A pragmatic account of the processing of negative sentences

Ann NordmeyerStanford University
Mike FrankStanford University

Abstract

Previous work suggests that negative sentences are more difficult to process than positive sentences. A supportive context, however, can mitigate this effect. We investigate the role of context on negation by measuring the processing cost of negation with and without a visual context (Study 1) and then systematically varying the strength of the context (Study 2). We find that a supportive visual context has a graded effect on negation processing. We then create a model to compute the informativeness of an utterance in context, and find that a model that considers both the surprisal of an utterance and the surprisal of seeing a referent is highly correlated with reaction times. Our data suggest that pragmatic factors likely explain the processing costs of negation.

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A pragmatic account of the processing of negative sentences (1.4 MB)



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