Regarding negative interrogatives in American English as argumentative structures


  • Pauline Levillain University of Nantes



Syntax, Negation, Interrogation,


This article investigates the use of negative interrogatives in English and provides new support as to why they can be regarded as argumentative structures (Heritage, 2002). Questions are usually described pragmatically as enabling the speaker to seek information. However, when they are negatively formulated, they are analysed in the literature as allowing the speaker to express their point of view: “negative interrogatives are treated as accomplishing assertions of opinion rather than questioning” (Heritage, 2002). This paper builds on Heritage’s claim by considering the whole discursive project of the speaker.  The rhetorical trait of these structures will necessarily be dealt with. The corpus is comprised of negative interrogatives from the Santa Barbara Corpus of Spoken American English[1]. By analysing the responses that follow questions (Léon, 1997), we show that adding negation to the usual (i.e. positive) interrogative form turns the classical information-seeking question into an argumentative utterance which is part of a wider discursive project. Furthermore, our pragmatically-driven analysis of the data allows us to shed light on how the co-speaker works out the implicit items that are necessary to understand the full scope of the message.

[1] Santa Barbara Corpus website, last retrieved  from on July, 16th, 2014. 

Author Biography

Pauline Levillain, University of Nantes

I finished my PhD in English Linguistivs last year. I have taught English linguistics at the University of Nantes for four years.






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