On the interpretation of negation in mandarin chinese.

Student thesis: Doctoral thesis


This dissertation aims to experimentally investigate the interpretation of negation in Mandarin Chinese (MC), namely, when multiple negative expressions combine in a sentence, when negative expressions are used as fragment answers to negative questions, and when native speakers express rejection to a negative assertion or a negative polar question. It first examines whether a single negation (SN) reading may be possible under certain conditions, despite the fact that MC has been characterized as a language in which two negative expressions within the boundaries of a single sentential domain cancel each other to yield a positive reading. To test this hypothesis, an online perception experiment was conducted with native MC speakers. The results showed that SN readings were indeed obtained, particularly when the first of the two negative expressions was an adjunct (i.e., cóngláibù/cóngláiméi(yǒu) ‘never’) or there was stress on the second negative expression (i.e., the negative markers méi(yǒu) ‘not’ and bù ‘not’). Next, this dissertation explores the mismatches in the interpretation of MC argumental negative expressions (namely, méi(yǒu)rén ‘no one’ and méi(yǒu)shénme ‘nothing’) when they are used as fragment answers to negative wh-questions. The results of our production experiment showed that the acoustic correlates that characterize these fragment answers are identified when they convey not only double negation (DN) but also SN meanings. More specifically, DN readings show shorter duration, more pitch variation, higher maximum pitch, and larger rising pitch excursion. The results of our audio perception experiment further showed that native speakers of MC perceive these prosodic correlates and reliably use them to distinguish between DN and SN readings of argumental negative expressions used as fragment answers. Finally, this dissertation addresses the central question of whether MC is a canonical truth-based language. The results showed that MC speakers convey confirmation/rejection by relying on a combination of lexico-syntactic strategiestogether with prosodic and gestural strategies. Importantly, the use of a positive or a negative particle, which was the expected outcome in truth-based languages, only appeared in 82% of the confirming answers and in 52% of the rejecting answers, respectively. Our results bring into question the macroparametric division between truth-based and polarity-based languages and calls for a more general view of the instantiation of a CONFIRM/REJECT speech act that integrates lexical and syntactic strategies with prosodic and gestural strategies. Consequently, this dissertation provides a new understanding of the interpretation of negation in MC as a so-called DN language and as a so-called truth-based language.
Date of Award19 Nov 2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorM. Teresa Espinal Faré (Director) & M. Teresa Espinal Faré (Tutor)


  • Negation
  • Mandarin chinese
  • Prosody

Cite this