Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, 18:297

First online:

Negative wh-construction and its semantic properties

  • Lawrence Yam-Leung CheungAffiliated withDepartment of Linguistics Email author 

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Widely attested cross-linguistically, the Negative WH (NWH)-construction involves the special use of wh-words (e.g., ‘where’, ‘what’, and ‘how’) to convey negation in certain specific contexts. The first half of this paper identifies the negative assertion as the primary meaning of the NWH construction, in addition to two conventional implicatures. In the second half, I argue that the grammatical features in NWHCs in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese strongly suggest that NWHCs should be analyzed as interrogative wh-questions. The quantification domain of NWH-words is the sets of propositions that pick out the conversational backgrounds of the sentence (Kratzer 1977; Portner 2009). The NWHC can be paraphrased as “What is the proposition q such that in view of q, p is true?” However, the interrogative question can only receive a negative rhetorical interpretation (i.e., a question without a true answer) because the conventional implicatures make it impossible for p to be true against any of the conversational backgrounds.


Negation Wh-construction Quantification domain Rhetorical question Conversational background