LINGUIST List 13.2207

Mon Sep 2 2002

Review: Syntax/Semantics: Hoeksema et al., eds. (2001)

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  1. Cecile Meier, Hoeksema et al. (2001) Perspectives on Negation and Polarity Items

Message 1: Hoeksema et al. (2001) Perspectives on Negation and Polarity Items

Date: Sat, 31 Aug 2002 20:03:23 +0000
From: Cecile Meier <>
Subject: Hoeksema et al. (2001) Perspectives on Negation and Polarity Items

Hoeksema Jack, Hotze Rullmann, Victor Sanchez-Valeria, and Ton van der Wouden,
eds. (2001) Perspectives on Negation and Polarity Items.
John Benjamins Publishing Company, xi+366pp, hardback ISBN 1-55619-793-4,
$105.00, Linguistics Today 40.

Book Announcement on Linguist: 

Cecile Meier, Universitaet Frankfurt


The volume contains a collection of papers by renowned linguists and
logicians working on negation. According to the first paragraph of the
introduction (vii­xi) the reader might expect "contributions on
various aspects of the syntax and semantics of negation, including the
old and notorious problem of scope, the vexing issues surrounding
polarity items, the interaction of negation with presuppositions and
implicatures and the acquisition of polarity items". The range of
topics in the volume is, however, far less wide than the quote is
suggesting. Ten of thirteen papers investigate the inventory of
polarity items in different languages or (syntactic, semantic or
pragmatic) properties of contexts licensing polarity items. (But,
there is no paper on the acquisition of polarity items.) In addition,
Tovena discusses strategies from non-monotonic reasoning in order to
capture negation in so-called neg-raising contexts and discusses NPIs
('until') as a diagnostic for the movement of negation. Van der Auwera
presents a typology of modals in relation with negation: a lot of his
data is traditionally categorized as negative polarity items. Only
Drozd does not mention NPIs. He deals with the acquisition of
'no'. Therefore, the volume probably mostly addresses linguists that
are interested in the results of some recent research on polarity

The introduction gives a detailed overview over the contents of the
volume. There, the contributions concerning NPIs are grouped into
papers that investigate NPI-licensers from a semantic point of view
(Atlas, Giannakidou), papers that explain the licensing conditions
with the help of pragmatic inferences (Hoeksema & Rullmann, Horn,
Lahiri), papers that deal with the antonymy of adjectives with respect
to negative polarity (Kennedy and Klein), papers that are more data
oriented (van der Auwera, Falkenberg), one paper that focusses on
negative polarity with respect to scope relations (Mittwoch) and one
paper that investigates taboo words (minimizers) with an NPI reading
and a syntactic construction with NPI characteristics (Postma). The
contributions are arranged in alphabetical order.


Jay D. Atlas ("Negative Quantifier Noun Phrases", pp. 1-22)
investigates sentential negation and negative quantifiers from an
intuitionistic point of view. The paper is a critical reflection on
Zwarts' hierarchy of negative expressions. Zwarts classifies these
expressions according to the satisfaction of two (e.g. 'few women'),
three (e.g. 'no one', 'not everybody'), or all four (sentential
negation 'not') of the DeMorgan relations from classical logic and
ties the ordering to the notion of negative strength [the more
DeMorgan relations are satisfied the stronger is a negative expression
(and the more types of NPIs may be licensed)]. Atlas, however,
focusses on the intuitive content of the notion "negative strength"
and argues (a) that it is not justified to rank sentential negation
above all other negative expressions, and (b) that negative
expressions that satisfy an equal number of Zwartsian DeMorgan
relations (though different ones) are not equally strong with respect
to negativity. In consequence, he proposes a novel hierarchy of
negative quantifiers based on the intuitionistic account of negation.

COMMENT: Atlas gives a detailed account of the intuitive notion of
negative strength. It remains however open in what respect his new
hierarchy may be useful in order to explain the occurrence of NPIs. So
it seems that his contribution opens a new field for linguists
interested in the licensing conditions of NPIs.

Johan van der Auwera ("On the typology of negative modals", pp. 23-48)
examines negative modals, i.e., collocations of a negative and a modal
auxiliary like 'must not', contractions like 'needn't' and opaque
univerbations like 'nei' "shouldn't" in Bengali, for example. The
main focus of the investigation is on the various expressions of
(negated) necessity and possibility in Indo-European languages, Uralic
languages and Dravidian languages and the mechanisms of semantic
change. He explains semantic change from necessity to possibility and
vice versa and lexical ambiguity of modals in terms of a
conventionalization of an implicature, based on Horn
scales. Furthermore, he discusses in more detail modals that are
restricted to negative environments (modal NPIs) and argues that there
are not only modals that are restricted to occur in the scope of a
negation (e.g. 'need') but also modals that require a negative
proposition in their scope (German 'duerfen' in an earlier stage).

