"I actually saw Khrushchev not bang his shoe"

« previous post | next post »

I just found that sentence in the first footnote to William Taubman's "Khrushchev: The Man and his Era" (2003). It's a great example of a "negative event" – we call them "negative events" with scare quotes because it remains controversial whether there are any such things. How can not doing something be an event?

First a clarification: I realize from Googling that there's a completely different sense of "negative event" which is more common and not controversial at all – that's something bad that happens to you, an event with "negative" effects. What linguists and philosophers worry about are sentences or phrases containing negation that seem to denote events, like the one that heads this post.

We chatted a bit about it around the water cooler at Language Log Plaza yesterday, and David Beaver contributed the following nice link:


The discussion there and in Taubman's footnote of the events at the UN General Assembly on October 13, 1960 makes it clear that on the one hand, Khrushchev's banging his shoe on the desk became famous and iconic, and that on the other hand, there is a real dispute about whether it actually happened. That seems to be one circumstance in which something not happening can be described as an event.

An even more common way is when there is a high expectation of something happening and then it doesn't, as in this example from Larry Horn's book, A Natural History of Negation (1989): "What happened next was that the consulate didn't give us our visa." As Larry notes, "didn't give us" could well be replaced by "held up" or "denied", "converging to suggest that a negative predicate can be functionally equivalent to a (morphological) positive in denoting a simple event." (Horn, p.55)

And around the water cooler Larry added these nice notes:

Having professionally worried about, and not solved, the problem of negative events myself (in the first chapter of my book), I've been attuned to similar cases and I've noticed one particular species of negative event that's become a trope in country music.  Here's one version from a Hank Cochran song popularized by George Jones:

Well, tonight when you lay lonely in your king size bed
With a hunger inside you can feel
Will, I'll be the empty place laying next to you
And when your phone don't ring it'll be me

It'll be me not calling you, crying like I used to do

A-crawlin' on my hands and knees
It'll be me not on the phone, begging let me come back home
And when your phone don't ring, it'll be me.

Well, tonight it'll be my car not in your driveway
And you'll wonder where on earth I could be
It'll be my footsteps you don't hear in the hallway
And when your phone don't ring, it'll be me.

It'll be me not calling you, crying like I used to do
Crawlin' on my hands and knees
It'll be me not on the phone, a-begging let me come back home
And when your phone don't ring, it'll be me.


Here are a couple more versions:

I put another tank of gas in my Chevrolet
and I paid off all the bills that I had to pay
I don't wanna hang around can't you see
if the phone don't ring, you know it's me

[Gordon Cormier]


It's too bad we can't turn

And live in the past

If the phone doesn't ring

It's me

[Jimmy Buffett]


So you just go where you go
And do what you do
And be who you want to be
But when she burns you again
And your phone doesn't ring
Baby it's me

[Mary Chapin Carpenter]

I'm sure there are others, but I don't of any that refer to not hearing the phone not ring.  (I tried without success to check whether anyone had reported witnessing Babe Ruth not call his shot in the World Series.)

So what does it take to be an event? Events are generally distinguished from states and processes. Events take time – maybe just an instant (the light turned green), maybe an interval (John built a house); event descriptions usually combine well with adverbs of frequency, location, reason, etc; events but not states or processes combine with "What happened was … ."  Larry Horn's first chapter, mentioned above, recounts debates going back to the ancient Greeks about whether a negative sentence can even count as a description of a real state of affairs (since there are no "negative states of affairs"), and concludes that although the ontological issues remain unsettled, it seems that in ordinary language we really do talk as if there are indeed negative events. (Emmon Bach coined the nice phrase "Natural Language Metaphysics" to distinguish linguists' concerns from philosophers'. Metaphysics is concerned with what there is; Natural Language Metaphysics is concerned with what we talk as if there is. — I'm paraphrasing from memory from Bach (1986) "Natural language metaphysics".)

Lakoff in his 1965 thesis claimed that adverbs of location, frequency, and instrument never modify negated sentences, because "one cannot assert the location (frequency, etc.) of an event that does not occur." But Stockwell, Schachter, and Partee in The Major Syntactic Structures of English (1973) argued that "there are certain cases where the negation of an event may, loosely speaking, itself be an event, e.g. not paying taxes, not getting up early, not going to church, not eating dinner … (semantically, the "event" seems to be the breaking of a habitual or expected pattern of activity.)" (pp. 250-1). They suggest that in the following examples, the locative or frequency adverb modifies the whole negated sentence:

i. I don't get up early at home.

ii. He sometimes doesn't eat dinner.

iii. He doesn't eat dinner two nights a week.

