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Review of  Standard Negation

Reviewer: Oliver Bond
Book Title: Standard Negation
Book Author: Matti Miestamo
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Typology
Issue Number: 17.1982

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AUTHOR: Miestamo, Matti
TITLE: Standard Negation
SUBTITLE: The Negation of Declarative Verbal Main Clauses in a Typological
SERIES: Empirical Approaches to Language Typology 31
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2005

Oliver Bond, Department of Linguistics, School of Oriental and African
Studies, University of London


''Standard Negation'' by Matti Miestamo is a typology of negation in
declarative verbal main clauses. Based on a stratified core sample of 240
languages, this study investigates the form and distribution of negative
markers in clausal negation. The study comprises a typological
classification of standard negation and a functional explanation for the
structural patterns encountered in the languages under examination. Like
other volumes in Mouton de Gruyter's Empirical Approaches to Language
Typology Series, this book approaches language phenomena from a
cross-linguistic perspective. It will appeal to a
typologically/functionally-oriented audience and to those working within
formal frameworks that develop theory on a wide empirical base. More
specifically, this study will be of particular interest to linguists
working on negation, morphosyntax and/or paradigmatic asymmetry.


The book begins in Chapter 1 with an introduction to some of the issues
raised in carrying out a typological study of negation. This is followed in
Chapter 2 with a discussion of the theoretical and methodological issues.
Chapter 3 contains the classification and Chapter 4 comprises the
quantitive analysis. In Chapter 5 some functional motivations are suggested
for the observations made throughout the study, and conclusions are
presented in Chapter 6.

The introduction comprises an overview of the basic concepts and
conventions used throughout the work. This includes the typological goals
of the investigation and establishes the functionally-oriented research
perspective of the author. A number of terms relevant to the study of
negation are introduced here including 'scope', 'propositional logic' and
the differences between 'clausal', 'standard' and 'sentential' negation. As
a preview to later discussion, examples are provided to illustrate the most
common ways of marking clausal negation including the use of negative
particles, affixes and auxiliaries. The main tenet of the study is that
when compared to counterpart affirmatives, the formal marking of negative
main clauses can be subclassified in terms of structural symmetry or
asymmetry. Symmetric negative structures differ from their affirmative
counterparts only by the addition of a negative marker(s), while asymmetric
negative structures exhibit further structural differences in addition to
the presence of the negative marker(s). Asymmetric negation is further
divided into various subtypes, and a full classification is provided in
Chapter 3. The introductory chapter also features a short discussion of
language internal complexity, including the use of several different
negative structures within a single language. Finally, an overview of
previous typological research on negation is provided.

Chapter 2 establishes the theoretical and methodological concerns of the
study. Following an introduction to the principles of creating a suitably
sized stratified sample, Miestamo indicates that the sample devised is a
genealogically stratified variety sample compiled for qualitative purposes.
He identifies 413 genera among the world's languages (based on Grimes 2000)
and compiles a Core Sample (CS) of 240 genera-representative languages. The
173 genera not represented in the CS were judged to have insufficient or
inadequate sources for inclusion in the study. In addition to the CS, a
further 57 languages were also studied (skewing the representation of
certain genera) on the grounds that they were already being analysed for
another project. Combined, this set of 297 languages is referred to as the
Extended Sample (ES). For the purposes of compiling quantitive data, a
subset of the CS, the Restricted Sample (RS), is established comprising 179
languages viewed in terms of six macroareas (following Dryer 1992): Africa,
Eurasia, Southeast Asia and Oceania, Australia and New Guinea, North
America, and South America. In the RS, each macroarea is proportionally
represented, based on the number of genera found in that macroarea. This is
undertaken to further stratify the sample on an areal basis.

After delimiting the sample, Miestamo defines the domain of inquiry, namely
standard negation (SN). This is achieved by employing a mixed
functional/formal (i.e. structural) definition. Miestamo's definition of SN
(p.42) restricts the investigation to the negation of declarative main
clauses, where negation is characterised as an operator that changes the
truth value of the affirmative proposition. SN structures are further
defined as general and productive means of negation within a language.

