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Negative concord with polyadic quantifiers

The case of Romanian


In this paper we develop a syntax-semantics of negative concord in Romanian within a constraint-based lexicalist framework. We show that n-words in Romanian are best treated as negative quantifiers which may combine by resumption to form polyadic negative quantifiers. Optionality of resumption explains the existence of simple sentential negation readings alongside double negation readings. We solve the well-known problem of defining general semantic composition rules for translations of natural language expressions in a logical language with polyadic quantifiers by integrating our higher-order logical object language in Lexical Resource Semantics (LRS), whose constraint-based composition mechanisms directly support a systematic syntax-semantics for negative concord with polyadic quantification in Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG).

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  1. List of abbreviations: ACC ‘accusative case marker’, CL ‘clitic’, DN ‘double negation’, NC ‘negative concord’, NM ‘negative marker’, NQ ‘negative quantifier’, NPI ‘negative polarity item’, SJ ‘subjunctive marker’.

  2. See also Fălăuş (2007) and de Swart (2010), for further DN examples in Romanian and other strict NC languages, and Iordăchioaia (2010), for details on the information structure of DN sentences in Romanian.

  3. An NLLT reviewer correctly points out that if the denial of speaker B targets the object position of speaker A’s utterance (e.g., A: No student read this book; B: No student read no book), the DN reading is not available anymore in Romanian. This is most likely due to the different information structural status of subjects and objects in Romanian, an issue that needs further investigation independently of negation.

  4. A function f is anti-additive iff for each pair of sets X and Y, f(XY)=f(X)∩f(Y).

  5. Although vreun/vreo behave as NPIs with negation, their distribution is more complex than this might suggest. See Farkas (2002) for more details and Fălăuş (2010) for a recent discussion of the distribution of vreun outside negative contexts.

  6. We thank an anonymous NLLT reviewer for bringing the strong NPI data in (14) to our attention.

  7. Following an NLLT reviewer’s comment, we note that in Neg raising contexts, n-words may sometimes be licensed across a that-complementizer as below:

    1. (17)
      figure q

    Although we will not investigate them further, such examples are not fundamentally at odds with our observations, since we assume with Sailer (2006) that in Neg raising constructions the negation only outscopes the embedded verb. By contrast, the presence of an n-word in the matrix clause forces the negative operator to outscope the matrix verb with the result that the embedded predicate lacks the negation that is locally required by its own n-word argument, which leads to the ungrammaticality of (18):

    figure r
  8. The scope disambiguating function of the verbal prefix is reminiscent of the domain restriction effect of modal adverbs that Huitink (2012) describes for modal concord of adverbs and modal verbs in Dutch. However, as Huitink emphasizes, it is unclear if modal concord and NC can be treated analogously under the perspective of polyadic quantification.

  9. See Barker (2007) for a compositional continuation semantic analysis of same and different as adjectives. Another compelling instance of polyadic quantification is discussed by Moltmann (1995:260), who argues that the denotation of the exception sentence in (26) involves subtracting the pair (John, Mary) from the set of pairs of men and women.

    1. (26)

      Every man danced with every woman except John with Mary.

  10. We ignore the negative marker nu, because we already know that it is not interpreted independently in the presence of an n-word but always enters into a concord relation.

  11. Example adapted from Iordăchioaia (2010:102).

  12. For an argument why this fails even for the simplest mode of polyadic composition, iteration, which corresponds semantically to function application, see Iordăchioaia (2010:142–146). The reason that compositionality fails for iteration is that the syntax of natural language does not appropriately map onto the syntax of a logical language with iteration.

  13. The syntax underlying our LRS implementation will treat it as a family of constants. For that reason, we refer to our logical languages as Ty2, although strictly speaking the present definition presents Ty2 augmented by syncategorematic polyadic quantifiers.

  14. Initially we will not employ the type s of possible worlds in our representations. Possible worlds will be added in Sect. 5.

  15. We follow the notational convention in the LRS literature of grouping related resources by tags with the same integer: In the present examples, the contributions of studenţi are designated by 3, the contributions of trei by 4, followed by lower case letters.

  16. As a reviewer remarks, this strategy of purely lexicalized semantic resources seems at odds with work in Construction Grammar that assumes semantic effects of constructions in addition to the words that occur in them. The apparent incompatibility of these assumptions is weaker than it appears: Work in LRS also assumes phrasal lexical entries, which license phrases that contribute semantic resources because they are conceived of as complex lexical items. The theory of idiomatic phrases and phraseological clauses of Richter and Sailer (2009) develops central aspects of this approach and compares it to Sign-based Construction Grammar. A detailed discussion is beyond the scope of the present paper.

