grammaticalization of negatives/interrogatives

Stephen Matthews matthews at HKUCC.HKU.HK
Thu Mar 10 08:39:50 UTC 2005

Dear Matti,
This pattern is actually much more common in Chinese (Sinitic) than
Mandarin would suggest. Mandarin and Cantonese use the pattern primarily
with negators meaning specifically "(or) not yet", i.e. meiyou in Mandarin
and mei6 in Cantonese, as in:

haang4 dak1 mei6
walk  can  not-yet
"can we go now?"

In Min dialects such as Taiwanese and Chiu Chow, most polar questions use
negative morphemes (which still exist as such) as tags. Although this
pattern competes with other interrogative forms, Anne Yue-Hashimoto argues
that the "VP-NEG" pattern belongs to the indigenous stratum in the Min
dialects, as in Taiwanese:

Li  be  khi  bo?
you want go not
'Do you want to go?'

(Yue-Hashimoto, A. 1991. Stratification in comparative dialectal grammar: a
case in Southern Min. Journal of Chinese Linguistics 20:172-200)

Another relevant feature of the Min dialects is that there is a disjunctive
particle, /a/, which (although typically optional) spells out the 'or', and
thus the connection between the negative and interrogative functions:

Lu  ai  khu (a) mai?
you want go (or) not-want
'Do you want to go?'   (Chaoyang dialect of Chaozhou)

Just another plug for studying languages more interesting than Mandarin :-)


At 03:33 PM 3/9/2005 +0200, you wrote:
>Dear List Members,
>A possible source for polar interrogative markers is the use of negative
>markers as tag questions, and I'd be interested to hear about any
>attested cases of such developments; Heine & Kuteva briefly mention this
>possibility in their World Lexicon of Grammaticalization but do not
>discuss any attested cases (they do discuss the role of negation in the
>A-not-A interrogative construction, but this is not what I'm after).
>I'd also be interested in any other cases of grammaticalization where a
>negative marker has developed into a question marker or vice versa.
>Thanks and best wishes,
>Matti Miestamo

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