convention, context or individual subject's experience (cf. Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, 2005 and Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, in press). The concept of salience is found to have both neurobiological and conceptual foundation. Salient information is more accessible and experientially more familiar (cf. Giora, 2003: 13-38, for a thorough discussion).

22Familiarity and salience let a frame/mental model function as a trigger to activate the “positive” conceptualization of a scene, in which the element absent in real life is indeed present in the first conceptualization of an irrealis mental space. In such a mapping approach to negation, a positive state of affairs has to be activated as an input space followed by a number of operations such as EXTRACTION, BLOCKING, etc., which lead to the construction of spaces of a negative type. Eventually, a process of blending of the two must take place, where the blend foregrounds the salient, absent element of the space.

23In the mental space approach to language, the negative marker not is one of the space builders of the counter-spatial (Seuren, 1985) or the counterfactual type (Fauconnier, 1985). Its technical instruction contains a property of expelling part of the discourse material (usually presuppositional) (cf. also Welsh, 1983) from a domain of discourse or banning the addition of the conceptual material contained in the scope of its predication (cf. Langacker, 1987) to the discourse domain under construction as in:

(9) Peter does not own a farm. * The farm is in the valley of the river.

24In such cases the counterfactual space, John owns a farm, is set up and, as such, it cannot positively increment the discourse. However, when a space-builder of the world-creating (or alternative realities) type such as if will, modal expressions, expressions of the type in that story, in my dream, etc., is introduced, it has a property of cancelling the banning. Details from the counterfactual space can be made linguistically explicit then:

(10) Peter does not own a farm. If he did, he would invite us there.

25The increment value then of the sentential negative operator not is mainly technical, to use Seuren's (1985) terminology. Blocking the lexical material against its addition to the discourse domain may be either global, i. e. negation de dicto, which bans adding the discourse material from the associated existential presupposition, as in (11) or negation de re, which operates locally (12):

(11) Peter does not own a farm. He does not exist.

  • 4 Sentence (9) can be interpreted in two different ways. Either as local negation, where there are tw (...)

(12) Peter does not own a farm. He owns a chateau.4

26A communicative act involves a selection of linguistic units, which implies existence of other possible forms (“parallel” or “alternative” items) which could have been but were not selected for the informative purposes in this utterance. These unselected items then, counterfactual by implication, are “dormant” in unmarked contexts. Example (13) below can be an answer to the question in (14):

(13) (I'm having dinner) at six.
(14) What time are you having dinner tonight?

27In (13) above at six has been selected, from among other possible options (seven, eight, etc.), to increment the Discourse Domain (DD) set up in this interaction. In (15), however

(15) I'm having dinner AT SIX.

28the contrastive stress on AT SIX marks a different scope of negation and actual counterfactuality in the preceding context e.g.:

(16) You're having dinner at seven?

29Sentence (16) can be used as a question preceding the contrastive (15). Thus, in this particular case, seven was present not as a dormant but an actual option, i.e. evoked and explicitly mentioned in the domain of discourse preceding (15). The discourse function of the contrastive sentence (15) then is to expel seven from the DD and to introduce six instead.

30In terms of such an interpretation of selection of alternative items, the negatibility of an utterance, to use the term introduced by Huebler (1983: 12), is based exactly on the existence of such alternative, unselected options. The negatibility of an utterance becomes evident in what Huebler calls “the hearer's right to refute a sentence”. Any sentence, as proposed by Huebler, requires ratification to a greater or lesser extent and thus reveals, similarly to lexical items, its negatibility.


31Both developmentally and cognitively indirect negation (negativity) poses a number of problems. First of all, it comprises a heterogeneous class of linguistic items and contexts. We can make an attempt to list some of them:

  • 5 A formal calculus of state-change in terms of a succession of contrasting states of affairs was fir (...)

32(i) Hidden negative lexical structures, include, inter alia, a class of lexical items with the negative element present in different layers (spaces) of conceptual/semantic structure. Negative words are thus not only the predicates with the explicit negative operator, for example, those possessing negative prefixes such as misinform or careless, but also items whose presuppositions incorporate counterfactuality (denture, scapegoat etc.). Included here can be also lexical units containing a negative part such as cup or door (cf. Jackendoff and Landau, 1991). Though their partly negative character is not immediately evident, the concepts carrying the presuppostions which incorporate counterfactuality or such which involve an element of state change as in the verb change, break or fall (cf. Jackendoff, 1972) should also be included in this class. A change involves a shift from one state to another, i. e. from an initial to a final state as in The door opened. This shift can also be expressed as a succession of steps alternating between the presence and absence of a state, i. e. between the positive and the negative.5 Socalled negative words can also include force-dynamic expressions such as pierce, insist, let, etc. Negatively charged words and those expressing the negative evaluation can also find their place in this group.