COMMENT: It didn't become clear to me why the author subscribes to the
explanation of neg-raising by Horn on the one hand but not to his
hypothesis of a single meaning of "possible". The mechanisms of the
explanation are in both cases analogous. In order to explain the
semantic change of possibility-denoting modals to necessity denoting
modals, he refers to a kind of process that one could dub
"anti-neg-raising" (a lower negation is interpreted with widest scope
over the modal). Why should this weakening of meaning take place?

Kenneth F. Drozd ("Metalinguistic sentence negation in child English",
pp. 49-78) argues that presentential 'no' negation in multiword
utterances of child English is in fact a predecessor of adults'
colloquial exclamative sentence negation and not an early stage
variant of the ordinary negation 'not'. A child's 'No Mummy doing' is
therefore better glossed by "No way, Mummy is doing it". In
particular, it is shown that utterances with 'no' negations meet a
criterion for adult exclamative sentence negation: they are echoic "up
to deixis" of a previous utterance while utterances with 'not'
negations are not. Moreover, the childrens' 'no' negation is shown to
be metalinguistic in that it is typically used to convey objection to
a previous utterance by cancellation of (mostly) relevance-based

Gabriel Falkenberg ("Lexical sensitivity in negative polar
verbs". pp. 79-97) presents generalizations on negative polar
verbs. He sets apart four classes of NPI predicates in German: (a)
abstentive predicates governing an infinitival complement, (b)
predicates of attraction governing infinitival complements, (c)
predicates of privation and (d) predicates of care. All these
predicates have a tendency to cluster with modals denoting
possibility. There are even predicates that get their NPI-status only
in combination with such a modal. Abstentive predicates, in
particular, do not allow another negative polarity item in the
infinitival complement, the proposition expressed by the complement is
factive and they need a clause-mate licensing negation (contra 'need'
e.g.). And, predicates of attraction DO allow negative polarity items
in the complement and they are counterfactive (in contrast to the
abstentive predicates).

COMMENT: NPI-verbs trigger a Gricean generalized implicature according
to Falkenberg that might be rephrased as "in the view of what my fate
is it is necessary that I do P" and "in the view of what my fate is it
is necessary that I don't do P". The appearance of the modals denoting
possibility is explained in terms of the logical dependence of
necessity and possibility and negation. It would be nice to find a
formal analysis of these intuitions.

Anastasia Giannakidou ("Varieties of polarity items and the
(non-)veridicality hypothesis", pp. 99-127) proceeds on the assumption
that contexts in which negative polarity items and free choice items
(and the subjunctive in Greek relative clauses) occur have a common
semantic denominator, i.e., non-veridicality (or
anti-veridicality). On the basis of the classification of polarity
items with respect to sensitivity to non-veridicality,
anti-veridicality or veridicality and licensing and so-called
anti-licensing conditions, Giannakidou distinguishes four main classes
of expressions: (i) genuine negative polarity items (e.g. minimizers
and emphatic indefinites in Greek) are only licit in anti-veridical
contexts (English 'any' is exceptional in that it is anti-licensed in
veridical contexts); (ii) non-emphatic indefinites in Greek
(e.g. 'kanenan') require a non-veridical context; (iii) free choice
items (e.g. FC-'any' and 'opjondhipote') require a non-episodic,
non-negative context and (iv) positive polarity items are licensed
in veridical contexts. Lexical features on the polarity items control
the licensing conditions.

Jack Hoeksema & Hotze Rullmann ("Scalarity and polarity", pp. 129-171)
investigate adverbial polarity items more closely, in particular the
Dutch (and German) equivalents of 'even': 'ook maar', 'zelfs maar'
('auch nur'). Based on corpus data, they observe that 'zelfs maar' has
a wider distribution than 'ook maar'. 'Zelfs maar' nowadays preferably
occurs with verbal phrases that refer to a lower endpoint on a scale
based on world knowledge. 'Ook maar' on the other hand tends to occur
with indefinite noun phrases that conventionally denote small entities
or negligible quantities. Furthermore, they show (a) that the
anti-additivity requirement of Zwarts (1981) is not absolutely obeyed
by either expression in the corpus: in addition, they may occur in
non-veridical contexts triggered by opaque verbs. And, they argue (b)
that the c-command restriction for polarity items is not correct.

