LINGUIST List 12.2150

Mon Sep 3 2001

Sum: Quantification and Negation

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Bart Geurts, Quantification and negation (Linguist 12.2064)

Message 1: Quantification and negation (Linguist 12.2064)

Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2001 14:24:42 +0200
From: Bart Geurts <>
Subject: Quantification and negation (Linguist 12.2064)

In my query I asked for native speakers' judgments on (1b), (3a), and
(4), the main issue being whether it possible to get so-called "split"
readings in which the negative element in "no" takes scope over the
entire sentence, while the existential element remains within the
scope of the universal quantifier. Wide-scope construals for negation
are attested for sentences like (4), and I wanted to know if analogous
readings can be obtained for sentences with "no", as is the case in
German, for example ((1a) can be construed as synonymous with (2)).

(1a) Alle Professoren haben kein Auto.
(1b) All professors have no car. (= literal translation of (1b))
(2) Not all professors own cars.
(3a) All professors are no geniuses.
(3b) Not all professors are geniuses.
(4) All professors aren't ill.

There doesn't seem to be much variation among speakers'
intuitions. Several of my respondents remarked that (1b) and (3a) are
of dubious grammaticality, and if they are acceptable at all, they
do not have the kind of reading I'm after: (1b) can only mean that no
professor owns a car, and (3a) can only mean that no professor is a
genius. Only one respondent manages to "push [1b] to the meaning 'No
professors own any cars' but it isn't idiomatic."

I was surprised to find that (3a) is no good for so many speakers,
since this type of sentence seems unproblematic with a definite
subject. One respondent felt that " Each professor has no car" is
okay, though for her it only has the "logical reading", with the
universal quantifier taking wide scope.

It seems, therefore, that in English only overt negative elements can
take scope over a universally quantified subjects. If the negation is
implicit (as in "no") it cannot move to the front. However, a covert
negation can outscope a modal element, as in "I can get no
satisfaction", where the intended reading is "It is not the case that
I can get satisfaction" (at least that is how I have always understood
the sentence).

The last point I raised concerned possible correlations between (1b),
(3a), and (4). For English, this question turns out to make little
sense, because it is not even clear whether the first two sentences
are grammatical at ally" For German, there does seem to be a
correlation. In order to obtain a split reading for (1a), "there must
be explicit topic intonation on "alle" and explicit focal stress on
"kein", otherwise you don't get the reading." The same holds, mutatis
mutandis, for the German equivalents of (3a) and (4).

Note, finally, that a neg-wide-scope reading is quite easy to get in
English (one respondent even claimed it was the only one), but
decidedly marked in German and other languages, like Dutch, for

Readers interested in split readings might start with one of the
following contain pointers to the earlier literature):

de Swart, H. 1996: Scope ambiguities with negative quantifiers. MS,
Stanford University. 
Geurts, B. 1996: On "no". Journal of Semantics 13: 67-86.

I'd like to thank the following people for responding to my query:
Elena Bashir, Julian Bradfield, Marc Eisinger, George Gale, Anthea
Fraser Gupta, Mark Hepple, Christian Huber, Dick Hudson, Michael
Johnstone, Mark A. Mandel, Bart Mathias, Bill Morris, Simon Musgrave,
Humphrey P. van Polanen Petel, Philip L. Peterson, Paul M. Postal,
Matthew Purver, Jennifer Spenader, and Larry Trask.

Bart Geurts

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