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Adventures in English Syntax

By Robert Freidin

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Modality Across Syntactic Categories

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Modality Across Syntactic Categories "Chapters in the book demonstrate that modality involves many more syntactic categories and levels of syntactic structure than traditionally assumed."



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Dissertation Information


Title: Topics in German Negation Add Dissertation
Author: Martin Kappus Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: State University of New York at Stony Brook, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2000
Linguistic Subfield(s): Syntax;
Subject Language(s): German
Director(s): John Bailyn
Marcel den Dikken
Richard Larson
Daniel Finer

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.