Summary for query on negation and case marking
matti.miestamo at HELSINKI.FI
Fri Nov 6 14:12:18 UTC 2009
a week ago I posted a query on this list asking for pointers to
languages where case marking (or the marking of nominal participants
more generally) is affected by negation. The original query can be found
Altogether 12 people replied, either on-list or off-list. Many thanks
for your replies! The following is a short summary of the responses.
Bernhard Wälchli wrote that they addressed this question briefly in
Koptjevskaja-Tamm & Wälchli (2001: 633ff, 729; Circum Baltic languages).
He also mentioned the situation in Basque and noted that the phenomenon
occurs in a related way in older stages of Indo-European languages,
notably in Germanic.
Larisa Leisiö pointed to the discussion of the phenomenon in Russian in
her dissertation <http://acta.uta.fi/pdf/951-44-5029-9.pdf>.
Greville Corbett gave a couple of references on the situation in
Slavonic: “First a bibliography, now rather dated, but it gives a sense
of just how much has been done:
Greville Corbett. 1986. The use of the genitive or accusative for the
direct object of negated verbs in Russian: a bibliography. In: R. D.
Brecht and J. S. Levine (eds) Case in Slavic, Columbus, Ohio: Slavica,
And second, a more recent article:
Alexander Krasovitsky, Matthew Baerman, Dunstan Brown and Greville G.
Corbett. Changing semantic factors in case selection: Russian evidence
from the last two centuries. To appear in: Morphology.”
Paul Hopper pointed to the discussion in the article "Transitivity in
grammar and discourse" (Paul Hopper & Sandra Thompson, Language 1980).
Ljuba Veselinova wrote that in Oceanic languages the NP in negated
constructions regularly changes over to the indefinite article or in
some cases to the non-specific article. She further noted that such
effects on NPs in negated clauses, either by case marking, or article
change, or something else actually seem to be very common. She added
that she has mainly looked at existentials and predicative possession.
Her complete on-list reply can be read at
Claire Moyse-Faurie clarified that what Ljuba had pointed out is indeed
common in Polynesian languages, but not in all Oceanic languages. She
added the following reference:
Hovdhaugen Even and Ulrike Mosel (eds), 1999. Negation in Oceanic
languages. Lincom Studies in Austronesian Linguistics 2.
Alex François mentioned the Oceanic language Araki (Vanuatu), where
affirmative sentences in Realis mood use a bare NP for the object and
then the verb must bear some transitive morphology. But negative
sentences have to use a Partitive marker /re/, which must be understood
as a marker for Non-Referential (=non-specific indefinite). The verb
form used in the affirmative would be compatible with the negative only
with a referential/definite reading. The Indefinite Specific marker is
incompatible with negation, and conversely, the Partitive /re/ is
incompatible with an affirmative realis sentence. In Affirmative
Irrealis the two constructions are possible, but differ semantically as
to the referentiality (= specificity) of the object. Alex’s reply
included a large number of examples and a summarizing table which I’m
not including in this short summary. He also mentioned the following
François, Alexandre (2002). Araki: A disappearing language of Vanuatu.
Pacific Linguistics, 522. Canberra: Australian National University. 375 pp.
François, Alexandre (2002). ‘I need somebody, not just anybody’: The
grammar of referentiality in Araki. Paper presented at the 5th
International Conference of Oceanic Languages (COOL5), Canberra, Jan 2002.
John Stewart brought up the related phenomenon in Arabic, where negative
existential sentences use a special negative verb /laysa/ that requires
the nominal predicate to take accusative case (instead of the nominative
used in the affirmative). He also noted that /laysa/ is not the only
element that can have this effect on phrases in the predicate. His
complete reply is found in
Wolfgang Schultze followed up on this and added that the selection of
the accusative case is not confined to /laysa/ but many other elements
have a similar effect, see the complete reply at
He further noted that the selection of the accusative has to do with the
original Semitic case system more generally, not with negation as such,
and pointed to the following reference: Michael Waltisberg 2002. Zur
Ergativitätshypothese im Semitischen. ZDMG 152,11-62.
Bernard Comrie pointed out that a number of Bantu languages have the
shorter form of the noun class prefix within the scope of negation (and
some other environments).
Larry Hyman mentioned the Bantu language Aghem, where the object of a
negative sentence is treated like an oblique, and attached a forthcoming
paper where the issue is treated in more detail. He added that “there
are quite a few African languages where negation is treated as
"inherently focused", thereby having either a morphological, syntactic
or prosodic effect that is different from the corresponding affirmative.”
Eduardo Ribeiro wrote that in Northern Jê languages (Central Brazil),
negation triggers an ergative pattern in transitive constructions, and
the verb is nominalized. The ergative pattern is linked to the limited
argument structure of deverbal nouns, and is triggered by any situation
that requires a nominal form of the verb. His complete reply, which
includes links to several downloadable grammatical descriptions of
Northern Jê languages, is at
Once again, many thanks to all those who responded!
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