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Publication Date


Document Type

Honors Project




Linguistics, Language acquisition, Semantics, Antonyms, Negation (Logic), Markedness (Linguistics), Negation, Markedness


The current study investigates adults’ and preschoolers’ interpretation of negatedadjectives that belong to three different opposite pairs. Experiment 1a and 1b (Na = 32, Nb = 48) focus on looking at whether negation of an adjective (e.g. “not cold”) mitigates the meaning of the word (e.g. interpreted as “warm”) or if negation eliminates the word’s meaning and activates the representation of the opposite term (e.g. interpreted as “hot”). The mitigating effect of negation is borne out by results of a picture-sorting task used in Experiment 1a and 1b. Furthermore, analyses indicate that the level of mitigating effect caused by negation may vary depending on the type of opposite and other relevant properties such as markedness. In Experiment 2, we tested children (N = 40) from age three to five using the same task. In general, three- and four-year olds do not show as much sensitivity to the mitigating effect or the presence of markedness as adult participants do. Instead, they treat negated terms as their exact opposites (e.g. “not big” equals “small”). The adult-like performance of five-year-olds suggests that the awareness of mitigating effect may increase as the child ages. Possible accounts for the presence of the mitigating effect and the impact of other properties are discussed from both semantic and pragmatic perspectives. Explanations of the difference between adults and children in terms of their understanding of negated adjectives are also explored.




54 pages. Honors project, Smith College, 2016. Includes bibliographical references (pages 49-54)