The typological classification of SN structures is presented in Chapter 3.
Negative structures are classified according to whether they are symmetric
(S) or asymmetric (A). Only fully grammaticalized asymmetries are taken
into account and (morpho)phonological phenomena are excluded. Asymmetric
negatives are further divided into instances of constructional vs.
paradigmatic asymmetry. Constructional asymmetries are found when a
negative structure differs from its corresponding affirmative by one or
more structural changes in addition to the presence of the negative
marker(s), e.g. if in the negative clause an auxiliary is required that
does not occur in the affirmative counterpart. Paradigm asymmetry occurs
when a one-to-one correspondence between negative and affirmative paradigms
is not found. For instance, in the affirmative several temporal categories
may be distinguished morphologically, while in the negative paradigm, the
same distinctions may be neutralised, creating an asymmetry between a
number of temporally marked paradigms in the affirmative and a single
negative paradigm.

Asymmetric negation is classified into four major subtypes, all of which
are exemplified and explained throughout the course of Chapter 3. They are
labeled as A/Fin, A/NonReal, A/Emph and A/Cat. The motivation for this
classification is discussed later in Chapter 5. In A/Fin, asymmetry is
found between the verbal finiteness in affirmative and negative clauses,
with negatives exhibiting reduced finiteness. In A/NonReal the negative is
obligatorily marked for a category marking non-realized states of affairs,
while the affirmative is not. Thirdly, in A/Emph the negative structure is
marked for a category expressing emphasis elsewhere in the language, while
the affirmative counterpart remains unmarked for this category. Finally in
A/Cat, asymmetry is found in the grammatical categories marked in
affirmatives and negatives. Further subcategorization of the types
identified here are also made in Chapter 3. In this chapter Miestamo also
demonstrates the grounds on which particular asymmetries are considered
part of a negative structure or not. Based on the regularity of certain
grammatical asymmetries between affirmative and negative structures,
several implicational universals are proposed throughout the
classification. These relate specifically to the subtypes identified in the
sample. For instance, with A/NonReal it is suggested that ''if the
affirmative is marked for a category denoting non-realized states of
affairs, then the corresponding negative (if specified for TAM at all) will
also be.'' (p. 96).

In Chapter 4 quantitive findings are presented for the RS. Note that
'quantitive' in this sense means percentages only, and no statistical
analyses are run on the sample. It is demonstrated that symmetric negation
is more common than asymmetric negation overall, and that constructional
asymmetry is more frequently found than paradigmatic asymmetry. Of the
asymmetries observed in the RS, A/Cat is the most common (33% of the
languages examined), followed by A/Fin (25%), A/Non/Real (13%) and A/Emph
(2%). A further 2% of languages exhibited asymmetry not covered by any of
these categories. Miestamo also observes that only one subtype of asymmetry
is usually found in a single language: 79% of languages with asymmetry
exhibited only one subtype of asymmetric structure. The most common means
of negating declarative main clauses are proposed to be symmetric and A/Fin
structures. Miestamo also details the relationship between
symmetry/asymmetry and free vs. bound negative markers, and provides
numerical data relating type of SN and the position of the negator.
Comments on the distribution of symmetrical vs. asymmetrical negation
structures across the six macroareas are also provided in Chapter 4. For
instance, it is observed that A/NonReal is only common in Australia and New

The general principles underlying the symmetric and asymmetric patterns
observed in negative structures are discussed in Chapter 5. The functional
asymmetry between affirmatives and negatives is examined in light of their
different semantic-pragmatic properties. Analogy is proposed as the central
mechanism of Miestamo's model of explanation. It is argued that symmetric
negation can be explained by analogy from form to form (from the form of
affirmatives to the form of negatives). Asymmetric negation is explained as
the result of analogy from function to form (functional asymmetry to formal
asymmetry). It is argued that asymmetric negatives have formal structures
that grammaticalize different aspects of the functional asymmetry between
the affirmative and negative counterparts. A/Fin asymmetry is proposed to
reflect the stative quality of negatives, and encode an asymmetry between
an action described in an affirmative clause and the state described in a
negative clause. Asymmetry of the type A/NonReal is proposed to reflect an
asymmetry between realised and unrealised modalities. Discussion of
negation in a diachronic light is also provided in this chapter.

Concluding remarks are found in Chapter 6. This is followed by four
substantial appendices containing further examples and data on the sample
not included in the main text.


Overall, this book represents an important and timely contribution to
cross-linguistic studies of negation. It proposes links between the
structural form of negatives and their functional properties, with
particular reference to the formal and functional asymmetries commonly
found between affirmative and negative declarative main clauses. As such,
it is a useful reference tool for charting the types of recurrent
asymmetries encountered across languages and provides explanations for
these patterns at the semantic-pragmatic level. However, a number of issues
raised by the approach of this work require further comment. In particular
these concern the domain of SN as defined by Miestamo and the way in which
the quantitive data is employed in the current study to render conclusions.

