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Review of  Negation Patterns in West African Languages and Beyond

Reviewer: Elly van Gelderen
Book Title: Negation Patterns in West African Languages and Beyond
Book Author: Norbert Cyffer Erwin Ebermann Georg Ziegelmeyer
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Issue Number: 21.2481

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EDITORS: Norbert Cyffer, Erwin Ebermann, and Georg Ziegelmeyer
TITLE: Negation Patterns in West African Languages and Beyond
SERIES TITLE: Typological Studies in Language 87
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2009

Elly van Gelderen, Department of English, Arizona State University


This book provides data on negation patterns in African languages from the
Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan, and Niger-Congo families (and from a
Portuguese-based creole). It consists of 15 chapters, one of which is an
introduction by Norbert Cyffer. There are a number of negation patterns in West
Africa that the book identifies, namely an incompatibility between negation and
focus, the use of the prohibitive and different negation patterns dependent on
certain Tense-Aspect-Moods, a lack of negative indefinites, and 'double
negation'. The 'Introduction' (pp. 1-6) by Norbert Cyffer presents a very short
discussion of the main aims and provides brief summaries of each contribution.
There it is emphasized that areal factors were/are important in the development
of negation strategies in these languages and that genetic factors were/are less

Georg Ziegelmeyer's contribution, entitled 'Negation of non-indicative mood in
Hausa, Fulfulde and Kanuri' (pp. 7-20), discusses non-indicative negation in
three, genetically unrelated languages of northern Nigeria. It finds that both
the morphology and syntax (position in the sentence) in non-indicatives is very
different from that in indicative clauses. This characteristic is typical of
many genetically unrelated languages of Nigeria as well as other languages in
West Africa. Ziegelmeyer first provides a very complete description of the
negation involving five variants of 'ba' and a prohibitive marker not related to
'ba' in Hausa, a Chadic language within Afro-Asiatic. Fulfulde, a language of
the Niger-Congo family, has a complex set of negative markers. In Kanuri, a
Nilo-Saharan language, there are a number of ways to mark negation, 'bâ/bâwo'
among them.

Ekkehard Wolff's 'The impact of clause types and focus control, aspect,
modality, and referentiality on negation in Lamang and Hdi (Central Chadic)'
(pp. 21-56) argues that negation in these languages is closely connected to
focus and clause type, as well as to modality. Lamang and Hdi are closely
related but divided by the border between Nigeria and Cameroon. Negation and
special mood marking are mutually exclusive, and negatives therefore only appear
in the indicative. The chapter starts out with a discussion of the focus system
and the connection with aspect in the two languages. The simple clause negations
are clearly etymologically related in the two languages, as are the 'doubled'
forms in focus constructions and both languages have developed prohibitives
(negative imperatives different from negatives in declaratives).

In 'Quantification and polarity: Negative adverbial intensifiers in Hausa' (pp.
57-69), Philip Jaggar examines the Hausa adverbs of time frequency and degree.
The adverbs discussed can be both positive (e.g. meaning 'always') or negative
(e.g. meaning 'never') dependent on their environment and have not received much
attention in the literature. The chapter provides a semantic and syntactic
account for these adverbs with 48 well-glossed examples of the phenomenon.

'Negation patterns in Kanuri' by Norbert Cyffer (pp. 71-91) and 'Songhay verbal
negation in its dialectal and areal context' by Petr Zima (pp. 93-106) emphasize
areal factors. Cyffer starts with a short typology and description of negation
in Kanuri, a Nilo-Saharan language. The morphological marker depends on the TMA
of the clause; there are negative perfectives, potentials, imperfectives, and
there are prohibitives. Cyffer also makes the connection to questions (which is
typologically relevant). Zima examines 4 varieties of Southern Songhay,
Timbuktu, Gao, Zarma, and Djougou Dendi. These are commonly thought to be
Nilo-Sharan as well. The positive and negative perfective paradigms provide
interesting contrasts that Zima relates to word order and presence of tone.

Anne Storch's 'Negation in Jukun' (pp. 107-120) adds another factor to the
negative picture emphasized in this book, namely the 'recapitulative' or 'copy
pronoun'. This pronoun copies the subject onto an object position in
intransitive constructions and is also used in negatives. The Jukun languages
are members of the Niger-Congo family (but some Chadic languages pattern this
way too).

'Negation marking in Igbo' by Ozo-mekuri Ndimele (pp. 121-138) shows a wide
variety of negative markers, affixes, auxiliaries, tones, and contrastive focus.
Igbo is a member of the Niger-Congo family and is spoken in Nigeria. As also
observed in the previous chapters, negation interacts with focus and TMA. The
paper has 41 excellent examples of positive and negative counterparts in the
four types of constructions; it is in many respects the clearest paper making
references to typological work.

'Aspects of discontinuous negation in Santome' by Tjerk Hagemeijer (pp. 139-166)
provides a description of negation in Santome, a Portuguese-based creole spoken
on islands in the Gulf of Guinea. It also addresses the negative cycle in
relating Santome to three related creoles: all four show different stages of
that cycle. Santome and one other have discontinuous negation, a third has
discontinuous negation but with optional single negation, and the fourth one has
a single negative. Santome has negative quantifiers as well, as expected, and
minimizers. Hagemeijer explains diachronic developments and suggests a
generative account with a high NegP above TP and a low NegP between the TP and ASPP.

