Advances in Written Text Analysis

By Malcolm Coulthard | Go to book overview

16

Negatives in written text

Adriana Pagano


INTRODUCTION

Studies of negation have traditionally focused on morphological, syntactic and logical aspects, without considering use or meaning in context. Indeed, there have been relatively few studies dealing with negatives from a pragmatic perspective, and still fewer attempting to systemize the uses of negation. Among the latter, Tottie (1982, 1987) has proposed a classification of the uses of negatives in both oral and written language.

I collected examples of negatives from written texts and approached my data from three different perspectives, corresponding to the three language functions pointed out by Halliday (see Pagano 1991). From an interpersonal perspective, I analysed the role of negatives in the interaction between writer and reader in order to see why negatives appear in texts. From a textual perspective, I looked at the role of negatives in both the micro- and the macrostructure of the texts. That is, I analysed how negatives relate to adjoining clauses and to the text as a whole. Finally, from an ideational perspective, I compared overt (i.e. negatives having a formal marker of negation such as not, no, nowhere, etc. ) and covert negatives (i.e. propositions expressing a negative meaning but having a positive form, such as I forgot), in order to see whether equivalent forms of overt and covert negatives (e.g. I did not rememberI forgot) represented similar ways of expressing content in language. In the present chapter, I will concentrate on the first of these three perspectives: why do negatives appear in texts?


NEGATIVES FROM A PRAGMATIC PERSPECTIVE

Before discussing negatives in the interaction between writer and reader, I will first define the object of my study, which is implicit negatives or denials, as Tottie (1987) labels them.

What then are implicit negatives or denials? According to Tottie, negatives are used for two main purposes:

to reject suggestions (including refusals)

to deny assertions

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