Negation as a functional domain is vast; therefore the number of parameters
that potentially interact with this grammatical category are legion. While
Miestamo is clearly sensitive to this fact when delimiting the field of
study, an unavoidable consequence is the effect of excluding some of the
more interesting phenomena likely to be encountered in a typological survey
of this type. It is clear from Miestamo's definition of SN that he wishes
to restrict the survey to declaratives, but in doing so he excludes
non-indicative modalities which are of interest since they may well show
different asymmetry patterning to indicative clauses. While it is clear
that negative structures such as those used only for negative imperatives
or questions must be excluded on this principle, in Miestamo's methodology
the grounds on which non-indicative declarative categories are excluded
appears is language specific, and seems to depend on which other TAM
categories are found in the clause. This strikes me as an opaque and
potentially inconsistent approach to delimiting the contents of the sample
(p.43-44). In general, it would have been helpful to be provided with more
information on language internal complexity - including the use of
different negative structures within a single language. Unfortunately, this
avenue of investigation is not fully explored in the book.

Some aspects of the definition of SN proposed require further
clarification, particularly since some of the terminology used is
contentious within the broader field of linguistics. For instance, Miestamo
freely refers to verbal negation without ever defining or referring to the
properties of a verb or the limits of 'verbiness'. Clarification of this
type is important for languages where there may be some debate over the
status of the verbal category (see Croft 1991, and also Hopper and Thompson
1984, Stassen 1997). In such instances, guidance maybe needed to help
decide on what grounds a negative structure is an example of SN, and at
what point a structure is no longer general enough to be included in the
typology. It seems that in order for a typology of verbal negation to be
constructed, a typologically valid and applicable definition of what is
verbal must first be explicitly established. In a similar way, the term
'auxiliary' is not defined further than some element that takes inflection
and unfamiliar terminology such as 'connegative' is also used without
explanation (p. 82).

The approach to negation taken in this typology builds on earlier work in
the field by expanding the sample size and structure of smaller studies.
Understandably, a large-scale work of this kind requires a highly
restricted domain of study. However, asymmetry is only one facet of
negation in language and throughout the work the way in which the domain is
delimited sometimes marginalizes the importance of other aspects of
negative structures which are proclaimed to be independent of negation or
secondary to a principal asymmetry. This is particularly clear when a
number of different asymmetries exist between an affirmative and negative
clause. For instance, in the examples in (33) from Kannada (discussed on
pp. 78-79) the negative structure exhibits an asymmetry of the type A/Fin.
The negative clause also lacks the person, number and gender agreement
found in the affirmative counterpart. Thus, there is also asymmetry of the
type A/Cat/PNG. Miestamo (p.79) proposes that ''This paradigmatic asymmetry
is secondary, derived from the constructional A/Fin asymmetry''. As such,
A/Fin asymmetry is the only type of asymmetry noted for these examples in
the quantitive analyses. Furthermore, no discussion is made of the TAM
asymmetries also evident between the Kannada affirmative and negative
examples. Since 'derived asymmetry' of this kind is excluded from the
numerical data in Chapter 3, the figures provided therein are a somewhat
skewed representation of data in the sample.

While a functional approach is purported to be held throughout the study
there are often points where evidence of this position is not clear. One
such issue relates to the theme running through the study that negatives in
some sense 'derive' from affirmatives. While it is tempting to endorse such
a model when looking at symmetric negative structures the same cannot be
said for more complex asymmetric structures involving a differences in word
order, reduction of finiteness and/or asymmetric grammatical marking. It is
surely for this reason that Miestamo proposes at the beginning of the study
that ''rather than seeing the negative marker alone as the 'standard
negation strategy' and the accompanying features as 'secondary
modifications', SN is seen as a construction to which both the negative
element and the relevant secondary modifications belong'' (p. 21). However,
much of the time asymmetries are only accounted for if obligatory at the
verbal or clausal level (p. 56-59, e.g. the use of partitive case in
Finnish negatives, p. 43) and in addition to the marginalisation of
'derived asymmetries' noted above for languages like Kannada, some
structural differences, such as changes in word order are considered to be
facets of other functional domains (e.g. information structure or stress)
and not negation (p. 67-8). However, it is exactly these sorts of
asymmetries that a functional typology of negation should attempt to address.

