Speaker: MH Tessler, Graduate Student with Noah Goodman, Department of Psychology, Stanford University
Title: “Not unreasonable”: The pragmatic logic of negated antonyms
Abstract: If “John is not unhappy", does that mean that he's happy? The rules of logic make clear that two negations cancel each other out, but the same logic does not seem to hold in language. Instead, antonyms and their negations appear to partition the underlying semantic scale in an ordering: “unhappy”--“not happy”--“not unhappy”--“happy” (Horn, 1989; Krifka, 2007). We show how this basic ordering falls out of a minimal elaboration of a computational model of adjective interpretation (Lassiter & Goodman, 2013). We then empirically investigate interpretations of these terms, finding that the ordering appears when participants are fully aware of the utterances a speaker could say for antonym pairs defined by morphological negation ("[un]happy”); the explicit presentation of alternatives is not necessary for the analogous ordering of antonym pairs of distinct lexical items (“tall” / “short”). These findings suggest a model of interpretation where listeners maintain uncertainty about the parsing of an utterance involving multiple negations.