Kerstin Winkelmann and Gudrun Miehe's 'Negation in Gur: Genetic, areal and
unique features' (pp. 167-204) examines (an amazing number of) 44 Gur languages
to provide an overview of negation strategies in this set of Niger-Congo
languages. Their main emphasis is on nominal and verbal predicates. Nominal
predicates are divided in presentation, identification, and existence, where the
latter two usually have similar negation patterns. Verbal predicates have
negatives in pre-verbal, post-verbal, and sentence-final position and may be
doubly and triply marked. Negation also interacts with perfectivity and word order.

In 'Double negation-marking: A case of contact-induced grammaticalization in
West Africa?', Klaus Beyer (pp. 205-222) looks at areal influence on the marking
of sentential negation by two markers. In the Gur and the Mande languages in
contact with Gur, it is very common, as well as in the Kru and Kwa languages. A
map helps the geographically challenged reader.

'Negation in South Mande' by Valentin Vydrine (pp. 223-260) describes various
parts of South Mande grammar, in particular the pronouns. Since aspect and
person are marked together on a sentence initial word and negatives differ
depending on the aspect, this is a crucial area. Useful well-glossed examples
abound. Erwin Ebermann's 'From double negation to portmanteau: Comparative
sentence negation in Northern Samo' (pp. 261-286) describes extreme variation
among these Mande languages in a variety of grammatical areas as probably due to
migration patterns.

Amina Mettouchi's 'The system of negation in Berber' (pp. 287-306) outlines the
varied system of negatives in the Afro-Asiatic Berber languages. Non verbal
negation is divided into existential and identificational where invariant
negatives precede the copula. Verbal negation shows a reduction of aspect; it is
characterized by a preverbal particle (with a negative verb as possible source)
and a second negative morpheme that, I think, is a renewal. I missed Ouali
(2003) and Heath (2005) in the references.

In 'Verb-object-negative order in central Africa' (pp. 307-362), Matthew S.
Dryer identifies a typologically unusual pattern of negatives following the verb
in VO languages. The languages come from three families, Afro-Asiatic,
Nilo-Saharan, and Niger Congo but cluster and the negative pattern could be
areal. Dryer includes many maps of the 257 languages he cites and makes many
typological observations tying negation to word order, question particles, and


The descriptions of negation offered in this volume will be helpful to many
linguists, typologists, historical linguists, and formal linguists alike. For
instance, the chapter by Jaggar contributes to what we know about polarity items
and changes in those systems, e.g. on how negatives are renewed. The chapter by
Hagemeijer provides ideas on diachronic developments of negative systems. A
number of the chapters, e.g. Cyffer, Zima, Beyer, and Dryer, provide data on
language contact.

The contributions vary in readability (especially for the non-Africanist who may
have trouble, e.g. with the contribution by Wolff, Storch, and Vydrine). Some,
e.g. the chapters by Ndimele, Hagemeijer, and Dryer are models of clarity. To
help the non-Africanist linguist, the volume might have benefitted from simpler
introductions to some of the chapters, more cross-references (to other
chapters), and a more complete introductory chapter. Volumes such as these give
the editors a chance to present a state-of-the-art of, in this case, negation in
West Africa.

What I missed in a number of contributions was a connection to typological work
on negation, especially since the volume appears in the 'Typological Studies in
Language' series. Croft (1991) and Dahl (1979) are each mentioned once (in the
index), and Payne (1985) is too (but not in the index). For instance, Jaggar's
chapter might have been more helpful had there been a short introduction on
'normal' negation in Hausa with the optional 'doubling' of the clausal negation.
The interaction of the two negative markers with the polarity adverbs could then
have been better understood (e.g. in (6) on p. 61). I also missed a connection
between negation and question particles. The latter are mentioned by Cyffer and
Dryer but without making a diachronic connection: negatives are a frequent
source of interrogative (e.g. Arabic, Chinese, Latin, and Navajo, as shown in
van Gelderen 2008). The Hausa sentence-final negative is apparently used that
way (Jaggar 2001: 525), so it seems a pattern.


Croft, William. 1991. The Evolution of negation. Journal of Linguistics 27: 1-27.
Dahl, Osten. 1979. Typology of Sentence Negation. Linguistics 17: 79-106.
Gelderen, Elly van. 2008. Cycles of Negation. Linguistic Typology: 195-243.
Heath, Jeffrey. 2005. A Grammar of Tamashek (Tuareg of Mali). Berlin: Mouton de
Jaggar, Philip. 2001. Hausa. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Ouali, Hamid. 2003. Sentential Negation in Berber: A comparative study. In
Mugany, John (ed.), Linguistic Description: Typology and representation of
African languages. In: Trends in African linguistics Vol. 8. Trenton, New
Jersey: Africa World Press.
Payne, Thomas. 1985. Negation. In Timothy Shopen (ed.), Language Typology and
Syntactic Description I, 197-242. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Working in a minimalist framework, Elly van Gelderen is a syntactician interested in historical and typological linguistics. She is a Regents' Professor at Arizona State University. Her current research interests include accounting for the linguistic cycle in a minimalist way. The negative cycle is of course one of the more prominent cycles and that interest has influenced her review.