Laurence R. Horn ("Flaubert triggers, squatative negation and other
quirks of grammar", p. 173 ­ 200) discusses a wide range of
superficially non-negative, non-monotonic or upward-entailing but
NPI-friendly contexts (called Flaubert triggers) and he suggests that
in all cases a covert negative implicature or a paraphrase with 'only'
seem to license the NPI in question. In particular, he argues that
there is no need to assume that some NPIs indeed have a lexical
variant that is a positive polaritv item. "Squatitives" are
expressions that may or may not occur with a negative
element. 'Diddly-squat', for instance, means "nothing" in a positive
environment and "anything" in a negative environment. In Horn's
opinion, these expressions illustrate Jespersen's cycle. Meaning
"anything", they emphasize the meaning of the (often phonologically
weakened) negative expression. Meaning "nothing" they are interpreted
as a simple negative expression.

Chris Kennedy ("On the monotonicity of polar adjectives", p. 201 ­
221) proposes a semantics based on extents for the polarity of
gradable adjectives. Extents are sets of degrees on a scale. Whereas
positive adjectives denote a relation between an individual and a
positive extent (a set of degrees that starts at the minimal element
of the scale and ends somewhere in the middle), negative adjectives
denote relations between an individual and a negative extent (that
start somewhere in the middle and end in infinity). Comparatives are
captured as comparisons between two extents. The author argues that
this formalism is suitable to explain the monotonicity properties of
contexts with negative polar adjectives. Negative polar adjectives may
license NPIs in their subject clause (and are assumed to create a
downward-entailing context), whereas positive polar adjectives don't.

COMMENT: It is traditionally assumed that 'It is dangerous' is a
monotone decreasing function since "driving fast in Rome" (=p) entails
"driving in Rome" (=q) and "It is dangerous to drive in Rome" (=f(q))
entails "it is dangerous to drive fast in Rome" (=f(p)). But is this
argumentation correct? Traveling to Mozambique is dangerous because of
a potential bite by a mosquito that is infected with the Malaria
virus. But traveling to Mozambique protected by an effective vaccine
need not be dangerous. What we observe here is a phenomenon that is
familiar from non-monotonic conditional reasoning.

Henny Klein ("Polarity sensitivity and collocational restrictions of
adverbs of degree", p. 223 ­ 236) studies the distribution of adverbs
of degree to negative and positive polar adjectives (mainly on Dutch
examples). She postulates that adverbs of degree have two lexical
features (a) the informative value and (b) the emotional value. An
adverb that is unspecified for both features may freely combine with
every adjective (e.g. 'very'), an adverb that is specified for the
informative value is a positive or a negative polarity item and obeys
the usual restrictions for such expressions (e.g. '(not) much' in
English is a negative polarity item), an adverb that is specified
negatively for the emotional value may avoid a positive polar
adjective (e.g. 'fantastically') and vice versa. An interesting group
of adverbs of degrees is only specified (negatively) for the emotional
value but not for the informative value. Elements of this class are
NPIs in combination with a positive polar adjective and PPIs in
combination with a negative polar adjective (e.g. Dutch 'bar' "barren,

Utpal Lahiri ("'Even'-incorporated NPIs in Hindi definites and
correlatives", p. 237 ­ 264) presents in a first step a unified
account of Hindi NPIs and free choice items (all compounds of an
indefinite plus 'bhii' meaning "even"). Existential readings in
downward-entailing contexts (= NPI interpretation) and universal
readings in generic habitual, modal and future contexts (= free choice
readings) are essentially an effect of the interpretation of the
indefinite part of the item in question. NPI-effects are derived by
means of an 'even'-related (conventional?) implicature that is
triggered by the NPI itself. If the implicature contradicts the
ordinary meaning of the sentence (or common knowledge), the NPI is not
licensed. In a second step, the author integrates Dayal's theory of
correlatives and the NPI-like expression 'jo-bhii' "whoever" into his
own proposal for NPI interpretation.

Anita Mittwoch ("Perfective sentences under negation and durative
adverbials", p. 265 ­ 280) discusses scope relationships between
negation and durative adverbials. In particular, she presents a whole
range of linguistic data based on (a) ambiguities (b) focused negative
durative adverbials (c) pragmatic inferences (d) coordination and
more. These data show that durative adverbials with 'for' and 'until'
may have a wide scope interpretation and a narrow scope interpretation
with respect to negation. On the wide scope reading negation is
assumed to induce a durative reading on perfective predicates.

COMMENT: In the narrow-scope reading, durative adverbials get an NPI
reading. It is not entirely clear to me how Mittwoch is going to
exclude wide scope of 'until'/'for' in the NPI-reading. This must be
excluded syntactically.

