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On the origins of denial negation*

  • Peter Hummer (a1), Heinz Wimmer (a1) and Gertraud Antes (a1)


These are the principal questions of this study: are the early fonctions of negation, such as REJECTION, and the later emerging DENIAL no developmentally related? And when do children start to deny? So far, evidence for the questions at hand has been almost exclusively observational. We decided on a simple elicitation procedure instead, asking 48 children (ages between 1;1 and 2;7) easy yes/no-questions. The most likely age range for the appearance of denial no was 1;8–2;1. Its error-free acquisition supports the continuity theory of negation development, which holds that essentials of denial no carry over from the earlier fonctions of no. Finally an attempt is made to account for the beginnings of denial in terms of semantics and the representational theory of child cognition.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Institut fuer Sprachwissenschaft, Universitaet Salzburg, Muehlbacherhofweg 6, A-5020 Salzburg, Austria.


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We would like to thank the mothers of our children for their most helpful co-operation. Appreciation is also expressed to two reviewers for stimulating comments.



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