And Klima's classic 1964 paper "Negation in English" includes examples of well-formed double negations, where the inner one phrase seems to describe a "negative event" type:

iv. He hasn't often not paid taxes.

James Higginbotham in his 1983 paper "The logic of perceptual reports: An extensional alternative to situation semantics", argues that in sentences of the form "I saw John run", where a perception verb is followed by a subject and a tenseless verb phrase, the "John run" part denotes an event, and the whole sentence reports the perception of an event (as opposed to "I saw that such-and-such", where the object is a proposition and the sentence reports seeing some evidence that verifies the proposition.) And he noted in that paper that such event-denoting NP VP complements could sometimes occur with not attached to the VP, but he regards that negation as something other than ordinary sentential negation. He argues that "John saw Mary not leave" means that he saw her stay; that "John saw Mary not smoke" means that he saw her refrain from smoking. And the analysis of this "inner" or "narrow-scope" negation has indeed been a big part of the puzzle, from Klima through Stockwell et al up through Horn and the present. But Higginbotham does treat "Mary not leave", "Mary not smoke", and by extension "Khrushchev not bang his shoe" as denoting events, and I think all linguists now concur. But they are puzzling kinds of event sentences, and we may still smile and scratch our heads when we come across one in the wild.


  1. Bartleby said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 6:51 am

    Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
    Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
    Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
    Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

  2. Duncan said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 6:52 am

    This is exactly the kind of post that has me not, not coming back to Language Log, so often. =:^)

    (IOW, in my daily web browsing, there's many sites that are one-offs, I never go back, or at least, not regularly, until some other link to them that catches my eye. So not going back to a site might be considered expected behavior, I don't, not go back to this site, that is, I break my usual pattern of not going back, and it's because of thought provoking language usage observation discussion such as this! =:^)

    Wow, negative events AND double-negatives… and lots of smilies! =:^)

  3. Carl said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 7:00 am

    I wonder if part of the issue here is the presumption of an event happening within a given interval. Dinner has to be eaten in the evening, or else it would be called breakfast or lunch. Taxes must be paid once a year (in America, at least). Khrushchev may have banged his shoe on plenty of tables in his lifetime, but the non-event seen (?) by people in the UN had to happen within a certain frame.

    I think the background assumption of something happening within a given time frame does a lot of work for these negative events. I can't see a comet not hit the Earth, but I can see Old Faithful not erupt because of a steam leak or something. I can't not see someone fly in the air because people don't fly in the air, or if they did, it wouldn't be on a schedule, but if I were in Prussia in the 1780s, I could have seen Kant not go on his famous daily walk because he stubbed his toe or whatever.

    Background assumptions of regularity are an important part of this account, although I'm sure there's more to it than this.

  4. Carl said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 7:02 am

    "I saw Harold not go to work this morning."

    That sentence would work in a situation where Harold has a job and I saw him playing hooky. It wouldn't work if he were unemployed.

  5. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 8:51 am

    I knew two people who got married for reasons of pure convenience—insurance and the like. Naturally, one of them then fell in love and wanted to get married for real, so the first marriage had to be annulled (easier than a divorce, I guess). A friend of theirs offered to testify that he had seen them not having sex on many occasions.

  6. Joe said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 9:07 am

    I think the examples from Stockwell et al and from Klima are better thought of as denoting states than events. They seem to be characteristics of the person involved (he's the kind of person who doesn't X) than a negative event strictly speaking.

  7. jfruh said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 9:09 am

    I do think there's a certain playfulness intended with "And when your phone don't ring it'll be me" and perhaps even "What happened next was that the consulate didn't give us our visa" that there isn't with, say, "He doesn't eat dinner two nights a week." The authors of the first two know the construction is somewhat complex and are having a bit of fun with it.

  8. Ruben Polo-Sherk said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 9:23 am

    One place where negative events are very important is in sports. For example: you start a movement; your opponent guesses that it's a fake and stays put. You must then react to that non-reaction and keep going.