  17. For mathematical details of how object languages such as Ty2 can be specified in a feature logic for HPSG, see Sailer (2003); Penn and Richter (2004, pp. 426–429) present a feature logical signature and a set of axioms of LRS that can easily be extended to capture the version of Ty2 with polyadic quantification we use here.

  18. We follow the most recent version of LRS presented in Richter and Kallmeyer (2009).

  19. For simplicity, the var attribute is not shown in Fig. 1; (34a) above contains the complete LRS specification with determiner selection and local var and main values of the word.

  20. The lack of a negation prefix at the non-finite verb is presumably due to the presence of fără, which could be syntactically marked ([marking marked]), thus assimilating fără to HPSG’s marker category. One might argue that this lends additional support to the idea that Romanian n-words need a syntactic scope marker in verbal projections. As fără is a good scope marker in this context, no second scope marker is necessary. Its function as a scope marker is also a unifying property with negated finite verbs, which makes it plausible that the Neg Criterion applies to both, as the two elements serve the same syntactic purpose with respect to negation.

  21. See Iordăchioaia (2004) for further properties of these constructions and an HPSG formalization in which negative quantifiers are treated along the lines of the Cooper storage mechanism of Pollard and Sag (1994).

  22. See Zeijlstra (2004) for a recent overview.

  23. For example, negative polar indefinites are in distributional competition with n-words in strict NC languages and in weaker competition in non-strict NC languages, with non-NC languages providing yet another set of restrictions on the distribution of both types of elements, n-words and corresponding negative polarity items. See Hoeksema (2010, 2012) for thrilling cross-linguistic observations on different kinds of contextual effects on the diachronic development of fine-grained lexical distribution patterns in connection with negation.

  24. See Richter and Sailer (2006) for a comprehensive discussion of data for all three languages, which we do not replicate here. The French data are all from European French. Especially with respect to the NC behavior of pas ‘not’, European French differs from other varieties of French.

  25. Negation faithfulness only applies to standard German. There is a certain amount of dialectal variation with respect to the availability of NC.

  26. Richter and Sailer (2006) discuss the diachronic reasons for the peculiar distribution properties of pas and relate them to dialectal synchronic data that suggest an analysis in terms of lexical distribution restrictions. HPSG supports a precise formulation of these constraints.

  27. All French examples are from Richter and Sailer (2006).

  28. For this quick overview of Italian core data, we ignore left dislocation, which we assume to be correlated with additional information-structural effects. We should also note that DN readings in Italian are reportedly highly marked and context-dependent like in Romanian.

  29. Like English and other languages, Romanian also has Neg raising predicates, which may sometimes interact with the licensing of n-words, as illustrated in (17) and (18). Neg raising in Romanian deserves a separate study, as it occurs both with subjunctive and ‘that’-clauses and thus requires a more complex fragment of grammar. The technical insight, however, would follow the analysis of strict NPI licensing with Neg raising verbs in Sailer (2006), which is compatible with our present account of negative concord.

  30. We will assume that proper names are rigid designators.

  31. Unembedded signs in HPSG are the type of signs which occur as independent utterances; they also play a crucial role in the model theory of grammars. See Richter (2007) for details. An extension of our present fragment would of course allow other unembedded signs beyond declarative sentences.

  32. A symptomatic example for the conceptually unsatisfactory situation in the framework of compositional LF-semantics is provided by the analysis of exception sentences in Moltmann (1995:275–276). As the desired integration of polyadic quantification is impossible, the theory must be formulated on a post-semantic level of implications which need to repair the semantics. Major architectural design decisions should not be forced upon linguists by limitations of their framework but rather by empirical evidence.


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We would like to thank five anonymous reviewers and our NLLT editor, Louise McNally, for insightful criticism and numerous suggestions for improvements. It is only due to their persistent requests that the presentation of LRS became as self-contained as it is. Students at Universität Tübingen and the audience of the 2009 International HPSG Conference in Göttingen asked for clarifications that informed subsequent modifications. Christopher Piñón and Ivan Sag went to great lengths to provide extensive comments that led to substantive revisions and what we hope is a much more lucid line of argumentation than in earlier drafts. Janina Radó did the proofreading, bringing our thoughts into readable shape. Without Manfred Sailer we would not have written this paper. Barbara Partee has much more to do with it than meets the eye: Thank you!

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Iordăchioaia, G., Richter, F. Negative concord with polyadic quantifiers. Nat Lang Linguist Theory 33, 607–658 (2015).

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  • Negative concord
  • Romanian
  • Polyadic quantifiers
  • Head-driven phrase structure grammar
  • Lexical resource semantics