[b-greek] The theory of negation (To Carl, Carlton, Iver, Keith)

From: Moon-Ryul Jung (moon@saint.soongsil.ac.kr)
Date: Sun Feb 25 2001 - 20:45:34 EST

Dear Carl, Carlton, Iver, and Keith,

We discussed what the negative particle OU negates. Recently Keith
raised the question again, and Iver and I responded in details. I
think that what I wrote would satisfy Carl and Carlton, who insisted
that the scope of negation in a sentence is generally the verb phrase
or the whole sentence. Carlton said he would not comment on this
issue unless new convincing evidences are presented.

It turns out that it is not a matter of evidence but a matter of
how to explain what is going on in negative sentences. I would like to
know what Carl and Carlton would think of my explanation.

To sum the theory of negation, it is as follows:

(1) Focus:
    Every sentence has the focus, which is the part that conveys
    new information or information relevant to the hearer. The
    focus is indicated either by stress or word order. In othe words,
    the proposition stated by a (natural language) sentence is not
    the bare proposition but the "focused proposition".
    The part of the sentence not in focus is considered
    the background or presupposition of the sentence.
    The presupposition can be represented as
    an open proposition obtained by replacing the focus with a
    variable X. The open proposition can be considered a complex
    predicate. It implies that the proposition holds with respect
    to some entity X.

2) Negation:
    The negative particle negates what the positive version of the
    sentence tries to convey, that is, the FOCUSED proposition.
    In other words, what is negated is that the presupposition of the
    sentence holds with respect to the focus.
3) The Scope of negation:
  We often say that the scope of the negation is the focus of the
  or what is negated is the focus of the sentence. But it is not exactly
  correct. What is negated is always the proposition. But the point is
  what is this proposition? It is that the open proposition corresponding
  to the presupposition of the sentence holds with respect to the focus.

In sum, we can say that what is negated is the focus of the sentence,
though it is not sufficiently precise. In this regard, Iver and I
was right. The notion of focus is crucial to understanding negation,
because what is negated is the focused proposition conveyed by a
natural language sentence. But still what is negated is a proposition,
not some constituents of it. In this regard, Carl and Carlton were right.

(4) Local negation
Sentences like

(a) "John went to New York not long ago"

are not considered true negative sentences. Here what is negated
is not the proposition of the sentence, but a constituent of it.
 But not every constituent can be negated this way.
I don't think

(b) "He gave me not a book"

is grammatical. "Not long ago" is grammatical because it is
the abbreviation of "the time that is not long ago". Here what
is negated is still a proposition.

The following example is not the same as (b).

(c) He wants you, not me

Here "not me" is the abbreviation of "He does not want ME".
So, "not me" is a true negation.

I have studied for two years logic, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics
at the University of Pennsylvania, because my first Ph.D. thesis
topic was natural language processing, whose aim is to make
the computer understand natural langauge. But for practical reasons,
I changed my topic to computer graphics, which I do as my profession.
But when I have some free time, I still like to play with language.
The theory of negation I summarized is mine, but the one generally
accepted in linguistics. I simply found some references while I
tried to understand the issue of negation. It was a very exciting

Moon-Ryul Jung
Associate Professor
Sogang Univ, Seoul, Korea

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