Negation and Indefinite Pronouns (Feature 102)
This feature concerns the expression of negative sentences with indefinite pronouns such as ‘I didn’t see anything’ or ‘Nobody came to my house’.
The question asked here is whether in such sentences the indefinite pronoun cooccurs with predicate negation (e.g. English I did not see anybody), or whether the indefinite pronoun precludes it (i.e. does not allow negation to be used,e.g.English I saw nobody/*I did not see nobody).
Note that in this feature, we are not interested in whether the indefinite pronoun itself carries negative meaning, i.e. the issue of “double negation” is left aside. Sentences like I didn’t see anybody and I didn’t see nobody have the same status (value 1, indefinites cooccur with predicate negation). The reason for this is that in many languages it is hard to tell whether an indefinite pronoun is “inherently negative”.
The indefinite words used in such sentences need not be special pronouns, but can be generic nouns like ‘person’, or ‘thing’.
|1||Indefinites co-occur with predicate negation|| English with anybody/anything: I did not see anything. In English creoles, also with nobody/nothing: |
Belizean Creole Bra Fayaflay no de se notn̩[Brother Firefly NEG PROG say nothing] ‘Brother Firefly wasn’t saying anything’;
Haitian Creole Pèsonnpa vini. [nobody NEG come] ‘Nobody came’.
|2||Indefinites preclude predicate negation||I.e. negative indefinites do not cooccur with predicate negation: German Ich sah niemanden [I saw nobody] (*Ich sah nicht niemanden).|
|3||Co-occurrence and preclusion both occur, depending on word order||Spanish: co-occurrence with postverbal indefinites (No vino nadie. ‘Nobody came.’), preclusion with preverbal indefinites (Nadie vino. ’Nobody came.’).|
|4||Co-occurrence and preclusion both occur, depending on the type of indefinite||English: co-occurrence with any-indefinites, preclusion with no-indefinites|
|5||Co-occurrence and preclusion both occur, depending on other circumstances||(Please give details in the “General comments” field.)|
|6||A negative existential construction is used||Some languages do not use indefinite pronouns, but only have existential constructions such as ‘My seen (thing) doesn’t exist’ (= I didn’t see anything).|