LINGUIST List 14.1396

Thu May 15 2003

Diss: Syntax: Kappus "Topics in German Negation"

Editor for this issue: Steve Moran <>


  1. mkappus, Topics in German Negation

Message 1: Topics in German Negation

Date: Mon, 12 May 2003 17:05:36 +0000
From: mkappus <>
Subject: Topics in German Negation

Institution: State University of New York at Stony Brook
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2000

Author: Martin Kappus 

Dissertation Title: Topics in German Negation

Linguistic Field: Syntax

Subject Language: German, Standard (code: GER)

Dissertation Director 1: Richard K Larson
Dissertation Director 2: Daniel L Finer
Dissertation Director 3: John F Bailyn
Dissertation Director 4: Marcel den Dikken

Dissertation Abstract: 

It has been noted that 'kein' -- the apparent German counterpart of
the English negative quantifier 'no' -- can introduce sentential
negation, just like the canonical negation element 'nicht'. The
distribution of 'kein' (when resulting in sentential negation) is
governed by economy principles characteristic of the minimalist
approach to syntax (see for example Chomsky 1995). In order to obtain
sentential negation, the highest indefinite noun phrase in the
sentence has to be marked by adding the prefix 'k-' to the indefinite
article 'ein' resulting in 'kein'. This pattern can be explained by
generalizing the well-known superiority effects from multiple
wh-movement in English to covert movement of a negation feature in
German. The prefix 'k-' is taken to be the overt instantiation of a
negative feature, which has to move to a higher position in order to
be checked. Since movement of this feature from the structurally
highest noun phrase is the most economic one, derivations in which
'k-' moves from a lower indefinite are blocked. The interaction of the
canonical negative element 'nicht' with indefinites is governed by the
same principles. 'Nicht' -- which in this analysis is considered an
adverb on the left edge of VP -- also carries a negative feature,
which needs to be checked in a higher position, and thus has to
move. Thus, if the highest indefinite noun phrase is structurally
higher than 'nicht' (i.e. dominating VP) sentential negation is
achieved by using 'kein', while if there is no indefinite or if
'nicht' is higher than the highest indefinite, 'nicht' is used to
express sentential negation.

Exceptions to the pattern above (i.e. sentences in which an indefinite
other than the highest one is marked with 'k-') involve sentences
containing focus and genericity. Both focus and genericity have been
argued to involve quantificational structure. Such apparent
counterexamples to the generalized superiority approach can then be
explained by movement of the indefinites involved, thus occurring in a
position from which checking of the negative feature (and thus
k-marking) is impossible. Hence, another (lower) indefinite has to be
marked with 'k-' in order to express negation.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue