Een typologie van negatie in optimaliteitstheorie
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Een typologie van negatie in optimaliteitstheorie. Henri ëtte de Swart Frans/UiL-OTS, Utrecht. Expressing negation. Natural languages: ways to express negation/denial : not . First-order propositional connective  Natural languages: negative indefinites , nobody .

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Een typologie van negatie in optimaliteitstheorie

Een typologie van negatie in optimaliteitstheorie.

Henriëtte de Swart

Frans/UiL-OTS, Utrecht

Expressing negation

Expressing negation

  • Natural languages: ways to express negation/denial: not.

  • First-order propositional connective 

  • Natural languages: negative indefinites, nobody.

  • First-order quantifier x.

Negation and cognition

Negation and cognition

  • Assumption: something like or something equivalent to first-order logic part of general human cognition.

  • Prediction: negation and negative quantifiers behave alike across languages.

  • Prediction falsified by data.

Dn and nc

DN and NC

  • Nobody said nothing. (Eng)xy

  • Niemand zei niets. (Dutch) xy

  • Nadie miraba a nadie. (Spa) xy

  • Nessuno ha parlato con nessuno. (Ital) xy

  • Personne n’a rien dit. (Fr)ambiguous

Negation in context

Negation in context

  • Double negation versus

    negative concord

  • negative quantifiers versus n-words.

  • In isolation: same form, same meaning.

  • In a sequence: same forms, different meanings.

What to do

What to do?

  • Many theories about negation/negative quantifiers in language.

  • Key: languages make use of the same underlying mechanisms, but exploit the relation between form and meaning in different ways.

Speaker hearer










Speech sound

Approach ot

Approach: OT

  • OT syntax: choose the optimal form for a given meaning.

  • OT semantics: choose the optimal interpretation for a given form.

  • Bi-directional OT: evaluate pairs of form and meaning.

Propositional negation

Propositional negation

  • Production issue: how does a language express the meaning p?

  • FaithNeg: reflect non-affirmativity of the input in the output.

  • Faithfulness constraint

  • ‘double-edged’ constraint: both in OT syntax, and in OT semantics.

Markedness of negation

Markedness of negation

  • *Neg: avoid negation in the output.

  • Markedness constraint

  • FaithNeg >> *Neg

  • Assumption: ranking fixed across languages

  • Negation is marked in form/meaning.

Propositional negation1

Propositional negation

Negative sentences

Negative sentences

  • John is not sick.[English]

  • No vino Pedro.[Spanish]

    Not came Pedro.

  • Non piove.[Italian]

    Not rains.

    ‘It doesn’t rain.’

Indefinites under negation

Indefinites under negation

  • Production: how do languages express the meaning x1 x2 x3 P(x1,x2, x3)?

  • Three cases:

  • plain indefinites,

  • negative polarity items,

  • n-words.



  • Example: Dutch, Turkish, ..

  • Ik heb niet onmiddellijk iets gekocht.

    I have not immediately something bought.

  • Niemand heeft iets aan iemand gezegd.

    No one has something to someone said.

  • Negation/negative quantifier

Negative polarity items

Negative polarity items

  • Languages in which plain indefinites are positive polarity items may use negative polarity items.

  • Example: English, Basque, ..

  • *I did not buy something

  • I did not buy anything.

  • Nobody said anything to anyone.

N words


  • Languages in which plain indefinites are positive polarity items may use n-words.

  • N-words denote x in isolation, but express a single negative statement together with sentential negation or other n-words (x1 x2 x3).

Example spanish

Example: Spanish

  • A: Qué viste?B: Nade

    A: What did you see? B: nothing.

  • No vino nadie.

    Not came nobody.

  • Nadie maraba a nadie

    Nobody looked at nobody.

Npis and n words

NPIs and n-words

  • N-words denote x in isolation, NPIs denote x.

  • NPIs have to be licensed, n-words are ‘self-licensing’.

  • Negative concord is limited to anti-additive contexts, NPIs occur in decreasing or non-veridical contexts.

N words in ot

N-words in OT

  • N-words mark ‘negative’ variables (Corblin and Tovena 2003).

  • Functional motivation: mark focus of negation (Haspelmath 1997).

  • In OT terms: constraint MaxNeg

  • MaxNeg: Mark the argument of a negative chain.

Constraint interaction

Constraint interaction

  • Relevant Rankings (OT syntax)

  • FaithNeg >> *Neg >> MaxNeg


  • FaithNeg >> MaxNeg >> *Neg


Indefinites production

Indefinites (production)

N word production

N-word (production)



  • Issue: Does a sequence of items that express x in isolation express a single or a double (multiple) negation.

  • InterpretNeg (IntNeg): Interpret all neg expressions in the input as contributing a negative meaning in the output.



