[Lingtyp] Does bipolar polysemy exist?

David Gil gil at shh.mpg.de
Thu May 31 11:15:38 EDT 2018

Moving away from antonymy to "true" negation, the following two 
examples, both marginal in one sense or another, come to mind:

1. Phonetic realizations of English "can" and "can't".  In many 
varieties the vowel is identical, and impressionistically, in some of 
these, the final "t" is replaced by some kind of glottalization, a final 
glottal stop and/or some kind of creakiness over the vowel.  I wouldn't 
be surprised if there are dialects where the distinction has been 
completely neutralized.  I know one non-native but fluent speaker of 
American English who seems, to my ears at least, to have identical 
phonetic realizations for "can" and "can't", and I keep on having to 
interrupt and ask her which of the two she means.

2. In several varieties of colloquial Malay/Indonesian, the negator 
"tak" ([taʔ]), although written as a separate word, actually cliticizes 
to the word that follows it.  In one of the ludlings described in the 
reference below, the onset of the final (disyllabic) foot and everything 
before it is replaced by the fixed sequence "war-", e.g. "pergi" (go) > 
"warergi", "bahasa" (language) > "warasa".  So what happens to negated 
words? "tak=pergi" (NEG go) > "warergi"; that is to say, the distinction 
between basic forms and their negations is systematically neutralized.  
Of course, ludlings violate many universals of language, so this 
shouldn't be taken as evidence against a possible universal proscribing 
such neutralizations. But still ...

Gil, David (2002) "Ludlings in Malayic Languages: An Introduction", in 
Bambang Kaswanti Purwo ed., /PELBBA 15, Pertemuan Linguistik Pusat 
Kajian Bahasa dan Budaya Atma Jaya: Kelima Belas/, Unika Atma Jaya, 
Jakarta, 125-180.

What's common to both of these very different examples is that, in one 
way or another, it's the phonology that's the culprit.

On 31/05/2018 12:57, Joo Ian wrote:
> Dear all,
> I would like to know if the following universal claim holds:
> /There exists no lexeme that can mean X and the negation of X. (For 
> example, no lexeme can express “to go” and “to not go”)./
> I wonder if such “bipolar polysemy” exists in any lexeme, because I 
> cannot think of any, and whether this claim is truly universal.
> I would appreciate to know if there is any counter-evidence.
> From Hong Kong,
> Ian Joo
> http://ianjoo.academia.edu
> _______________________________________________
> Lingtyp mailing list
> Lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
> http://listserv.linguistlist.org/mailman/listinfo/lingtyp

David Gil

Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany

Email: gil at shh.mpg.de
Office Phone (Germany): +49-3641686834
Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81281162816

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