Learning Negation

Having a young child gives you lots of new examples about language learning and concept acquisition. (It also provides you with many opportunities for experimentation, but I will set that to one side, for the moment.) Here is one such example:

On Friday morning, I was changing Z’s nappy and getting him dressed. He was in a happy mood, and I asked him if he would like me to tickle him. He said no, no tickle. Not to be deterred, I asked him again, and he responded again in kind. There is no doubt that children learn to deny and refuse very early in their development. Children also learn opposites quite quickly too. Z has mastered vary many pairs of opposites, and he knows how to use them to his own advantage.

But a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

I asked Z again, rephrasing the question: would you like a little tickle? Z knew that he wanted to deny this, and so he went for what he took to be the relevant opposite.

No, no, no! Big tickle!

With the tickling that followed, another lesson was learned.


I’m Greg Restall, and this is my personal website. I am the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and the Director of the Arché Philosophical Research Centre for Logic, Language, Metaphysics and Epistemology I like thinking about – and helping other people think about – logic and philosophy and the many different ways they can inform each other.


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