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Auteur: Roland PFAU

Diachronic and structural aspects of sign language negation

Abstract/Résumé: German Sign Language (DGS), employs two elements for expressing sentential negation: a clause-final manual negative sign (NOT) and a non-manual marker (a headshake), which accompanies part of the sentence. It has been found (i) that the manual negator is optional and (ii) that the headshake accompanies at least the verb and may optionally spread over the VP (Pfau 2002). Following a brief discussion of diachronic aspects of SL negation, in particular the grammaticalization of the headshake, I will discuss structural properties of DGS negation from a Negative Concord (NC) perspective (Zeijlstra 2004). DGS appears to be typologically close to split negation languages in that it combines a negative adverb with a negative affix (the headshake), the former occupying SpecNegP and the latter, which attracts the verb, the head of NegP. Applying Zeijlstra’s (2004) typological classification, I will indeed argue that DGS is a strict NC language. Note that n-words like NOTHING cannot co-occur with NOT, but always combine with the headshake, which I take to be the negative marker associated with Neg. Zeijlstra (2008) argues that all languages that employ a negative head are NC languages. In line with Zeijlstra’s proposal, I further assume that NC is an instance of syntactic agreement. Generally, in NC languages, negation must be realized as a formal feature. N-words are endowed with an uninterpretable feature [uNEG]; the same feature is carried by the negative marker. In DGS, an abstract negative operator carrying [iNEG] is responsible for semantic negation. In other words: only the operator, which c-commands the highest instance of [uNEG], carries semantic negation, which explains why sentences with NOT/n-word and headshake only contain one negation. Adopting the idea of Multiple Agree, an Agree relation is established with multiple uninterpretable features, which are deleted under feature checking, as required.