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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02346

Processing sentences with multiple negations: grammatical structures that are perceived as unacceptable

  • 1University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain
  • 2Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language, Spain

This investigation draws from research on negative polarity item (NPI) illusions in order to explore a new and interesting instance of misalignment observed for grammatical sentences containing two negative markers. Previous research has shown that unlicensed NPIs can be perceived as acceptable when occurring soon after a structurally inaccessible negation (e.g. ever in *The bills that no senators voted for have ever become law). Here we examine the opposite configuration: grammatical sentences created by substituting the NPI ever with the negative adverb never (e.g. The bills that no senators voted for have never become law). The processing and acceptability of these sentences was studied using three tasks: a speeded acceptability judgment (experiment 1), a self-paced reading task (experiment 2), and an offline acceptability rating (experiment 3). The results are consistent across measures in showing that the integration of the adverb never is disrupted by the linearly preceding but structurally inaccessible negative quantifier no in the relative clause. In our view, this pattern of results is in line with Parker and Phillips’ (2016) proposal that NPI illusions arise when the context containing the inaccessible negation has not been fully encoded by the time the NPI ever is encountered, making the embedded negative quantifier transparently available as a licensor. In a similar vein, the disruption effects observed for grammatical sentences containing two negative elements could arise if the negative quantifier is still being integrated when never is encountered, forcing the parser to deal with two negative elements simultaneously. This interpretation suggests that the same incomplete encodings that could be ameliorating the online perception of unlicensed NPIs could also be responsible for deteriorating the perception of the sentences under investigation here. This would represent an illusion of ungrammaticality. Furthermore, these results provide evidence against the speculation that NPI illusions are the consequence of misrepresenting ever as its near neighbor never, given that continuations with never are judged as unacceptable in spite of their grammaticality. Together, these findings inform the landscape of hypotheses on NPI illusions and offer valuable insights on the complexity of multiple negation and the relation between processing difficulty and acceptability.

Keywords: multiple negation, Acceptability, Grammatical illusions, interference, Negative polarity items (NPI), Processing complexity, double negation

Received: 10 Jun 2019; Accepted: 01 Oct 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 de Dios Flores. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Ms. Iria de Dios Flores, University of Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela, Spain,