WS2: Negation

Workshop 2: Negation in the languages of the world



Matti Miestamo (University of Helsinki)
Ljuba Veselinova (Stockholm University)



This workshop will bring together descriptive linguists around the topic of negation. The goal is to achieve multifaceted and comprehensive descriptions of the negation systems of various languages from different families and geographical areas. Negation is a topic that has been widely studied in various branches of linguistics and there is an extensive body of literature devoted to negation. Nevertheless, detailed and accurate descript ions of the domain of negation exist for a small minority of the world’s languages.

In recent years, negation has attracted a lot of attention in typological scholarship. Large-scale typological studies of negation include Dahl 1979, Dryer 2013a, b, c and Miestamo 2005 for standard negation, van der Auwera & Lejeune 2013 for negative imperatives, Veselinova 2013, 2015, 2016 for the negation of existential and other stative predications, Haspelmath 2013 and Van Alsenoy 2015 for the negation of indefinite pronouns, and Miestamo 2014 for case marking under negation. However, there are several aspects of negation that have not been systematically studied in a cross-linguistic perspective. This is partly due the fact that not enough data from particular languages is available on these subdomains. There have been few systematic efforts to collect data from a wider variety of individual languages. This is a gap that needs to be filled both for the benefit of linguistic typo logy and for the detailed description of individual languages.

One systematic attempt saw light in 1994 with the publication of Kahrel and van den Berg’s collective volume Typological Studies in Negation. In this volume, the negation systems of 16 languages from different parts of the world were described on the basis of a unified questionnaire that addressed the main subdomains of negation as they were known at that time. This volume has been very useful for typologists and for descriptive linguists as a source of data and as inspiration for systematic and unified collection of data from different languages with very diverse expressions of negation. However, no similar projects have been conducted ever since the publication of the volume 23 year ago. A similar effort was taken for one specific family, namely Uralic, by Miestamo et al. in 2015. For that volume, a functionally based questionnaire drawing from the current state of the art knowledge of the typology of negation was developed. The 17 Uralic languages included in the volume were described in a similar way following one and the same template. Thereby the descriptive situation of negation in Uralic languages has been greatly improved. However, this approach is yet to be applied to other languages and families.

Organizing this workshop is our response to this demand. The primary goal of the workshop is to produce comprehensive and detailed descriptions of negation systems in a diverse body of languages from different parts of the world. Specifically, we propose to use an expanded version of Miestamo’s questionnaire first introduced in Miestamo et al. (2015). The expanded version will go into greater detail in understudied domains of negation such as 1) negation of stative predications (i.e. predications of equation, proper inclusion, property attribution, existence, location and possession), 2) negation in subordinate clauses, 3) lexicalization of negation, 4) negative derivation and case marking, 5) tense-aspect distinctions specific to the domain of negation. Another important outcome of this workshop will be to critically evaluate and further develop the existing questionnaire on the basis of the feedback from the workshop participants and anyone else using the questionnaire.

By describing languages on the basis of the questionnaire [see Negation questionnaire], the project will produce comparable datasets from a wide variety of languages and, from the descriptive linguist’s point of view, it will result in a comprehensive and detailed description of the negation system of the particular language under study. This will be a prime example of the fruitful cooperation between typologists and descriptive linguists in the context of diversity linguistics.

The workshop will be opened by an introduction by the organizers presenting the idea an d the questionnaire. After that, each talk will focus on the description of negation in a specific language. It is not feasible that all the data collected using the questionnaire be presented in a 20-minute talk. Therefore the participants are instructed to give an overview of the negation system of their respective language and then focus on subdomains which, in their particular languages, are most distinctive or are of specific interest for cross-linguistic studies. These domains can for instance pertain to things that are especially rare or they can be domains that are problematic to describe.

After the workshop, we plan to organize an online peer-reviewed publication. The preference for an online publication stems from the ambition to ensure the inclusion of as many languages as possible, which is not feasible in a printed volume. Furthermore, an online platform will ensure the longevity and future growth of the initiative.


  • van der Auwera, J. & L. Lejeune. [2005] 2013. The prohibitive. In M. Dryer & M. Haspelmath (eds.), World atlas of language structures online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. [First published OUP, 2005]
  • Dahl, Ö. 1979. Typology of sentence negation. Linguistics 17. 79-106.
  • Dryer, M. [2005] 2013a. Negative morphemes. In M. Dryer & M. Haspelmath (eds.), World atlas of language structures online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. [First published OUP, 2005]
  • Dryer, M. [2011] 2013b. Order of negative morpheme and verb. In M. Dryer & M. Haspelmath (eds.), World atlas of language structures online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. [First published Max Planck Digital Library, 2011]
  • Dryer, M. [2011] 2013c. Position of negative morpheme with respect to subject, object, and verb. In M. Dryer & M. Haspelmath (eds.), World atlas of language structures online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.  [First published Max Planck Digital Library, 2011]
  • Haspelmath, M. 1997. Indefinite pronouns. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Haspelmath, M. [2005] 2013. Negative indefinite pronouns and predicate negation. In M. Dryer & M. Haspelmath (eds.), World atlas of language structures online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. [First published OUP, 2005]
  • Kahrel, P. & R. van den Berg (eds.) 1994. Typological studies in negation (Typological Studies in Language 29). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Miestamo, M. 2005. Standard negation: The negation of declarative verbal main clauses in a typological perspective (Empirical Approaches to Language Typology 31). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Miestamo, M. 2014. Partitives and negation: A cross-linguistic survey. In S. Luraghi & T. Huumo (eds.), Partitive cases and related categories (Empirical Approaches to Language Typology 54), 63-86. Berlin. De Gruyter Mouton.
  • Miestamo, M., A. Tamm & B. Wagner-Nagy (eds.). 2015. Negation in Uralic languages (Typological Studies in Language 108). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Van Alsenoy, L. 2014. A new typology of indefinite pronouns, with a focus on negative indefinites. PhD dissertation, University of Antwerp.
  • Veselinova, L. 2013. Negative existentials: A cross-linguistic study. Rivista di linguistica 25(1). 107-145.
  • Veselinova, L. 2015. Special negators in the Uralic languages: Synchrony, diachrony and interaction with standard negation. In M. Miestamo, A. Tamm & B. Wagner-Nagy (eds.), Negation in Uralic languages (Typological Studies in Language 108), 547-599. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Veselinova, L. 2016. The Negative Existential Cycle through the lens of comparative data. In E. van Gelderen (ed.), The linguistic cycle continued, 139-187. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
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