33(ii) Another type of negativity occurs when we deal with opposition as a sense relation. Opposition is rendered either by the overt negative particle or by lexical negation incorporated in the marked member of the opposition: He is not tall-He is short.

34(iii) At sentence level, indirectly negative meanings involve structures introduced by world creating predicates (I believe that..., I thought that..., In that film..., etc.) and the constructions of the conditional, counterfactual, contrastive, etc. types.

  • 6 In fact, this example can be treated as a rhetorical question with a clear presupposition: There is (...)

35(iv) There exist numerous cases in which there is no linguistic negation but the interpretation is clearly negative as in Why bother?6

36The matter is even more complex if discourse constraints on negation are taken into consideration. Overt discourse negation, understood as a direct negative response in an interaction, puts the speaker and/or hearer at a greater risk: the speaker's negative intentions are clearly manifested. Hidden discourse negation creates a context to say less than the speaker (i. e. the responding participant) means, which weakens down a threat of an interactional conflict and indeed increases the chances of accepting the discourse negation by the interlocutor without losing face. Let's compare (the example quoted after Airenti, Bara, and Colombetti, 1993: 252):

(17) A: “Are you interested in yachting with me
during the Easter holidays ?”
B: No, I am not. [direct negative answer to the literal question ]
B: “No holidays together!” [direct rejection of the indirect proposal ]
B:“I hate being seasick.” [indirect answer to the direct question ]
Β: “I would, but I have already accepted an invitation from my sister.” [indirect rejection of the indirect proposal ]
B: “Why don't we go skiing to Cortina ?” [counterproposal]

37An indirect negation is then a common discourse strategy, which involves weakening of the negative force of an utterance. In what follows, two indirect negative categories Νeg Raising (transportation or displacement) and Negation Redirecting will be discussed shortly to see how they can be accounted for in cognitive-interactional terms.


38Neg-raising constructions are such constructions in which negation in the matrix clause yields a meaning similar to that of a corresponding sentence with negation in the subordinate clause e. g. I don't believe he will come – I believe he won't come. In early TG grammar Νeg Raising was treated as a transformation of the basic structure, both having the same semantic interpretation. Robin Lakoff (1969) proposed that Νeg Raising softens a negation (Lakoff, 1969; Horn 1975, 1978), but it was Jespersen (1917) who was credited with the observation that the two constructions have different negative force.

39Predicates, like propositions, can introduce either strong or weak assertion. Strongly assertive predicates such as in I know set up a mental space in which the conceptual structure of the predicate complement would correspond to what the speaker (I) believes to be a model of the outside reality. In the case of its negative counterpart I don't know, assertion will also be strong but the concepts not and know carry an instruction to build two spaces - a factual one and a counterfactual one and will bar the incrementation of the discourse domain with the counterfactual material. Weak assertions, irrealis being one of them, will always set up two spaces – factual and counter-spatial or counterfactual – but their discourse incremenation is negotiable between the speaker and other interactional partners.

40In their neg-raising reading (or parenthetical reading, as J. Hooper, 1975 calls them) weakly assertive predicates such as think, believe, seem, etc. in English convey the information that the speaker may have some reservations about the truth of the complement proposition. As Hooper suggests, weakly assertive predicates can also inform the hearer that the proposition expressed in the complement originates with a speaker other than the actual speaker. In cognitive terms, this would mean that weakly assertive concepts are double space builders, one being factual and the other counterfactual, which are simultaneously activated. Unlike, however, in the case of verbs of change where there is a sequential temporal relation between the spaces, here both factuality and (possible) counterfactuality can be actualised at the same time with the speaker and the hearer. In their parenthetical reading weakly assertive predicates bring about an element of uncertainty for the interactants about the status of the verbal material introduced by them, which, in turn, can function as a warning with reference to the incrementing of the current discourse domain with this material.

41The technical instruction then in cases of neg-raising constructions involves the following (cf. Hooper, 1975: 92, 104):

(18)... suspend the projection of the lexical material from the subdomain
to discourse domain and suspend the truth-value judgement of the sub-domain.