  9. J G Stringer said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 9:27 am

    Two non-events that have always resonated with me:

    1. Spike Milligan, "The Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler (Of Bexhill-On-Sea)," 1954:

    "… I walked the streets of Bexhill at night disguised as a human man. Then suddenly… [A sinister and dramatic fanfare] … Nothing happened. But it happened suddenly mark you. Disappointed, I lit my pipe."

    2. Billy Bragg, "A New England," 1984:

    "Once upon a time at home
    I sat beside the telephone
    Waiting for someone to pull me through
    When at last it didn't ring I knew it wasn't you."

  10. MikeM said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 10:06 am

    And of course there are the thousands (millions, actually) of women not having had Herman Cain's affections forced upon them.

  11. Faldone said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 10:27 am

    One minor quibble with Comet Carl. You could say that it didn't hit the Earth if there were a reasonable expectation by qualified astronomers that it could hit the Earth.

  12. Neal Goldfarb said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 10:34 am

    Negative events are also relevant in law, where the question arises whether someone can be punished or held liable for not doing something. And interestingly, there are parallels here between the law of negative events and the linguistics of negative events.

    First, there is (at least arguably) a morphologically positive way of talking about a failure to act: it is referred to as an omission. The reason I say this at this is only arguably a morphological positive is that it is an instance of argument deletion: the omission is an omiission to act. Thus, courts and lawyers often use the constructions omission to act and omitted to [verb].

    Second, there is a parallel between the conditions under which liability can be imposed for an omission and those in which negative events can occur in natural-language metaphysics: there has to be a duty to perform the act that was omitted. For example, I can't be punished for failing to pay your taxes.

    The issue of negative events often comes up in a distinctly linguistic context. Under the law governing fraud and other misrepresentation, the question is normally whether what the defendant said was true. But liability can be imposed for failure to say something if, as a result of that failure, something that the defendant did say was misleading. Thus, liability for misrepresentation can be based on implicatures. (It would probably be interesting to look at the pragmatics involved in cases involving claims of misrepresentation by omission.)

    Note that a nondisclosure can result in liability even if there was no intent to deceive. There are situations in which negligent misrepresentations are, as lawyers say, actionable (= give rise to a "cause of action"). I don't recall offhand, but I'd imagine that liability for negligent misrepresentation could be based both on negligence in expression (knowing the truth but negligently saying something incorrect) and epistemological negligence (negligent failure to know the truth).

    There is even a legal category that corresponds to bullshit: saying something with "reckless disregard" for whether it is true. This is relevant, e.g., in defamation cases against government officials and "public figures," because in such cases the First Amendment protects defamatory statements that are made with the belief that they are true.

  13. JC Dill said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 10:34 am

    "Since my phone still aint ringin, I assume it still aint you" – Randy Travis (Are we still over), written by Kenneth Bell & Larry Henley.

  14. Mark Liberman said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 11:27 am

    H.C. Hughes et al., "Responses of Human Auditory Association Cortex to the Omission of an Expected Acoustic Event", NeuroImage 2001:

    "Unexpected auditory events initiate a complex set of event-related potentials (ERPs) that vary in their latency and anatomical localization. Such “mismatch” responses include active responses to the omission of an expected event or the omission of elements in expected stimulus composites. Here we describe intracranial recordings of middle-latency ERPs elicited by the omission of an auditory event. We first presented a sequence of tones at regular temporal intervals and the tone was omitted 20% of the time. In a second condition, we presented a sequence of tone pairs and the second tone of the pair was omitted 20% of the time. These two conditions are complementary in that the single tone conformed to the expectancy in one condition, but violated the expectancy in the other. All patients demonstrated localized cortical responses to missing tones that were topographically similar to the responses evoked by actual tones."

    For further discussion, see "Mismatch Negativity".

  15. Antariksh Bothale said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 11:34 am

    Not entirely relevant, but there's atheists often give arguments of the following type when confronted with the accusation that atheism also constitutes a religion:

    "Atheism is a religion if not playing football is a sport and not collecting stamps is a hobby."

  16. Chris said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 11:51 am

    The dissertation I never finished involved an analysis of barrier verbs like ban and prevent. These verbs encode what Len Talmy referred to as negative causative object control whereby they encode the causing of an expected event to not occur.

    The judge barred journalists from entering the courtroom.

