grammaticalization of negatives/interrogatives

Anstey, Matthew MAnstey at CSU.EDU.AU
Mon Mar 28 04:13:13 UTC 2005

Hi all,

Regarding the recent discussions of interrogatives and negation, the following recent article addresses the semantics of their interaction in great detail:

Romero, Maribel and Chung-Hye Han, 2004, On negative yes/no questions. Linguistics and Philosophy. 27: 609-658.

They do not discuss grammaticalisation, but their explanation very nicely motivates the phenomena. They also point out several data that I can't remember being mentioned in this discussion, such as (a) difference between "Isn't John a drinker?" and "Is John not a drinker?" and (b) the difference between "Isn't John a drinker too?" and "Isn't John a drinker either?", differences found in many languages. The crucial observation is that "Isn't John a drinker?" is ambiguous (unless context clarifies) in its implicatures of 'John is a drinker', which is the unambiguous implicature of "Isn't John a drinker too?" and 'John is not a drinker', which is the unambiguous implicature of "Isn't John a drinker either?"

They observe similar differences in terms of implicatures in pairs such as:

1. Never has John lied.  VS   John has never lied.

2. John has never lied, has he?  VS John has lied, hasn't he?

To solve these conundrums of scopal ambiguity, they introduce a VERUM operator that interacts with NEG (ie VERUM [ NEG vs NEG [ VERUM  ).

The upshot of all this for the thread is that the grammaticalisation facts must somehow be related to the (ambiguity of) the *implicatures* that arise with interrogatives, negators, and their co-occurence. It also alerts us to being sensitive to the position (and accordingly in many cases scope) of NEG, nicely illustrated in their German example: Hat (nicht) Hans (nicht) Maria (nicht) gesehen?

They also point out that naturally their approach is very reliant on the context, as it all depends on whether the speaker is checking for p or ~p with the negated question, which is confirmed by the many examples people have given.

With regards,


Matthew Anstey

Charles Sturt University, School of Theology, Academic Associate




More information about the Lingtyp mailing list