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Query Details

Query Subject:   Clausal Negation
Author:   Jan Lindstrom
Submitter Email:  click here to access email

Linguistic LingField(s):  Syntax

Query:   Dear Linguists,

I am studying initially positioned clausal negation, its functions and
distribution in varieties of Swedish but also generally across languages.
To be able to survey the distribution of this syntactic phenomenon
generally I would need your kind help.

The basic pattern that I am interested in is this: we have a standard
negator item that initiates a clause whose content is thus negated. The
negator can be a negator-adverb, a negator-particle, or a negator-verb.
Such initial clausal negation – with the adverb INTE ‘not’ - is typical of
some regional varieties of Swedish (but mainly limited to a colloquial

1. INTE var det nagot fel pa di daer tacosarna.
not was it any fault on those tacos
i.e. There was not fault with those tacos. (They were okay)

2. INTE behoever jag ta skorna bort?
not need I take shoes away
i.e. I do not need to take off my shoes? (Don't I need...)

The first clausal variant functions as a declarative, the latter as an
interrogative – the distinction is pragmatic (and prosodic), not syntactic.
It is equally possible – and pragmatically unmarked, I’d say – to place the
negating adverb past the subject within the clause, which is usual for
English or German:

3. Det var INTE nagot fel pa de daer tacosarna.
it was not any fault on those tacos

A corresponding initial clausal negation is very typical of Finnish, but
the information I have on Danish, Norwegian or Icelandic is more
controversial – data on these would be most welcome. I am likewise
interested in this phenomenon in laguages in general, especially in cases
where there is a variation between initial and inner clausal negation, as
in the Swedish examples. Also, I would appreciate it very much if you can
give a functional (pragmatic, semantic) account of such a possible
syntactic variation in the placement of the negator item. Moreover, some
kind of estimation, if possible, of the typicality or stylistic status of
one of the syntactic variants would be good. Basically, of course, I am
interested in the very ''possibility'' of initial clausal negation in a
language (I take it that this is not possible in English, for instance:
''Not was he there'' (for ''He was not there''). Note that I am not here
interested in phrasal negation, like in cases “Not a word was heard”, where
a word rather than a clause is negated.

Thanks for your attention,
there will be a summary,


Jan Lindstrom
Lecturer, Adjunct Professor
Department of Scandinavian languages and literature
University of Helsinki
LL Issue: 17.1366
Date posted: 04-May-2006


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