42The predicate know then involves setting up a space which can be called “positive certainty”, think, believe, etc. on the other hand, are space builders of positive or negative certainty in the believer's domain. However, for the addressee, the space embraces a continuum of multiple spaces between the positive and negative.

43The suspension of the judgement mentioned above can be subsumed under what Langacker (2002) calls an epistemic control cycle. Some linguistic categories reflect the processes of achieving propositional knowledge to be incorporated in the subject's conception of reality. Sumnicht (2001) and Langacker (2002) identify three stages of the process of achieving (propositional) knowledge: an initial formulation of a proposition, the assessment stage, and an inclination stage. The inclination stage shows the subject's inclination toward a positive or negative judgement to eventually accept or reject the assessed knowledge (action and result stages). The neg-transportation cases reflect the assessment and inclination stages of attitude formation but, as persuasively argued by Sumnicht (2001), “negative raising is only found with the inclination stage, where the matter is still at issue”, i.e. when the judgement is indeed suspended. This conclusion entirely supports what was proposed in (18) above.

44It may be interesting to note that in some languages such as Polish, all negative – explicit and implicit – assertives combine either with ie “that”-S (indicative mood) complement or assume a more hypothetical proposition in the form of the dependent complement zeby “so + that + would”-S (dependent mood) complement as in the examples below:

(19) a. Nie sądzę, że Janek przyjdzie tu jutro
“I don't think that John will come here tomorrow.”

b. Nie sądzę, żeby Janek przyszedł tu jutro
lit. I don't think so + that + would John came here tomorrow
[dependent complementizer] [ dependent mood- preterite ]
‘“I don't think that John might come here tomorrow.”

c. Sądzę, że (* żeby) Janek tu jutro nie przyjdzie
“I think that John will not come here tomorrow.”

45The positive inclination shows to be weaker with the żeby construction, which functions in fact as a modal expression. The evidence for the modal status of the complement proposition with the complementizer żeby can be provided from the analysis of cases involving optative-volitional constructions, both negative and positive:

(20) Nie chc, żeby przyszedł
lit. I don't want, so + that + would (he) came
“I don't want him to come.”
(21) Chcę, Zeby przyszedt
“I want him to come.”

46What we observe in Polish then is that in the cases of both positive and negative assertion of a strong type, the complementizer used is ze 'that'(characterized as a complementizer introducing public, factive knowledge cf. Wierzbicka, 1988; Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk and Dziwirek, 2003). The grammatical mood in the complement clause is then indicative, typical of strong assertion. In verbs with negative incorporation the complementizer is zeby “so + that + would” and the mood in the complement clause is of the dependent type (morphologically identical to preterite forms), which expresses an optative volitional sense. In the neg-raising predicates, the scenario presented in the subordinate clause then is more hypothetical – less probable when the complementizer żeby is used, than in the case of że “that”.

47Transferred negative utterances are thus not synonymous with their negated predicate counterparts. They are instances of weakening of the negative force of an utterance (cf. Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, in press), which is connected with a greater distance of the negative particle from the constituent element to which it refers. The change in the semantic interpretation is thus consonant with the principle of iconicity. On the other hand, as noted by Sumnicht, such constructions represent at the same time “a departure from iconicity in another dimension, in which negation occurring in the upper clause of a bi-clausal sentence applies to the event or situation described by the lower clause.”


48The rule of Neg Raising can be viewed in the cognitive paradigm as a process changing what Langacker calls the construal of the scene (Langacker, 1991: 546), that is the relationship between the conceptualizer (the speaker or addressee in particular) and the conceptualization s/he entertains (the meaning of a linguistic expression). What can be observed here is a certain parallelism between neg-raising verbs and performative verbs (cf. Hooper, 1975, Benveniste, 1958 and Lyons, 1977, II: 738-739) in that, as put by Lyons, in both cases, a speaker “makes an utterance and simultaneously comments on it”.

49I use the term Negation Redirecting in the cases of speech act verbs taking clausal complements expressing non-commitment such as e. g. I don't promise to be here tomorrow as opposed to I promise not to be here tomorrow, which express commitment to non-action.

50Cases of discourse non-commitment, what Lyons (1977: 777) calls the acts of non-commitment, are introduced by negated speech-act verbs. The difference between the acts of non-commitment (example (23)) and assertions of negation (example (22)) is that the former, but not the latter, are transparent to negation. Let us compare:

(22) I promise not to come here again * but I will try.
(23) I dont (can't) promise to come here again (but I will try).