    In the example above, the journalists never actually enter the courtroom. I struggled mightily with how to describe these negative events. I blogged about it briefly here.

  17. Mona Williams said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 12:34 pm

    Because of its placement at the end of the sentence, the frequency modifier "two nights a week" in example iii can be taken as applying not only to "eat dinner," but also to "eat dinner two nights a week," allowing the sentence to be extended to, for example, "He doesn't eat dinner two nights a week, but seven." In this sentence, which merely
    states a positive correction to a preceding negative clause, there wouldn't be a negative event.

    This interpretation struck me because the example parallels model sentences used to teach the use of "hanem," or "but," in Hungarian. Of course, in the English sentence, "two nights" would probably be preceded by "only."

  18. Shirley Steele said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 12:56 pm

    I encountered an example of this in the wild a couple of years ago. After an enjoyable afternoon with an old friend in my hometown, she said to me, "Don't ever not come back." Along with Stockwell, et al., this would seem to argue against Lakoff's assertion that locatives cannot be used, since adding "here" to the end seems perfectly natural. Also, this utterance appears to support the notion that the postulated event (not coming back) would be an interruption of something that might be expected to happen repeatedly.

    I'm not sure what to make of "Don't ever." In the case of a normal event, as in "Don't ever do that," you know when it has happened (when somebody does that). But with "Don't ever not come back," how do you know when the negative event has occurred (or rather, not occurred)? I mean, you may not have come back yet, but you could always come back next week.

    My reply was, "OK, I won't" (not come back). We both accepted this as appropriate, but at the same time, it made me a little uncomfortable—I wondered if I should have said, "OK, I will" (come back). But then that really seems wrong.

  19. Mona Williams said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 1:03 pm

    Correction of the above. Sorry.

    Because of the placement of the frequency modifier "two nights a week" at the end of the sentence, the negation in example iii can be taken as applying not only to "eat dinner," but also to "eat dinner two nights a week," allowing the sentence to be extended to, for example, "He doesn't eat dinner two nights a week, but seven." In this sentence, which merely states a positive correction to a preceding negative clause, there wouldn't be a negative event.

    This interpretation struck me because the example parallels model sentences used to teach the use of "hanem," or "but," in Hungarian. Of course, in the English sentence, "two nights" would probably be preceded by "only."

  20. GeorgeW said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 1:15 pm

    From article in today's Gainesville (Florida) Sun about the new SEC football schedule: "I think scheduling in this conference . . . it won't be looked at every single time we come to Destin." (Athletic Director, Jeremy Foley)

  21. Eric P Smith said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

    My favourite poetic non-event is the first line of The Long Day Closes by Henry Fothergill Chorley, famously set to music by Arthur Sullivan:

    No star is o'er the lake, its pale watch keeping.

    Note how that statement contrives to say less (that is, to give less information) than "No star is o'er the lake", period.

  22. peterv said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

    I once heard Australian comic writer Morris Gleitzman recite a long and amusing poem about seeing an attractive woman in bar and not having the courage to talk to her. Not talking to her led to him not going home with her, which in turn led to no evening of passion between them, and his not calling the next day, and their not meeting again for a second date, and then not forming a deeper relationship, and not moving in together, and so not forth. True to its content, the poem seems not to have appeared in print.

