[FUNKNET] grammaticalization of negatives/interrogatives

Wolfgang Schulze W.Schulze at LRZ.UNI-MUENCHEN.DE
Thu Mar 10 09:40:28 UTC 2005

Dear Matthew,

many thanks for having drawn our attention to the Semitic data. I do not
want to comment upon them here (I leave it to comparative semitologists,
as you did). Still, let me stress that the strong correlation between
negation and interrogation strategies you have mentioned seems to be
crucial for the understanding of either of them in many languages.

>Many semitic languages show a probable development from an interrogative particle of place "where is ...?" to an negative existential "there is not ...". Similar to English, "Where's Pete?" that implies "Pete is not here".
Note that in your example you describe the 'emergence' of 'constituent
questions', based on a negated (locational) existential construction.
Hence, we can state a common 'relational' (verbal) concept {BE=NOT=THERE
~ BE=WHERE}. Some folks have claimed that the underlying strategy is
'verificational': Accordingly, cognition gets into a state of
hypothesizing that the applicability of a {X is THERE} pattern is
justified: The actual input however does not stimulate the activiation
of this pattern, leading to a 'negation' {it is NOT that X is THERE}.
The 'tension' between these two cognitive 'states' provokes a
verificational strategy, in case the 'pre-input 'hypothesis {X is THERE}
is strong enough. Cognition now 'expresses' its hypothesis (where ever
it may have come from) more than it simply 'asserts' the 'negative
state'. From this we can assume that in case both strategies are
linguistically encoded with the help of a common strategy, the
'verificational' version should include additional 'markers' that refer
to the underlying 'hypothesis' {X is THERE}.

Therefore, we can draw the following picture (VER:FOC = Verificational

{X is NOT THERE} x VER:FOC    >   QUESTION [e.g. Intonation, Q-particles

Naturally, it also can go the other way round (ASS = Assertion)

{X is NOT THERE} x ASS >   ASSERTION [e.g. assertive particles]
{X is NOT THERE} > QUESTION [+ speech act related strategies]

Likewise, both strategies can be combined, or both focal strategies are
lacking. Nevertheless, this correlation obviously is restricted to
Constituent Questions that focus on location (or its metaphorization).
Another option seems to be based on the concept of WHAT: Compare the
following examples from Arabic:

mâ         katab-tu                 risâlat-a-n
not:perf  write:perf.1sg:perf  letter-acc-ndef
'I did not write a letter.'

mâ     huwa  sabab-u        sm-i-hi                        l-gharîb-i ?
what  he/it    reason-nom  name-gen-3sg:poss:m  art-strange-gen
'What's the reason for its strange name?'

Let's assume that the two mâ's are synonymous (which is from being clear
from a diachronic point of view): Can we claim that the negation
particle mâ stems from WHAT? Maybe, that here, the story goes the other
way round: If we interpret *mâ as some kind of 'it is NOT that', the
concept WHAT may have emerged from something like *'isn't(?)' [a tag].
Hence, the second phrase would read: *'Isn't (there) a reason for its
strange name' > '[yes, there is], ......'. I know, this analysis is more
a guess than anything else; it goes against the standard assumption that
terms for WHAT often are derived from indefinite (dummy) nouns ('thing'
etc.), or from deictic terms marked for interrogation. Still, at least
for Arabic, none of these two grammaticalizations paths holds. A
superficially parallel type is given e.g. in Udi (and Eastern Caucasian
language (which couriously makes use of an element ma, too):

s^uk'al-ax      yaq'-al       ma     tad-a-nan        salam
anyone-dat2  way-super  proh  give-mod-2pl   greeting
'Do not greet anyone on the road!'

ma-q'un     lax-e        s^o-t'-ux?
where-3pl  lay-perf   he-sa-dat2
'Where did they lay him down?'

However, note that in Udi, things are more complicated because the
'negative' ma is used with prohibitives only (which reminds us of the
Indoeuropean prohibitive *mê ). But whereas the prohibitve base is
nicely documented in a number of sister languages of Udi, Udi ma = where
does not have convincing cognates. Hence, we *may* assume that it
reflects a concept 'is is/should be NOT [there]' taken from the term now
used to encode the prohibitive.

Finally, what to do with polar question (sentence focus)? Naturally, the
integration of negated tag-question is a very common option. Still, this
does not help to illuminate the status of 'negation' itself, because the
'negation' is already present in the tag. A typical example is German
(others have given much better examples):

Geht sie [nicht] in die Stadt?
'Does[n't] she go to town?'

Sie geht in die Stadt, nicht [wahr]'?
'She goes to town, doesn't she?'

The description of the corresponding cognitive strategies heavily
depends from the syntactic and semantic 'nature' of the tag
construction. Nevertheless, it can be hypothesized that here, it is not
the negation itself that conditions the 'question' construction, but the
fact that a *tag* is present. This can be seen again from German:

Sie geht in die Stadt, ja?
'She goes to town, 'yes'?'

It's simply a matter of conventionalization which type (emphatic
assertion, emphatic negation) is 'selected'. Hence, it is (in my eyes)
difficult to assume that the negation itself grammaticalizes as a
question marker. Rather, we have to deal with some kind of piggybacking:
In a tag, negative as well as assertive constructions become  processed
as 'question markers' just *because* they are embedded into a (often
intonational) pattern of question marking (or: the tag itself is a
question). I assume that if such a negative construction or parts of it
are tranferred into the 'matrix' clause, they also add their
intonational etc. pattern to this clause. In other words: The
grammaticalization of negative segments of a tag as Q-markers in polar
questions is a secondary effect, not the primary grammaticalization path.


Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schulze
Institut für Allgemeine und Typologische Sprachwissenschaft
Department 'Kommunikation und Sprachen' (Dep. II) - F 13/14
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1
D-80539 München
Tel.: ++49(0)89-2180-2486 (Sekr.) / -5343 (Büro)
Fax: ++49(0)89-2180-5345
Email: W.Schulze at lrz.uni-muenchen.de
Web: http://www.ats.lmu.de/wschulze.html
New Version: http://www.ats.lmu.de/index.php

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