In many languages sentences containing a negation and a negatively marked nominal expression are interpreted as containing a single negative element, and the same may hold for sentences containing multiple negatively marked nominal expressions. This is illustrated in (1) and (2) for Italian: although both sentences contain two negative expressions, the negative marker non ‘not’ and the negatively marked nominal expression nessuno ‘nobody’, (1-2) are interpreted as containing a single negative element. These sentences convey the meanings ‘Nobody called’ and ‘Nobody called anybody’, respectively, rather than the meanings ‘Nobody did not call’ and ‘Nobody called nobody’. This phenomenon of multiple negative expressions contributing a single negation is known as negative concord and languages exhibiting the phenomenon, such as Italian, as negative concord languages.
Negative concord behaviour exhibited in (1-2) becomes particularly puzzling when coupled with the observation that, to the extent that the negatively marked nominal expressions may occur on their own, they contribute a negative meaning. This is illustrated in (3). Accordingly, one would expect (1-2) to convey doubly negated meanings, contrary to fact.
It is commonly agreed that this puzzling semantic behaviour has to do with the underlying properties of negatively marked nominal expressions in negative concord languages (we refer to such expressions henceforth as n-words after Laka 1990). Various theories have been proposed to explain this remarkable behaviour of n-words. According to some proposals (e.g., Zanuttini 1991, Haegeman 1995, Haegeman & Zanuttini 1996, De Swart & Sag 2002, Watanabe 2004, De Swart 2010), n-words are negative quantifiers (e.g., nessuno means something akin to ‘no person’), and some kind of semantic absorption mechanism accounts for why the n-word and negation in (1) and the two n-words in (2) are interpreted as contributing a single negation. On these proposals, the two n-words ‘fuse’ together at the level of interpretation. Such approaches, however, face the challenge of explaining why in (1) the presence of the negative marker is obligatory, as demonstrated again for Italian in (4) (whereas omitting negation is perfectly fine in a non-negative-concord language like English). Hence, without adopting further assumptions, n-words cannot be treated as negative quantifiers that ‘fuse’ together at the level of interpretation with another expression.
In light of this, other scholars (e.g., Ladusaw 1992, Brown 1999, Giannakidou 2000, Weiss 2002, Zeijlstra 2004, Penka 2010) have argued that n-words are semantically non-negative elements that for some reason always appear in the scope of a negation. In this sense, they resemble so-called Negative Polarity Items (NPIs) like English anybody and in weeks, whose distribution is also restricted (see e.g. Fauconnier 1976, Ladusaw 1979, Giannakidou 1999, Gajewski 2011, Chierchia 2013, Crnič 2014a, among many others; some authors argue that n-words are, in fact, a kind of NPIs, e.g., Giannakidou 2000, Chierchia 2013):
The problem, though, is that, as shown above, if an n-word does not appear in the scope of negation, it may become negative itself, as illustrated in (2) and (3), where nessuno in the subject position means ‘nobody’. The behaviour of NPIs like anybody and in weeks is distinct: NPIs are ungrammatical unless they are embedded in the scope of an appropriate operator, say, negation, at surface structure. Moreover, the class of operators in the scope of which NPIs may felicitously occur include operators other than negation, say, the quantificational determiner every.
Hence, the distribution of n-words is distinct both from negative quantifiers and from NPIs, though it also shares some properties with both categories of expressions. Now, there are several ways of capturing these similarities and differences within a formal framework, and of explaining whether, to what extent, or how the distribution of n-words could be explained in terms of NPI-hood and/or in terms of (negative) quantifier theory. These different formal explanations, however, make different predictions with respect to the range of variation in terms of the semantic behaviour and syntactic distribution of n-words across languages. Accordingly, exploring the range of cross-linguistic variation forms a necessary ingredient for the evaluation of different theories of n-words and negative concord, and is thus bound to provide a better understanding of the ways in which negation is expressed in natural language. To a significant extent, a full exploration of this range of variation has not been pursued before (though see Giannakidou 2006, Shimoyama 2011, Zeijlstra 2013b). The preliminary results that we have obtained, and that are partially described below, however, already suggest that the range of variation that n-words exhibit with respect to their semantic and syntactic behaviour is more substantial than usually considered. Therefore, this inquiry may be extremely fruitful for advancing our understanding of the nature of n-words and our understanding of the nature of the syntax-semantics interface.
The main objectives of the project are:
Language, Logic, Cognition Center Department of Linguistics
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Mount Scopus, 91905 Jerusalem, Israel
When: March 27th-29th, 2017
This workshop is the first semi-public event of the Landscape of Neg-words Project. It features talks of the members of the research team, as well as invited talks.
We are delighted to announce that the invited speakers are:
See the Workshop Program here .
Title: Demonstrative Pronouns and the Linguistic Encoding of Appraisal (joint work with Martina Wiltschko)
When: December 21, 2016
Where: Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Title: Modal and non-modal NPIs and PPIs
When: November 15, 2016
Where: Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Title: Explaining FOFC without the LCA
When: October 14-16, 2016
Where: UMass Amherst
Title: On the locality and the strength of NPI and PPI licensing. Logic in Language and in Conversation
When: September 19-20, 2016
Title: On the locality and the strength of NPI and PPI licensing. New Ideas on Semantic Modelling
When: September 7-8, 2016
Title: Strict vs non-strict NPIs and PPIs.
When: September 4-6, 2016
Where: University of Edinburgh
H. Zeijlstra. Diachronic developments in the domain of negation. Language & Linguistics Compass 10: 284–295 · H. Zeijlstra. Negation and Negative Dependencies. Annual Review of Linguistics 2: 233-254.
S. Miyagawa, N. Nishioka, & H. Zeijlstra. Negative sensitive items and the discourse-configurational nature of Japanese. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics, 1: 33.