Not a light negation

Hedde Zeijlstra


In languages like Dutch and German, certain instances of negation, such as negated indefinites, are ruled out in out-of-the-blue contexts, i.e. with the unmarked reading where negation outscopes an unfocused indefinite (*Er kann nicht eine Fremdsprache ('He speaks not a foreign language')). Such instances are, however, fine in NPI licensing contexts. Schwarz (2004) and Bhatt & Schwarz (2006) argue that in such cases the negative marker is not a plain negation, but rather a homophonous marker of light negation, which they take to be an NPI. In this paper I argue, though, that this phenomenon can be explained by adopting standard pragmatic assumptions. In short, I argue that such instances of negation are bad due to the existence of some alternative expression that only conveys the unmarked reading (in this example an expression containing a negative indefinite: er kann keine Fremdsparache (‘he speaks no foreign language’)). Uttering a less simple construction, such as the example above with the negated indefinite, will give rise to an implicature that states that the speaker does not intend such utterances with their unmarked readings, since the unmarked reading could have been conveyed in a simpler manner. This implicature, then, is suppressed in NPI licensing contexts.


(Light) negation, negative indefinites, implicatures, morphological blocking, split-scope effects

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