  23. Barbara Partee said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

    @Joe — Yes, often negated event sentences can be interpreted as statives. A sentence like "Smith didn't kill Jones" won't ordinarily be taken as any kind of 'negative event', and when it's just use to assert Smith's innocence it wouldn't take any of those adverbs, and wouldn't occur with "What happened was …", etc. And I think the 'not eating dinner' examples could be taken either way. When it's a deliberate refraining from an event which is both regularly expected and has a definite time-frame, as was noted above, then it's likely to be taken as a negative event. (I should have mentioned that volition can also be relevant: if he deliberately didn't eat dinner, that makes it more event-like.)
    But as Neal Goldfarb noted, not paying taxes is something you can definitely be punished for, and that example of Klima's with the double negation and the frequency adverb – "He has not often not paid his taxes" (I don't remember if the original included the "his"; I think it helps) – has always seemed to me a really good example of a negative event (a repeatable event type, hence it can have a frequency adverb).
    And to Mark about the neurological evidence — wow, so now we can study neural metaphysics too!
    Lots of nice observations above. And thanks to @Duncan for the kind words, which I hope you'll never see me not remember. (Whoops, I nearly wrote 'not forget', a multi-negation error which would belong under a different frequently discussed topic.)
    What I did forget was to mention the dog that didn't bark in the night — thanks to @Bartleby for bringing that one up right away.
    I sympathize with Chris — because even though we have a lot of ideas of factors that help make such examples possible, I don't think anyone has what could be called an analysis. What do we have to put in our "models" (of events, propositions, etc), how should the formal semantics work, and is that "not" in a syntactically different position than "ordinary 'not'"? (Klima thought so, because otherwise he couldn't make room for two of them in one verb phrase in standard English.) I'm not sure we even know how to formulate the problem very well.
    Isn't it fun to know that after all these years there are such interesting problems still wide open to work on? When I was young I once said that maybe 100 linguists working 100 years could figure out the complete grammar of English. Now I realize how naively optimistic I was! (And that was only about syntax!)

  24. Barbara Partee said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

    @peterv — In the fog of my poor memory, I definitely recall someone in reaction to some other post (here or on Facebook?) directing me to a novel whose whole last two pages are like that! It wasn't a comic novel – it was kind of sad. I'm pretty sure I actually went and bought it and read it but I can't for the life of me remember now what it was. Maybe it was a short story. Stupid memory, sigh.

  25. Rubrick said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

    @Chris: The dissertation I never finished involved an analysis of barrier verbs like ban and prevent.

    Interesting. In what year didn't you finish your dissertation?

  26. Neal Goldfarb said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 5:06 pm

    May he isn't done not finishing it. Which hopefully begs the question, did he not finish it yet?

  27. Chris said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 5:38 pm

    Dissertations are like old soldiers. They never die, they just fade away…

  28. Chris Collision said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 5:46 pm

    @Carl: I think that sentence could be deployed in a *lot* of instances. Me (unemployed): "Did you see I did the dishes?" My lady (freshly home from work): "I saw you not go to work this morning."

  29. Chris Collision said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 6:09 pm

    @BarbaraPartee The two candidates for the fiction you mention are, off the top of my head, Negativeland or maybe Wittgenstein's Mistress? I've only read the latter, and wish I'd read it back when I was in school & still half-smart about the Tractatus, but still rank it as one of my favorite reads of all time.

  30. Joe said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 6:17 pm

    @Barbara Partee,

    I'm again just thinking aloud, which means that I'm probably wrong. But I have an intuitive sense that Lakoff was right about something. I might preserve his general point by glossing "I don't get up early at home," as simply expressing "It is not the case I get up early at home," "He sometimes doesn't eat dinner" as "It is (sometimes) not the case that he eats dinner," and "he doesn't eat dinner two days a week" as "it is not the case (on two days a week) that he eats dinner." These don't strike me as any more remarkable than "he didn't always approve of his son's pursuits," or "he didn't always want to be a police officer." The general idea is that these are not technical negative events but the negation of the corresponding positive.

    Something like "I actually saw Khrushchev not bang his shoe" seems a bit more like a negative event to me, because rather than "it is not the case that Khrushchev banged his shoe," we are to understand, "And what I saw him do next was not bang his shoe." This strikes me as being a bit odd without a contrasting element (e.g, "And what I saw him do next was not so much bang his shoe on the table as knock on it"). That would strike me as being more like metalinguistic negation than a negative event.

    I'm sure if it is relevant, but I'm trying to work out whether it is possible to question a negative event: "Did he not bang his shoe on the table?" to question a negative event seems much more strained to me than "Does he often not pay his taxes?"

    (Upon reflection, I would put Kima example with those cited by Higginbotham: It is (not often) the case that he refuses to pay his taxes."

  31. Carl said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 8:36 pm


    I think the wife's response there is, like the non-ringing phones, playful instead of standard.

    @Faldone's comet counterexample is good though. If scientists announced a comet could hit Earth on July 10, you could recount to your children years later, "I was sleepless with fear the night the comet didn't hit the Earth," without being linguistically playful.

  32. Karl Weber said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

    Then there is the story about the couple who lived in a house near the tracks where a freight train would roar past every night at 3 a.m. After many years they were so accustomed to the noise that they slept right through it. One night the train was cancelled, so when 3 a.m. came with utter silence they both woke up with a start, yelling "What was that?!"

