Not what you expect: The relationship between violation of expectation and negation

AbstractLanguage acquisition research has shown that children are delayed in their production and comprehension of truth-functional negation (e.g., "A raven is not a writing desk.") as compared to other kinds of negation (e.g., rejection and nonexistence). The source of this delay is unclear, it may reflect difficulty in mapping the concept of negation to the way it manifests in their language, or it may be due to a lack of a conceptual or cognitive ability. This work aims to investigate the circumstances under which a learner might infer the presence of negation in a message, inspired by the approach of Papafragou et al. (2007). Namely, we investigate the degree to which videos in which agents fail in completing an action encourages adult participants to infer the use of negation in an utterance describing it. In addition to Event Type (i.e., Failures vs. Successes), we provided participants with additional linguistic information (i.e., syntactic information via Jabberwocky sentences), lexical information (i.e., an alphabetical list of the content words), and Full Linguistic Context (the English sentence with a single item missing). With adults, we ask whether learners with the ability to attend to goals and perceive deviations from their completion could make use of this information, and if so, to what extent do varying degrees of converging linguistic evidence further assists in inferring the use of a negator.

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