51Cases of non-commitment are introduced by predicates that play a role in the speech act as an illocutionary force indicator e. g. promise, say, suggest, deny, accept, etc. I consider the prototypical cases of non-commitment to be instances of assessment and inclination suspense in the sense of Sumnicht (2001), elaborated into weak negative or positive inclination interpretation. The inclination ambiguity is disambiguated in larger contexts. The inclination suspense is then resolved. Example (24) presents inclination suspense contextually elaborated into weak negative inclination:

(24) I don't promise I'll be here (inclination suspense)
[I am not inclined to be here] (weak negative inclination)

52Examples (25) and (26) (BNC) on the other hand, show inclination suspense contextually elaborated into weak positive inclination, as the phrase I can't promise is often used with the interpretation of forced non-commitment:

(25) I'll have a go, but I can't promise too much, mind. Still, I daresay I can fix you up. There's a charge, of course.
(26) So I can't promise you total and utter and complete protection. All I can promise you is that we can guard you and hide you until you testify at trial, and afterwards we'll relocate you.

  • 7 Cf. Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (2005a) for a more extensive analysis and a more detailed categorization (...)

53I argued before that the main function of negation is to ban the material mentioned in the utterance from getting into a Discourse Domain or, if the material is already there, to remove it from the current domain. Some apparent cases of non-commitment7 do contain negation and yet they allow discourse incrementation with the propositional material. The apparently banned material is actually introduced into the discourse domain for rhetorical reasons. Classical face savers employ a simple technique of explicit embedding of the apparently banned material into a subordinate domain, itself contained in a space which, putatively, sanctions the banning, as in:

(27) I don't want to mention the fact [which is exactly what I am doing] that he was dismissed from that firm.

54It is then the case here that the non-commitment is only apparent and the inclination turns out to be a fairly strong epistemic stance as can be seen in the incoming verbal material in (27) above.


55A mapping approach to negation introduced here, which is part of a larger cognitive interactional framework, proposes that a positive state of affairs has to be activated as an input space and identifies conditions of such processes. Such a state of affairs must be both embedded in a familiar frame and salient enough extralinguistically, i. e. foregrounded either by convention, context or individual subject's experience. Familiarity and salience let it function as a trigger to activate the “positive” model of a scene, in which the element absent in real life is present in the conceptualization of an irrealis mental space. The negative element present in the semantic structure of a linguistic unit is associated with a function it fulfils in a discourse domain, actualized in on-going interaction.

56Indirect negation can be identified on lexical, sentential and discourse levels. It invariably involves building complex multiple-space structures, with the elements of negation located in different parts of the structure. Indirect negation on discourse level often involves the weakening of negative force of an utterance. For instance, Neg Raising expresses weaker conviction in the process of achieving (prepositional) knowledge and the subjects' temporary suspension of their judgement. Non-commitment cases also involve suspended assessment and inclination and, similarly to the neg-raising cases, are most frequently resolved towards positive or negative judgement in larger context. Apparent non-commitment on the other hand, signals the speakers' suspension of judgement or actions only formally, while in actual fact their convictions and assessment turn out to be fairly explicit in on-going discourse.



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1 The main thesis of this paper is based on Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (1996). Parts of sections 1, 2, 3 and 4 are reprinted from this book by courtesy of Lodz University Press.

2 The concept of counterfactuality is taken here to refer to a relationship between mental spaces, one of which involves element (s) opposite to the other. Negative sentences, obviously, can be either counterfactual (false) or not (true). The sentence It's not snowing can be true (factual) if it is indeed snowing and false (counterfactual) if it is snowing. In both cases though, an opposite mental space is activated, the counterfactual (false) It is snowing in the former, and the opposite (true) It is snowing in the latter.

