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While questions may appear to be simple requests for information, they can also carry additional biases about the speaker's beliefs. For example, a question with negation can be used to question the truth of a negative proposition when the speaker has no prior belief (1), but it can also indicate that the speaker has a prior belief of the positive proposition (2).
1) A is visiting B; they are out and A needs to charge their phone.
B: There’s no good cafés to go to around here.
A: Isn’t there a pub?
2) A is visiting B; they are going out for dinner. A has heard of a restaurant called Paesano in the neighbourhood.
B: There’s a good burrito place over the road.
A: Isn’t there a great pizza place around here? Paesano?
B: Oh yes, it’s great. Let’s go there.
Although there is still disagreement as to what the precise theoretical status of negation in examples like (2) is, considering that a distinction between different negation structures in questions has already been attested in production studies, we may also expect a true semantic distinction to result in variation in the processing of these constructions depending on whether or not the speaker has a prior belief. In the present study, we use a self-paced reading paradigm to address that question.