English Speakers Produce and Understand Expletive Negation

AbstractFrench is well-known for its use of expletive negation (henceforth, EN). Jin and Koenig (2019) proposed a language production model to account for the striking similarity of EN-triggers between French and Mandarin. Their model makes several predictions which our paper tests: (i) languages like English where EN is purported not to occur should in fact include the same range of EN-triggers; (ii) English speakers can understand a negator within the scope of an EN-trigger expletively; (iii) the likelihood a speaker of English will understand a negator expletively is correlated with how frequently she has encountered an expletive interpretation of negators for that particular trigger. We did a corpus study and a comprehension experiment to test these predictions and all of them were confirmed. Overall, our results support the claim that “illogical” properties of natural languages that recur across languages of the world reflect universal properties of the language production system.

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