102 Negation and indefinite pronouns


This feature (based on WALS feature 115, by Martin Haspelmath) concerns the expression of negative sentences with indefinite pronouns such as ‘I didn’t see anything’ or ‘Nobody came to my house’. The question asked here is whether in such sentences the indefinite pronoun co-occurs with predicate negation (e.g. English I did not see anybody), or whether the indefinite pronoun precludes it (i.e. does not allow negation to be used, e.g. English I saw nobody/*I did not see nobody). Note that in this feature, we are not interested in whether the indefinite pronoun itself carries negative meaning, i.e. the issue of “double negation” is left aside. Sentences like I didn’t see anybody and I didn’t see nobody have the same status (indefinites cooccur with predicate negation). The reason for this is that in many languages it is hard to tell whether an indefinite pronoun is “inherently negative”. The indefinite words used in such sentences are not always special pronouns, but are sometimes generic nouns like ‘person’, or ‘thing’ (as in Feature 21).


Martin Haspelmath and the APiCS Consortium


Co-occurrence with predicate negation59
Preclusion possible with preverbal indefinites6
Preclusion possible under other conditions4
Negative existential construction4

Language Value Lexifier Details Source
Id Primary text Analyzed text Gloss Translation Type Language Audio Details