3 However, cf. Ayer's quotation above, in which the author discredits the concept of “negative facts”.

4 Sentence (9) can be interpreted in two different ways. Either as local negation, where there are two different referents involved or as so-called metalinguistic negation where the referent is the same but the label used is corrected. In both cases though negation can be in fact associated not with correcting of the form as such but with an attempt on the part of the speaker to substitute one concept (“a farm”) in the discourse domain by another concept (“a château”). If the referent is the same, the speaker sets up a new scale, where a farm and a chateau function as oppositions. Metalinguistic negation proper then, probably less frequent, would refer only to such cases in which the speaker corrects a genuine slip-of-the-tongue type of error.
An interesting treatment of what is called polemic and metalinguistic negation has been offered by McCawley (1991; cf. Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 1996 for the discussion below). In his approach,
metalinguistic is not one of the forms of negation but “a function that negative constructions may fulfil” (1991: 204). McCawley gives examples of what he assumes to be a clear metalinguistic function of negative utterances from authentic language:
(i) No, you racist bigot, she isn't an uppity nigger broad-she's an independent-minded black woman. (quoted from Horn 1989: 372)
(ii) The United States has never had any peasants; our fields have always been tilled and our crops harvested by farmers and sharecroppers, however miserable their lives may have been. (McCawley 1991: 204).
McCawley suggests that the latter example is a case of noncontrastive negative construction which is used metalinguistically, i. e. interpreted not as the negation of the proposition but “rather as a rejection of the
way [emphasis added] that the content of that sentence is expressed” (McCawley 1991: 189). On a polemical note, one can argue, as was proposed above, that in (i) and (ii) what is negated is, in fact, not the way the content is expressed but the concepts that stand behind the forms used. Therefore, what the sentences seem to convey is not so much metalinguistic but rather conceptual negation McCawley distinguishes metalinguistic negative constructions from contrastive negations such as (iii)/(iv) below, of the form not X but Y in English, basing his explanation on different syntactic behaviour of these two classes of negative utterances. In his sense then, examples of the negated lexical scales given above might be treated, in one of their possible uses, as a contrastive rather than a metalinguistic negation type.
(iii) Not on Monday but on Tuesday we're having a visiting lecturer.
(iv) * Not on Monday but on Tuesday are we having a visiting lecturer.
In the cases of contrastive negation, it is not the whole constituent that is negative (propositional negation) or negated (metalinguistic negation), but only the constituents that are in the scope of the negation in the structure.

5 A formal calculus of state-change in terms of a succession of contrasting states of affairs was first proposed by Georg von Wright (1963), who gave a formal definition of a concept of event in terms of a change of state: “An event is a change from state p to state q, where p = ¬ q”.
In his
Essay in Deontic Logic (1968), von Wright follows the principle of logical atomism, though he admits that from the ontological perspective such an assumption is probably false, on the other hand, as a “simplified model of a world”, this approach is of some theoretical value. Following this assumption von Wright assumes time to be “a discrete medium of occasions (“moments”, “time-points”) in a linear order.” (1968: 41).
Von Wright's Logic of Change is captured by the world
state-descriptions in terms of a set of elementary states bound by the tense-logical constant “and next” expressed by the connective T. Von Wright refers to this theory as the T-calculus (cf. von Wright (1965). See also Pustejovsky 1988: 86):
1.¬ p
Τ p state p comes about
2. p
Τ ¬ p state p is destroyed, comes to an end
3. p
Τ p state p remains , continues
4.¬ p
Τ ¬ p state ¬ p remains (or state p fails to come about)
Temporal change in Cognitive Linguistics (cf. Langacker 1987, 1991) is expressed, metaphorically, in spatial terms, directed from the left-hand side of the diagram used to represent meanings to the right-hand side, which represents a later development of an action. The change then is captured in terms of iconic-diagrammatic differences between the beginning (the left side) and the final (the right side) stage of the scenario. Langacker's diagrams contain an
iconically presented succession of steps, which can be treated as a visual expression of von Wright's algebraic representation of time and change.

6 In fact, this example can be treated as a rhetorical question with a clear presupposition: There is no reason to bother.

7 Cf. Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (2005a) for a more extensive analysis and a more detailed categorization of non-commitment.


(PhD 1972, Dr habil. 1987) is Professor of English language and linguistics at the University of Lodz, where she holds the position of professor Ordinarius and chair of English language. She is also honorary professor in linguistics and modern English language at the University of Lancaster. Her research interests are primarily in semantics and pragmatics of natural language, corpus linguistics and their applications in translation studies and lexicography. She has published books and papers in the area of Cognitive Linguistics (Depth of Negation: A Cognitive Linguistic Study, Lodz, Lodz University Press, 1996; Cognitive Linguistics Today (coeditor) Frankfort a. Main: Peter Lang, 2002), translation and corpus linguistics, and organized numerous international conferences and seminars. Over the years Prof. B. Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk has been invited to read papers at international conferences and to lecture and conduct seminars at European and American universities. She served in the Board of Consulting Editors for Cognitive Linguistics till the year 1998 and has been President of the Polish Cognitive Linguistics Association since 2002. She is Vice-President of the Linguistic Committee of the Polish Academy of Sciences and member of many international linguistic associations and committees. Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk can be reached at the following address:

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