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negation, philosophy of language, language and thought


Negation is a complex, abstract concept, despite the ubiquity of words like “no” and “not” in even young children’s speech. One challenging aspect to words like “no” and “not” is that these words can serve many functions in speech, giving us tools to express an array of concepts such as denial, refusal, and nonexistence. Is there a single concept of “negation” that unites these separate negative functions – and if so, does understanding this concept require the structure of human language? In this paper we present a study demonstrating that adults spontaneously identify a concept of negation in the absence of explicit verbal instructions, even when the exemplars of negation are perceptually varied and represent many different functions of negation. Furthermore, tying up participants’ language ability using verbal shadowing impairs participants’ ability to identify a concept of negation, but does not impair participants’ ability to identify an equally complex control concept (natural kinds). We discuss our findings in light of theories regarding the representation of negation and the relationship between language and thought.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Licensed to Smith College and distributed CC-BY under the Smith College Faculty Open Access Policy.


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