  33. Eric P Smith said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 11:24 pm

    @Karl Weber: Yes, nice joke, fitting well with Mark Liberman’s comment about "Responses of Human Auditory Association Cortex to the Omission of an Expected Acoustic Event".

    I remembered the joke just after I posted above, and I was kicking myself for (negative event) not including it in my post.

    @Joe: I’m entirely with you about the distinction between the reporting of a negative event (which can happen but is a bit paradoxical) and the mere negation of a proposition announcing a positive event (which is standard). On reflection I think that what amuses me about my example of "No star is o'er the lake, its pale watch keeping" is that "No star is o'er the lake" is a standard negation, which then gets confounded by having a positive event, "its pale watch keeping", attributed to it – a bit like "I have no dog, and its name is Fido."

  34. Michael Watts said,

    June 3, 2012 @ 1:34 am

    I'm compelled to quote from Jonathan Coulton's "Not About You":

    I haven't thought of you in fifteen days and today I still won't think of you

    and later:

    Every time I drive past your house I forget it's you who is living there
    Anyway I never see your face 'cause your window's up too high
    And I saw you shopping at the grocery store
    But I was far too busy with my cart to notice
    You weren't looking at me

  35. Bruce said,

    June 3, 2012 @ 1:44 am

    I was going to post the exact same lyric that J G Stringer did,

    " Waiting for someone to pull me through / When at last it didn't ring I knew it wasn't you."

    Note that this lyric was added later in the Kirsty MacColl cover of "A New England"

  36. Bob Violence said,

    June 3, 2012 @ 4:46 am

    Interviewed on his time as a prisoner commandant in a POW camp:

    Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling: I never physically beat anybody, and you can see film footage showing me not beating anybody–
    Interviewer: Four and a half seconds of film–
    Sir Arthur: You can see film footage of me sitting in my office trying to get the air conditioning working.

    –Peter Cook/Chris Morris, Why Bother?

  37. A.M. said,

    June 3, 2012 @ 4:53 am

    This post has made me thinking about the great outdoors.

    Because, as anyone who's been fishing or hunting knows, not catching any fish is as much of an 'event' as catching some fish (especially if one paid a pretty penny for a guided tour to a legendary location). The sentence "I saw him not hit that deer" is identical to "I saw him not bang his boot", so it can be seen as describing a 'negative event'. It can, however, be paraphrased to "I saw him miss that deer" – and "missing a deer" is quite a positive event, with something actually happening. The sentences are pragmatically identical, since they have identical referent, the event is the same, so where's the 'negative event'?

    The difficulty with the Khruschev example is that there isn't a readily available positive alternative. "I saw him only wave the boot" or "I saw him just stand there" don't seem to have the same effect, but that's what actually happened. Any "negative effect" sentence can be paraphrased into a positive event sentence, because when something doesn't happen, it only means something else happened instead. There are, however, events, the significance of which lies in the lack or absence or something – like banging the boot on the desk or the bullet in the deer.

    The "negative event sentence", then, is the sentence that points the attention of the recepient to the most significant aspect of the described chain of events – a positive reference all around. So, there's no such thing as a "negative event".

    Oh, wait. Not going fishing IS a negative event – but not in a linguistic sense 8-)))

  38. Wells Hansen said,

    June 3, 2012 @ 5:12 am

    It's usual in most languages I know to treat negatives events perceived as usual, expected, desired, or necessary as events in themselves. "I noticed you didn't go to class yesterday", etc.

  39. Robin Cooper said,

    June 3, 2012 @ 6:32 am

    In the old days I used to claim that some of these examples constituted an argument for the kind of negation found in situation semantics ( Austinian propositions, Davidsonian events and perception complements. In: The Tbilisi Symposium on Logic, Language, and Computation: Selected Papers, CSLI Publications (1998)). More recently Jonathan Ginzburg and I have proposed a treatment in terms of TTR (type theory with records) in our Amsterdam Colloquium paper 2011 and our SemDial 2011 paper. The trick on both approaches is to analyze such examples in terms of negative event _types_ rather than negative events as such.