Gertjan Postma ("Negative polarity and the syntax of taboo",
p. 283-330) investigates Dutch expressions that are ambiguous having
an NPI-meaning and a regular meaning. He finds that the NPI-reading is
dependent on phonological features and the morpho-syntactic
environment of the expression. Taboo words used as NPIs typically
loose their ordinary denotation and get a minimal amount
reading. Certain NP-comparatives also exhibit NPI-properties,
according to the author. Omitting the negative time adverbial in 'I
have never seen a man more angry', for example, renders the
NP-comparative unacceptable. Postma argues for a parallel syntactic
treatment of taboo nouns and NPI-comparatives in terms of (nominal or
adjectival) small clauses and locates the NPI-properties in the syntax
of this construction.

Lucia M. Tovena ("Neg-Raising: Negation as failure", p. 331-356) draws
an analogy between the phenomenon of Neg-raising on the one hand and
negation as failure in the framework of logic programming on the other
hand. The (optional) strengthening of "Daniel does not think that
Luise will come" to "Daniel thinks that Luise will not come" is
explained as follows: saying the first sentence the speaker expresses
that Daniel has no information to decide whether Luise will come or
not. A general inference rule (=closed world assumption) allows the
(provisional) conclusion that Daniel thinks that Luise will not
come. This inference rule is motivated by considerations of efficiency
in methods of reasoning.

COMMENT: This analysis cannot explain why certain verbs from different
languages with identical semantics may be neg-raisers in one language
and no neg-raisers in another (compare 'hope' and German
'hoffen'). Why is neg-raising (almost) obligatory with deontic modals
in Italian "imperatives" but (almost) not possible in Italian
declaratives ('Non devi ascoltare' "It is necessary that you don't
listen" vs. 'Ganni non deve ascoltare' "It is not necessary that Ganni
is listening")?


The volume contains a selection of papers presented at the conference
"Perspectives on Negation" held at the University of Groningen in
August 1996. But it is not a true record of the papers presented at
the conference. Gabriel Falkenberg's and Hoeksema & Rullmann's papers
were not presented at the conference. And, Larry Horn and Jack
Hoecksema presented different papers that are, by and large, published
in Horn & Kato (2000): see the review at Moreover, Paul
Portner & Raffaella Zanuttini's paper ("The force of Negation in
Wh-Exclamatives and Interrogatives") that was presented in Groningen
also appeared in Horn & Kato (2000). That this is so does not really
matter but the editors should have mentioned it in the introduction, I
suppose. And they shouldn't have called the volume
"proceedings". Nevertheless the volume has characteristics of
proceedings: first, the volume is not as carefully edited as it could
be. There are typos in many contributions (in the introduction
there is a reference to a footnote on p.vii but no
footnote). References are missing in the bibliography (Tovena's paper,
e.g.). And second, some authors presumably expected some kind of
prepublication when they submitted their papers. The papers by Lahiri,
Giannakidou and Kennedy, for example, overlap in content with Lahiri
(1998), Giannakidou (2001) and Kennedy (2001), respectively.

The solutions to the problems are rather diverse. It would therefore
have been interesting to read arguments for or against one solution
with respect to the other. As a case in point, Lahiri and Giannakidou,
each propose a unified explanation for the occurrence of NPIs and free
choice items, but they do not refer to each other. Similarly, some
examples by Falkenberg seem to contradict Tovena's
theory. Falkenberg's NPI-verbs are strict NPIs in that they require a
clausemate licenserwithout being licensed in neg-raising contexts,
although a second NPI in the subordinate clause may improve the
results. This is a mysterious phenomenon that is not explained to-day.

The volume, however, does complete our view on polarity items. Whereas
the recent volumes by Forget et al. (1997: see for a review) and Horn &
Kato (2000) contain papers on the syntax of negation, this volume
focuses on pragmatic aspects of NPI licensing and the semantics of
polarity and it contains interesting studies that provide more field
oriented results (Falkenberg, van der Auwera and Hoeksema & Rullmann's
corpus evaluation). It is astonishing in this light, that the volume
was announced under the heading of generative syntax.


Forget, Danielle, Paul Hirschbuehler, France Martineau and Maria-Luisa
Rivero. (eds) Negation and Polarity. Amsterdam: John Benjamin, 1997.

Giannakidou, Anastasia. "The meaning of free choice". In: Linguistics
and Philosophy 24(6): 659-735. 2001

Horn, Lawrence R. and Yasuhiko Kato. /eds.) Negation and
Polarity. Syntactic and Semantic Perspectives. New York: Oxford
University Press.

Kennedy, Christopher. "Polar Opposition and the Ontology of
Degrees". Linguistics and Philosophy 24(1): 33-70. 2001

Lahiri, Uptal. "Focus and Negative Polarity in Hindi". Natural
Language Semantics 6(1): 57-123.1998 


Cecile Meier is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the
University of Frankfurt, Germany. Her research interests include the
syntax and semantics of comparative constructions, modal expressions,
negation and negative polarity items. She presented a paper on NPIs in
negated 'because' clauses at the Groningen conference.
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