The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling Lunch 4/21 - Daniel Margulis

Speaker: Daniel Margulis (MIT)
Title: Expletive negation is an exponent of only
Time: Thursday, April 21th, 12:30-1:50 pm
Place: 32-D461

Contrary to the natural assumption that negative morphemes bring about truth-condition reversal, Hebrew sentential negation does not always make the expected contribution to meaning, just like other instances of expletive negation crosslinguistically.
Hebrew expletive negation is found in until-clauses (1) and free (headless) relative clauses (2).

(1)   yoni   yaSan ad     Se    ha-Sxenim       lo     hidliku muzika
+++ yoni slept   until that the-neighbors neg   lit       music
++ “Yoni was asleep until the neighbors turned on some music.”

(2)   mi    Se    lo      yaSav b-a-xacer    kibel ugiya
+++ who that neg sat      in-the-yard received cookie
++ “Whoever was sitting in the yard got a cookie.”

In this talk I discuss expletive negation’s contribution to interpretation and argue that the until data should be understood as an obligatory scalar implicature, arising due to an association between expletive negation and a covert `only’.

Why should the negative morpheme participating in expletive negation carry the meaning of `only’? I follow von Fintel & Iatridou’s (2007) decompositional analysis of `only’, according to which only has two components: negation and an exceptive, as attested overtly in some languages, e.g., French `ne…que’ and Greek `dhen…para’. Under such a view, the status of expletive negation would simply be that of any ordinary negation, and the only special property of expletive negation constructions would be that they contain a covert exceptive head.

I provide further support for the current proposal from the observations that expletive negation cannot license negative concord and that an overt `only’ cannot accompany expletive negation. Finally, I will mention a direction in which the proposal could be extended to the free relatives data.