  40. Barbara Partee said,

    June 3, 2012 @ 7:24 am

    Robin, thanks! I don't see the papers with Ginzburg on your website. Where can we find them? And although I know I have that Tbilisi conference volume somewhere, it would be nice if that's available electronically somewhere too. Refs? Thanks!

  41. Robin Cooper said,

    June 3, 2012 @ 8:25 am

    Barbara, Thanks for your interest and for starting this discussion. Our SemDial paper is in http://projects.ict.usc.edu/nld/semdial2011/semdial2011-proceedings.pdf. The post-proceedings version of our Amsterdam paper is on https://sites.google.com/site/saicdproject/publications/publications/ams11-proceedings.pdf. (References are on https://sites.google.com/site/typetheorywithrecords/publications.) The old Tbilisi paper is actually on my website: http://www.ling.gu.se/~cooper/tbilisi-paper.ps but I know it's not easy to find – hopefully this will improve when I retire later this year, one of an ever increasing number of planned retirement projects, though…

  42. Barbara Partee said,

    June 3, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

    Robin, thanks! Got them all now. Nice.

  43. Robert said,

    June 4, 2012 @ 4:13 am

    I don't believe I am incorrect in observing that everybody didn't mention Monty Python. http://www.montypython.net/scripts/melish.php

  44. Mr Punch said,

    June 4, 2012 @ 9:41 am

    "I actually saw Khrushchev not bang his shoe," it seems to me, is a sentence that falls between two emphases. "Actually" is the giveaway. On the one hand, the sentence means "I saw [that] Khrushchev [did] not bang his shoe"; on the other, it stresses that "I actually witnessed this [non-] event." De-cute-ified version: "I was there, and noticed that although NK had his shoe in his hand, he refrained from banging it on the table."

  45. S. Norman said,

    June 4, 2012 @ 10:10 am

    My friend works in a stock footage archive. He says the most requested clip(next to bra-burnings by hippies) is that of Khrushchev banging his shoe. The requestors are always surprised to hear that it doesn't exist and they swear they can remember seeing it on TV.

  46. KevinM said,

    June 4, 2012 @ 10:25 am

    Yesterday, upon the stair,
    I met a man who wasn’t there
    He wasn’t there again today
    I wish, I wish he’d go away…

    Looking up the source of this doggerel, recited to me in my childhood, I learned that it was turned into a popular song in the 'thirties. Perhaps it was a precursor of the many "when your phone don't ring" country and western ditties.

  47. Steve Kleinedler said,

    June 5, 2012 @ 12:38 pm

    Rosencrantz: We might as well be dead. Do you think death could possibly be a boat?

    Guildenstern: No, no, no … Death is … not. Death isn't. You take my meaning. Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can't not-be on a boat.

    R: I've frequently not been on boats.

    G: No, no no—what you've been is not on boats.

    R: I wish I was dead.

    –Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are dead

  48. Koldo Sainz said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 2:26 am

    Very interesting discussion!: Now, consider Negative Islands, as in '*where didn't Mary see Nikita?': if a certain event is expected and it doesn't take place, the effect diasppears: 'where didn't the bus stop', if asked by someone from a rural area where the bus used to stop at different places, but now it's no longer the case. Similarly, a person from that area may say 'I saw the bus not to stop this morning at our place'. As for NEG islands, this may indicate that they emerge because there is a contradiction between the presupposition of the event implied by the adjunct and its denial due to negation, which is cancelled just in the case of negative events.

  49. Koldo Sainz said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 2:29 am

    Correction: I added 'to' to the preceptual report: I saw the bus not stop this morning…'. Sorry, although the presence/absence of to may be an issue by itself.

  50. Vítor De Araújo said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 1:22 am

    > Lakoff in his 1965 thesis claimed that adverbs of location, frequency, and instrument never modify negated sentences, because "one cannot assert the location (frequency, etc.) of an event that does not occur."

    Vaguely related, but if I remember correctly Quechua does not allow its equivalent of the present continuous to happen in the negative. I had never seen any reason why, but now I realize that it might mean something like "I am [not doing] X", rather than "I [am not] doing X", which would seem nonsensical.

  51. Chandra said,

    June 11, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

    This reminds me of an ongoing debate I have with my partner over whether expressions like "we have no bread" are logical. She says they aren't; I say it doesn't matter whether they are or not, because pragmatically everybody understands what they mean.

RSS feed for comments on this post