Negative concord

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Negative concord is a widespread term for cases where negative indefinite pronouns cooccur with a separate expression of sentential negation.

  • "...the ‘concord of negatives’, as we might term the emphasizing of the negative idea by seemingly redundant repetitions. In Old English it was the regular idiom to say: nan man nyste nan þing, ‘no man not-knew nothing’; ...and it survives in the vulgar speech of our own days: there was niver nobody else gen (gave) me nothin' (George Eliot)" (Jespersen 1922:352)

Examples

Russian Nikto ničego ne skazal. ‘Nobody said anything’ (lit. ‘Nobody nothing not said’)

Comments

The term concord suggests that such multiple occurrences of negative elements are in some sense related to agreement phenomena, but the similarity is quite remote. While linguists familiar only with some of major European languages might find negative concord remarkable, it is actually the non-cooccurrence of sentential negation with negative indefinites that is remarkable (Haspelmath 2005).

Origin

Probably coined by Otto Jespersen (cf. Jespersen 1924:352). In the more recent literature, the term was made popular by Baker (1970) and Labov (1972).

References

  • Baker, Carl Leroy. 1970. "Double negatives." Linguistic Inquiry 1:169–186.
  • Haspelmath, Martin. 2005. "Negative Indefinite Pronouns and Predicate Negation." In: Martin Haspelmath & Matthew S. Dryer & David Gil & Bernard Comrie (eds.) The World Atlas of Language Structures. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 466-469.
  • Jespersen, Otto. 1922. Language: Its Nature, Development, and Origin. London: Allen & Unwin.
  • Labov, William. 1972. Negative attraction and negative concord in English grammar. Language 48:773–818.