Antonymy and negation: the boundedness hypothesis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This paper investigates the interpretation of unbounded (scalar) adjective antonyms with and without
negation such as (not) narrow – (not) wide and bounded adjective antonyms with and without negation such
as (not) dead – (not) alive as well as their interpretations with approximating degree modifiers, fairly and
almost, respectively. The investigation was designed to test the boundedness hypothesis, namely that the
negator is sensitive to the configuration of the adjective in terms of BOUNDEDNESS. The data are Swedish and
the results of the experiments show that negated unbounded adjectives do not evoke the interpretation of
their antonyms, i.e. not wide does not equal ‘narrow’. The results of the experiments with bounded
adjectives with and without negation showed that some of the negated adjectives were interpreted as
synonyms of their antonyms, i.e. not alive equals ‘dead’. However, this pattern was not consistent across the
bounded adjectives, since a number of them readily lent themselves to partial readings. Four types of
bounded antonyms emerged from the participants’ judgements. For both unbounded and bounded
adjectives, the interpretations of the approximating degree modifiers and the adjectives were not significantly
different from the negated adjectives.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Languages and Literature
  • General Language Studies and Linguistics


  • negation, degree, boundedness, scale, Antonymy, adjectives
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1051-1080
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Publication categoryResearch

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