Journal of Linguistics

Negation, ‘presupposition’ and the semantics/pragmatics distinction 1

a1 Department of Phonetics and Linguistics, University College London


A cognitive pragmatic approach is taken to some long-standing problem cases of negation, the so-called presupposition denial cases. It is argued that a full account of the processes and levels of representation involved in their interpretation typically requires the sequential pragmatic derivation of two different propositions expressed. The first is one in which the presupposition is preserved and, following the rejection of this, the second involves the echoic (metalinguistic) use of material falling in the scope of the negation. The semantic base for these processes is the standard anti-presuppositionalist wide-scope negation. A different view, developed by Burton-Roberts (1989a, b), takes presupposition to be a semantic relation encoded in natural language and so argues for a negation operator that does not cancel presuppositions. This view is shown to be flawed, in that it makes the false prediction that presupposition denial cases are semantic contradictions and it is based on too narrow a view of the role of pragmatic inferencing.

(Received February 23 1996)
(Revised April 7 1998)

c1 Author's address: Department of Phonetics and Linguistics, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, U.K. E-mail:


1 The impetus for this paper came from the work of Noel Burton-Roberts, as will be amply obvious throughout. Although I take a very different line from him, the development of my position has been greatly furthered by the interesting discussions I have had with him and his generous encouragement. I am grateful to the two JL referees of the paper who made many useful suggestions, both substantive and stylistic. Many thanks also to Mira Ariel, Ad Foolen, Thorstein Fretheim, Larry Horn, Eun-Ju Noh, Neil Smith, Deirdre Wilson and Vladimir Zegarac who have each, in their different ways, helped me to plug on.