[Lingtyp] Does bipolar polysemy exist?

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Thu May 31 15:17:30 EDT 2018

David, are single-morph expressions that combine "content meaning + 
negation" in any way more surprising than other single-morph expressions 
that combine "content meaning + grammatical meaning"?

It's not uncommon that languages have a few unanalyzable high-frequency 
expressions of the latter type, typically called "suppletive", e.g.

– property concept plus comparative meaning: warm/warm-er vs. bad/worse
– thing concept plus plural meaning: French oreille/oreille-s vs. œil/yeux
– action concept plus past tense meaning: Spanish salir/sal-í vs. ir/fui

This happens occasionally with all kinds of grammatical meanings (and 
always with high-frequency content meanings) – why shouldn't it happen 
with negation as well?


On 31.05.18 20:43, David Gil wrote:
> Yes, as Matti points out, negative lexicalization is not quite as rare 
> as I was implying.  Yet at the same time, I suspect that it might not 
> be as common as Matti is suggesting. Looking at the examples that he 
> cites in his Handbook chapter, I suspect that in some cases, the 
> negative counterpart isn't "just" negative, but is also associated 
> with some additional meaning components.
> Matti doesn't list "good"/"bad" as being such a pair, though, citing 
> work by Ulrike Zeshan on sign languages, he does mention other 
> evaluative concepts such as "not right", "not possible", "not 
> enough".  in English, at least, "bad" is not the negation of "good", 
> it is the antonym of "good"; there's all kind of stuff in the world 
> which we attach no evaluative content to, and which hence is neither 
> good nor bad. (It's true that in English, in many contexts, the 
> expression "not good" is understood as meaning "bad", which is 
> interesting in and of itself, but still, it is not necessarily 
> understood in this way.) While I have no direct evidence, I would 
> strongly suspect that in languages that have lexicalized expressions 
> for "not right", "not possible", and "not enough", the meanings of 
> these expressions will be the antonyms of "right", "possible" and 
> "enough", and not their negations.
> Under lexicalized negatives in the domain of tense/aspect, Matti lists 
> "will not", "did not", "not finished".  Well the one case that I am 
> familiar with that falls into this category is that of the 
> Malay/Indonesian iamative/perfect marker "sudah", which has a 
> lexicalized negative counterpart "belum".  However, "belum" isn't just 
> "not sudah"; it also bears a strong (if not invariant) implicature 
> that at some point in the future, the state or activity that is not 
> complete will be completed — in fact, just like the English expression 
> "not yet".  (When people in Indonesia ask you if you're married, it's 
> considered impolite to answer with a simple negation "tidak"; you're 
> supposed to say "belum" precisely because of its implicature that you 
> will, in the future, get married.  By avoiding this implicature, the 
> simple negation "tidak" is viewed as a threat to the natural order of 
> things, in which everybody should get married.)
> I suspect that many if not all of the cases characterized by Matti as 
> "lexicalized negatives" will turn out to be associated with some 
> additional meaning component beyond that of "mere" negation.
> On 31/05/2018 20:06, Miestamo, Matti M P wrote:
>> Dear David, Zygmunt and others,
>> negative lexicalization is not quite as rare as David seems to imply. 
>> There is a cross-linguistic survey of this phenomenon by Ljuba 
>> Veselinova (ongoing work, detailed and informative presentation 
>> slides available through her website), and Zeshan (2013) has written 
>> on this phenomenon in sign languages. There's also a short summary in 
>> my recent Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Typology chapter on 
>> negation (preprint available via the link in the signature below).
>> Best,
>> Matti
>> -- 
>> Matti Miestamo
>> http://www.ling.helsinki.fi/~matmies/
>>> Zygmunt Frajzyngier <Zygmunt.Frajzyngier at COLORADO.EDU> kirjoitti 
>>> 31.5.2018 kello 17.23:
>>> David, Friends
>>> Related to David’s post, not to the original query.
>>> In any individual language, there may exist a few of ‘Not-X’ items.
>>> In Mina (Central Chadic) there is a noun which designates 
>>> ‘non-blacksmith’.
>>> In several Chadic languages there exist negative existential verb 
>>> unrelated to the affirmative existential verb.
>>> Zygmunt
>>> On 5/31/18, 5:52 AM, "Lingtyp on behalf of David Gil" 
>>> <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org on behalf of 
>>> gil at shh.mpg.de> wrote:
>>>     On 31/05/2018 13:37, Sebastian Nordhoff wrote:
>>>> On 05/31/2018 01:18 PM, David Gil wrote:
>>>>> A point of logic.  "Not X" and "Antonym (X)" are distinct notions, 
>>>>> and
>>>>> the original query by Ian Joo pertains to the former, not the latter.
>>>> but is there any (monomorphemic) lexeme which expresses not-X which is
>>>> not the antonym of X?
>>>     But how many (monomorphemic) lexemes expressing not-X are there 
>>> at all?
>>>     The only ones I can think of are suppletive negative 
>>> existentials, e.g.
>>>     Tagalog "may" (exist) > "wala" (not exist). Even suppletive 
>>> negative
>>>     desideratives don't quite fit the bill, e.g. Tagalog "nais"/"gusto"
>>>     (want) > "ayaw", which is commonly glossed as "not want", but 
>>> actually
>>>     means "want not-X", rather than "not want-X" — "ayaw" is thus an 
>>> antonym
>>>     but not a strict negation of "nais"/"gusto".
>>>     What is not clear to me about the original query is whether it 
>>> is asking
>>>     for negations or for antonyms.
>>>     --
>>>     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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Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de)
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
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D-07745 Jena
Leipzig University
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