Unacceptable grammars? an eye-tracking study of English negative concord

Frances Blanchette, Cynthia Lukyanenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


This paper uses eye-tracking while reading to examine Standard English speakers' processing of sentences with two syntactic negations: a negative auxiliary and either a negative subject (e.g., Nothing didn't fall from the shelf) or a negative object (e.g., She didn't answer nothing in that interview). Sentences were read in Double Negation (DN; the 'she answered something' reading of she didn't answer nothing) and Negative Concord (NC; the 'she answered nothing' reading of she didn't answer nothing) biasing contexts. Despite the social stigma associated with NC, and linguistic assumptions that Standard English has a DN grammar, in which each syntactic negation necessarily contributes a semantic negation, our results show that Standard English speakers generate both NC and DN interpretations, and that their interpretation is affected by the syntactic structure of the negative sentence. Participants spent more time reading the critical sentence and rereading the context sentence when negative object sentences were paired with DN-biasing contexts and when negative subject sentences were paired with NC-biasing contexts. This suggests that, despite not producing NC, they find NC interpretations of negative object sentences easier to generate than DN interpretations. The results illustrate the utility of online measures when investigating socially stigmatized construction types.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-40
Number of pages40
JournalLanguage and Cognition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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