The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Next syntax/semantics job talk: Doris Penka today at 3pm

Doris Penka
Monday, 2/11, 3pm, 32D-461
“A cross-linguistically unified analysis of negative indefinites”

Abstract: Negative indefinites (English ‘nobody’,’nothing’ etc. and their counterparts in other languages) have been discussed controversially in languages that exhibit negative concord, i.e. where two or more morphologically negative elements contribute only one negation to the semantics. In this talk, I will bring negative concord together with two other phenomena that negative indefinites give rise to, namely scope splitting in German and distributional restrictions in the Scandinavian languages. Taken together, the discussed phenomena suggest that negative indefinites should not be analysed as negative quantifiers. Rather, negative indefinites are morpho-syntactic markers of sentential negation. I present a cross-linguistically unified analysis of negative indefinites and show how the three phenomena discussed follow from it. This analysis is based on the assumption that negative indefinites are semantically non-negative and must be licensed by a (possibly abstract) negation. It is proposed that negative indefinites cross-linguistically are of essentially the same nature and that differences between languages regarding their behaviour are due to parametric variation.