In accounting for his observations, Miestamo identifies that mere
correlations in his sample are not explanations in themselves and that each
pattern must be functionally motivated by processing or discourse/pragmatic
means. However, his explanation that A/Fin asymmetries are linked to the
stativity of negatives is not an adequate explanation in itself. This still
leaves the problem of why affirmative statives do not necessarily show the
same degree of reduced finiteness as their negative counterparts e.g. 'He
lives in London' vs. 'He doesn't live in London'. Although many of the
observations made regarding the asymmetries encountered in the study raise
a number of interesting questions regarding the functional domain of
negation, the reader is left wondering why certain asymmetries are found in
certain languages and not others.

Where complex structural phenomena are being discussed, the absence of
minimal pairs (as is fairly common throughout the study) makes it difficult
to see the structure of the argumentation. While this is a reflection of
the paucity of detailed available sources rather than Miestamo's approach
to the topic, it demonstrates that ascertaining typological generalizations
based on sources of varying qualities is problematic. This is particularly
true when examples are considered not only in terms of their structure, but
also their discourse function. Although examples provided are sometimes
discussed in terms of their pragmatics, links between presupposition and
negation are underplayed, presumably due to the nature of the resources
used. Similarly, discussion of scope is largely absent.

One of the issues identified in the study, yet not addressed in any of the
explanations, is the relationship between negation and tonal phenomena,
stress and intonation. While it is clear that Miestamo considers automatic
phonological processes to be irrelevant in determining asymmetry, it is not
transparent how suprasegmental phenomena should be treated. Certainly,
differences in tone indicate negation in several languages of West Africa,
including in Igbo, where certain minimal pairs of affirmative and negative
structures are differentiated by tone alone (p. 119). While the negative
structure exhibits a neutralised aspectual distinction (and is thus
categorised as A/Cat/TAM by Miestamo), the perceptible difference between
some of the minimal pairs is one of pitch. Importantly, it is not the lack
of a distinction between perfective and imperfective aspect that indicates
to the hearer that it is a negative structure. However, it appears that
since tonal morphology does not contribute to 'structural' asymmetry in a
traditional sense, this aspect of negation is not deemed to be of
significance in this study.

While much of the quantitive data supplied in Chapter 3 is straightforward,
the relevance of some of the figures is questionable. In general, since the
sample is not statistical, only subjective comments on the significance of
each numerical correlation are provided and in this respect the study is
somewhat lacking. Miestamo misses a number of opportunities to make the
most of the data compiled in his sample. For instance, while he points out
that symmetric structures are the most common types of SN marking across
his sample, he does not draw attention to the fact that most of the
languages in the sample have asymmetry in their negative systems. No
numerical data is provided on the observed types of internal variation. For
instance, it would have been helpful to know what proportion of languages
in the RS has more than one SN structure and how languages with multiple SN
structures are distributed. Also from a diachronic perspective, including
an analysis of data on those negative structures excluded from the sample
on the grounds of being non-productive/non-general would also have been
enlightening. Such a comparison may have enabled further analysis of
historical aspects of this domain. This would not have involved much extra
work since the data would already have been reviewed in order to be
excluded from the existing sample. Additionally, one type of numerical data
absent from this study are frequency counts. While correlations concerning
this aspect of language use are beyond the scope of Miestamo's study and
unlikely to be found in the resources available to the author, it is
probable that data of this kind would reveal much about the asymmetries
found in the sample, particularly asymmetries in the marking of grammatical
categories within a historical perspective.

Overall, this study provides an interesting overview of asymmetry in
negative declarative main clauses. As the first thorough typology to
consider negation in terms of the structural and functional asymmetries
between affirmative and negative clauses it is an important step towards
more expansive studies of both negation and asymmetry in general.


Croft, William. 1991. Syntactic categories and grammatical relations: the
cognitive organization of information. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Dryer, Matthew S. 1992. The Greenbergian word order correlations. Language

Grimes, Barbara F. (ed.) 2000. Ethnologue Vol. 1 Languages of the World,
Vol. 2 Maps and Indexes. 14th ed. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Hopper, Paul J, and Thompson, Sandra A. 1984. The discourse basis for
lexical categories in Universal Grammar. Language 60.703-752.

Stassen, Leon. 1997. Intransitive predication. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Oliver Bond is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Endangered Languages
Academic Programme (ELAP) at the School of Oriental and African Studies,
London. His principal research interests lie in typology, historical
linguistics and language documentation, including fieldwork on Eleme
(Ogonoid, Benue-Congo), an under-described language of southeast Nigeria.
His current research post involves devising a fieldwork questionnaire for
gathering data on negation.

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