Linguistics in Amsterdam 1-1 (november 2008)Roland Pfau: The Grammar of Headshake: A Typological Perspective on German Sign Language Negation1
2 A typology of spoken language negation

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2.2 Split negation

One particularly intriguing characteristic of sentential negation is that in some languages, it comes in two parts, the presence of a second negative marker, however, not changing the polarity of the sentence back to affirmative. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “split negation” or “negative concord”.[5] The best-known language of this type is probably French, where the two negative particles ne and pas embrace either the modal verb (4b) or the lexical verb (4d).


Note that in some syntactic analyses of French negation (e.g., Pollock 1989; Ouhalla 1990), it is assumed that ne is not a particle but rather a prefix residing in the head of a functional projection (a negative phrase: NegP) and that in the syntax, the verb is raised and attaches to the negative prefix. However, since I am not concerned with the details of a possible syntactic derivation of negated structures, I shall not discuss this issue any further (but see Pfau (2002) for details).

Afrikaans is another example of a language that makes use of a double particle construction. Negative sentences in Afrikaans, however, are remarkable in two respects: firstly, both particles follow the verb – a pattern which, according to Dahl (1993), is quite unusual crosslinguistically. Secondly, the two particles are phonologically identical (5b). What is interesting about the example in (5d) is that the second particle follows the embedded clause although it is the matrix clause that is negated (Donaldson 1993: 402f).


Another widespread option for the realization of split negation is the combination of a negative particle with a negative affix (remember that possibly French is of that type, too). This strategy is exemplified by the Ewe example in (6b). In Ewe, a Western Sudanic language spoken in Togo, a negative prefix attaches to the verb stem and a negative particle appears in sentence-final position (Bole-Richard 1983: 307).


Things are somewhat different in Háusá, a Chadic language spoken in Northern Nigeria. In this language, the first negative marker, the low-toned prefix -, attaches to a functional complex, which also comprises agreement and tense/aspect-morphemes. The verb itself is not inflected at all and the negative particle, a high-toned , appears – just as in Ewe – in sentence-final position (7b) (Hartmann 1999).[6]


I want to conclude this typological survey with a quite unique pattern, which is observed in the Austronesian language Lewo. In order to express negation, this language makes use of three overt negative markers, one of which appears preverbally, one postverbally, and the third sentence-finally. Early (1994) tentatively claims that the first Neg element pe is a negative auxiliary (which may be dropped in the speech of younger speakers), while the second (re) and the third marker (poli) are particles. This extravagant strategy is exemplified by the negative sentence in (8b) (Early 1994: 67).[7]


On the one hand, the above examples make clear that natural language negation comes in different shapes, that is, as an independent particle, an affix, or an auxiliary. On the other hand, the examples illustrate that negation may also come in varying quantity, so to speak: as simple, as split, and even as triple negation. In the next section, I will introduce the basic patterns of sentential negation in DGS and I will consider if and how DGS negation, that is, negation in a different language modality, fits into the typological picture.