This chapter deals with indefinite pronouns that are semantically in the scope of negation, as in (1).
Nobody saw me.
I saw nobody.
(*Anybody did not see me.)
I did not see anybody.
The main question that we ask here is whether a language requires the use of ordinary predicate negation with such negatively used indefinite pronouns, as in (1d), or whether it allows predicate negation to be absent, as in (1a-b), so that the negative sense is rendered only by the indefinite pronoun. We mostly focus on ‘nobody’ and ‘nothing’, but ‘never’ is also regarded as an indefinite pronoun.
In the world’s languages, cooccurrence of indefinite pronouns with predicate negation is by far the most common type (cf. Haspelmath 2005e WALS chapter, and Haspelmath 1997: ch. 8), but in some European languages, most notably Latin and German (as well as Dutch), negatively used indefinites always preclude predicate negation (i.e are incompatible with it), at least on the intended sense:
(*non timeo nihil)
‘I fear nothing.’
‘Nobody has called.’
Some languages show variability of the use of predicate negation. In Spanish (and likewise in Portuguese), for example, the occurrence of predicate negation depends on the position of the indefinite: If it precedes the verb, predicate negation is precluded, but if it follows the verb, it is required:
English shows variability in the use of predicate negation as well, and here, too, word order is one relevant factor (cf. 1c vs. 1d). But the primary factor is the type of indefinite pronoun: Nobody/nothing precludes predicate negation, while anybody/anything may cooccur with predicate negation.
Some authors make a distinction between “inherently negative indefinites” and other negatively used indefinites, but no such distinction is made here. Determining which indefinites are “inherently negative” is not possible, as we are only looking at ordinary negative contexts as in (1)-(4), where indefinites are negative by definition. Even expressions with generic nouns as in (5) count as indefinite pronouns for current purposes (this is in line with Chapter 21 on indefinite pronouns).
As the value box shows, the great majority of languages show the cooccurrence type (value 1), represented by (1d) and (4b) above (I did not see anything, No vi nada). Preclusion of predicate negation by negative indefinites is not common.
|Co-occurrence with predicate negation||59|
|Preclusion possible with preverbal indefinites||6|
|Preclusion possible under other conditions||4|
|Negative existential construction||4|
The APiCS languages thus pattern with the majority of the world’s languages in showing a massive preference for “double negation” or “multiple negation” (as the cooccurrence pattern is sometimes called). But they contrast strikingly with the major lexifier languages, all of which prohibit cooccurrence at least with preverbal indefinites. Thus, we find the following sentences with subject indefinites, whose direct counterparts in the lexifiers are ungrammatical:
In Standard French, negative indefinites show partial cooccurrence with the bipartite negator ne...pas, in that the negative indefinite cooccurs with ne, but not pas (personne n’est venu ‘nobody has come’). In the French-based creoles, ne plays no role, and pa (< pas) always cooccurs with negative indefinites. Note in this connection that those Gulf of Guinea creoles that have a bipartite negator (see Chapter 101) are different from Standard French in that they exhibit full cooccurrence, i.e. both elements of the bipartite negator cooccur with the indefinite:
Cooccurrence with predicate negation is also widely found in languages not based on western European languages, but here it is unsurprising, because the vast majority of languages outside western Europe have cooccurrence.
There is not one single APiCS language that is like Latin, German or Dutch in that it never allows the co-occurrence of indefinites with predicate negation. But in a number of English-based languages, preclusion of predicate negation by the negative indefinite is found under conditions similar to those in English. Thus, Cameroon Pidgin English has cooccurrence with postverbal indefinites (A no get nating ‘I have nothing’), but not with preverbal ones (No peson bin kom ‘Nobody came’, Schröder 2013). A number of West African and Caribbean English-based languages are similar. It should be noted, however, that it is not always clear under what exact conditions predicate negation can be omitted. Sometimes it appears that the type of indefinite is decisive, rather than the position. This is the case in Standard English, which allows (1b) (I saw nobody), i.e. preclusion with a postverbal indefinite. If we have no evidence that postverbal indefinites can cooccur with negation, such a language is classified as showing value 2.
A few languages are classified as value 3 (preclusion possible under other conditions), e.g. Singlish, which allows preclusion with postverbal indefinites as in I understand nothing, and Norf’k, which has Ai sii noebohdi. ‘I saw nobody’. What exactly allows or requires preclusion in these languages is not clear. The mixed language Michif is particularly complicated and puzzling. With French-based indefinites, there is no predicate negation (in striking contrast to the French-based creoles):
With Cree-based indefinites, the negator noo precedes the indefinite rather than the verb, and it is not quite clear whether the neg+indefinite complex should be regarded as a unit (analogous to English no-where, etc.) or whether an example like (14) should be seen as showing ordinary predicate negation.
In a few languages, a negative existential construction is used to express the notion of ‘nobody’ and ‘nothing’ (value 4). This occurs especially in the languages of the Philippines, and is thus found in the Chabacano varieties:
This is not the only possible construction, and Cavite Chabacano, for example, also allows no sabi nada ‘(s/he) knows nothing’. But the existential construction is so salient that it is singled out here as a separate type in these languages (as well as in Juba Arabic).