  • MaxNeg and IntNeg: mirror images of each other (syntax/semantics).

  • Relevant rankings to consider for interpretation:

  • FaithNeg >> *Neg >> IntNeg [NC]

  • FaithNeg >> IntNeg >> *Neg [DN]

Dn interpretation

DN (interpretation)

Nc interpretation

NC (Interpretation)

Bi directional grammar

Bi-directional grammar

  • Negative concord:

    MaxNeg >> *Neg >> IntNeg

    ‘Mark negative variables’

  • Double negation:

    IntNeg >> *Neg >> MaxNeg

    ‘Fully compositional meaning’

Results so far

Results so far

  • Whether a neg expression is interpreted as a negative quantifier or as an n-word depends on bi-directional grammar, not on lexical meaning.

  • Constraints are universal, ranking is language-specific.

  • Reranking = typology in OT

Other rankings

Other rankings?

  • Three constraints allow 6 rankings:

  • MaxNeg >> *Neg >> IntNegNC

  • MaxNeg >> IntNeg >> *Neg unstable

  • *Neg >> MaxNeg >> IntNeg unstable

  • IntNeg >> MaxNeg >> *Neg unstable

  • IntNeg >> *Neg >> MaxNeg DN

Sentential negation

Sentential negation

  • Haspelmath (1997): subtypes of negative indefinites, depending on relation to marker of negation.

  • Class I: SN mandatory (Rumanian, Greek, Afrikaans, Polish,..)

  • Class II: SN impossible (Dutch, English)

  • Class III: SN with postverbal n-words only (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese..).

Class iii asymmetry

Class III: asymmetry

  • Preverbal versus postverbal n-words, e.g. Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, ..

  • Maria non ha parlato con nessuno.

    Maria not has talked to nobody.

  • Nessuno ha parlato con nessuno.

  • *Maria ha parlato di niente con nessuno

  • *Nessuno non ha parlato con nessuno.

Class iii in ot

Class III in OT

  • NegFirst: Negation is preverbal (Horn)

  • Preverbal n-word with SN.

Preverbal n word

Preverbal n-word

  • Relevant for production only!

Class i mandatory sn

Class I: mandatory SN

  • Negative indefinites always co-occur with SN: Rumanian, Greek, Polish,..

  • Nikt nie przyszekl[Polish]

  • Nobody SN came.

  • Nie widzialam nikogo.

  • SN saw nobody

Class i in ot

Class I in OT

  • MaxSN: a negative clause must bear a marker of sentential negation

    Relevant for production only!

Special case catalan

Special Case: Catalan

  • En Pere no ha fet res.

    The Peter SN has done nothing.

  • *En Pere ha fet res.

  • Ningú (no) ha vist en Joan.

    Nobody (SN) has seen John.

  • Preverbal SN required for postverbal n-word, optional for preverbal n-word.

Postverbal n word

Postverbal n-word

  • NegFirst active: insertion of SN.

Pre verbal n word

Pre-verbal n-word

  • MaxSN and *Neg equal in ranking.

Special case french

Special case: French

  • Written French: type I language, preverbal ne always required.

  • Il ne vient pas. Il ne dit rien.

    He NE comes not. He NE says nothing.

  • Spoken French: demotion of MaxSN..

  • Il vient pas.Il dit rien.

Written french

Written French

  • Preverbal ànd postverbal n-words require ne.

Spoken french

Spoken French

  • Neither preverbal nor postverbal n-word requires ne.

Negative clauses

Negative clauses

  • Written French

Negative clauses1

Negative clauses

  • Spoken French

Double negation

Double negation

  • Double negation: pas + n-word.

  • Il n’est pas venu pour rien.

  • He NE has not come for nothing.

  • Weak bi-directional optimality: ‘superoptimality’.

  • Unmarked forms-unmarked meanings; marked forms-marked meanings

Dn in french

DN in French

Dn in italian

DN in Italian

  • Class III languages: block sentential negation with preverbal n-words.

  • Marginal DN readings, e.g. Italian (Zanuttini 1991).

  • Nessuno degli studenti nonè venuto.

    None of the students not is come.

    = None of the students hasn’t come.



  • DN languages fully compositional, NC languages mark ‘negative variables’.

  • Bi-directional OT grammar leads to typology of negation in terms of ranking.

  • Role of marker of SN: purely syntactic!

  • Weak bi-directional optimality explains DN readings in certain NC languages.

Conflicts in interpretation

Research team: Petra Hendriks, Gerlof Bouma (Groningen), Helen de Hoop, Irene Krämer (Nijmegen), Henriëtte de Swart, Joost Zwarts (Utrecht)

Conflicts in interpretation

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