4th International Conference on Language Variation in Europe (iclave 4), University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus, 18-06-2007

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4th International Conference on Language Variation in Europe (iclave 4), University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus, 18-06-2007

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4th International Conference on Language Variation in Europe (ICLaVE 4), University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus, 18-06-2007.
Field linguistics meets formal research: how a microcomparative view can deepen our theoretical investigation (sentential negation)

Leonie Cornips and Cecilia Poletto

Meertens Institute (KNAW) University of Venice,

Amsterdam, The Netherlands Venice, Italy

1. Introduction
1.1 Aims of this paper (see Cornips, L. & C. Poletto (in prep) same title as above. Lingua)

  • To describe and provide support for a layered methodology in dialectal field work

  • To show that, although data do not speak for themselves, a precise and detailed set of data can exclude some a priori possible analyses and restrict the set of analyses we have to consider

  • Specific aim: (i) insight into the optionality of negative markers and (ii) a template for the positions of different types of negative elements.

2. The phenomena: negative markers and negative quantifiers, Syntactic Atlas of the Dutch Dialects (SAND; Barbiers et al. 2005)

(1) a Hij en werkt

he en works

'He does not work'

b Wij en wisten niet dat hij thuis was

we en knew not that he at home was

'We did not know that he was at home'

c Els denkt dat ‘t niet gemakkelijk is

Els thinks that it not easy is
Variables to take into account:
a. position of the negative marker with respect to the verb (in V2 languages both main and embedded clauses have to be inserted, because the position of the verb varies);

b. position of the negative marker with respect to other elements located in the same area (low negation will have to be serialized with respect to lower aspectual adverbs, high negation with respect to higher adverbs, clitics, subject and the complementizer)

c. negative concord with negative quantifiers of different types (bare or phrasal ones);

d. changes of the negative marker with respect to sentence type (for instance imperatives or interrogative clauses), modality, presence of auxiliaries

3. Some preliminaries
3.1 Theoretical issues

  • If parameters are properties of functional categories, microvariation can highlight whether and which parameters are connected to each other in clusters or whether the positive setting of a parameter induces a + or a – of another parameter

  • Our work is complementary to typological work as it can answer the question concerning the intrinsic nature of microvariation: is it in any way different from typological variation in the sense that it targets changes within a cluster of parameters, while typological variation can also target different clusters of parameters or is there no difference?

3.2 The observer’s paradox

How do we obtain reliable data? What is required?

  • Homogeneity of the data across speakers. Homogeneity of the data can be promoted by selecting speakers who share the same sociolinguistic variables such as age, gender, level of education and occupation.

  • Ungrammatical judgments: we have to make sure that the speaker really has in mind our notion of (un)grammaticality and that the sentence is not excluded because of external factors (lexicon, intonation, phonology, pragmatic appropriateness, low or high prestige of the variant etc.).

  • The indeterminacy principle: our findings can vary according to the expectations of the inquirer. There is no pure observation of the data, the fact that the data are gathered through a questionnaire drives the results, this is in fact a justification for the layered methodology (see below). A stepwise procedure is needed to focus on the variables since questionnaires are always prepared without knowing exactly the variables involved in a phenomenon.

4. The layered methodology
4.1 The procedure
What is meant here under the term “layered methodology” is not the ongoing discussion on the analysis of a given topic, or the Galilean scientific empirical method used in all sciences, but has more to do with the way in which new phenomena themselves and relations among phenomena can be discovered and brought to the attention of the linguistic community.

  • Stage 0 of the SAND (and ASIS) research:

No systematic description, only sparse observations. The only empirical description was provided by Haegeman (1995) but only for one dialect or dialect monographies of which the focus is not on syntax

  • Stage 1

Preliminary survey of the possible interesting phenomena. A general questionnaire is created to test a great number of phenomena, first tested on linguists in a pilot study to check lexicon and appropriateness and then used systematically throughout the whole domain

  • Stage 2

Selection of a “platform” of phenomena to investigate, then further more in-depth and systematic investigation of the single phenomenon included in the platform

  • Stage 3

Further tests to check whether the analysis of the phenomenon is correct and to see whether our predictions are correct

  • Stage 4

If any other new phenomenon has been by chance found in the sample, new questionnaire to test that as well

4.2 The SAND-project: construction details
Four phases: (Cornips & Jongenburger 2001, Cornips & Poletto 2005, Barbiers et. 2007).

  1. The first phase was a comprehensive literature study of the four empirical domains examined in the SAND-project, namely negation and quantification, left periphery, right periphery and pronominal reference. All publications, i.e. articles, monographs and books and some former atlases (both lexical and syntactic) that appeared on Dutch dialect syntax were traced and all titles were fed into a database on the internet.

  2. A written questionnaire was prepared with respect to the four empirical domains containing 424 questions (including sub-questions and remarks to be made by the informants). This questionnaire was sent out and filled in by 368 subjects.

    • The goal of the written questionnaire was threefold. First, the responses on the questionnaire provide insight in the geographic distribution of the syntactic variation investigated.

    • Secondly, the responses show which part(s) of the Dutch-speaking area were of interest with respect to the four research topics.

    • Finally, the results of the written questionnaire were needed as input for the next phase: the oral fieldwork.

  1. The oral fieldwork included speakers of local dialect in a grid of 267 locations in the Netherlands and in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium and France. Also in this phase, test sentences were offered to the informants. The spoken data of these interviews involved 425 hours of speech in total. The methodology of the oral fieldwork in the SAND partially differs from the ASIS one in having regionalized and multi-stage questions. More specifically, in all the oral interviews 'paths' were designed for every phenomenon to test. More concretely, the interviewer checks 'on the spot' whether a given dialect has a certain phenomenon, in which case he takes the 'path' concerning that phenomenon and controls the properties and possible range of variation of it.

4.3 Advantages of a layered methodology

  1. The first practical side is that, given that the area of investigation is large, it is uninteresting to make a long and expensive test to look for a phenomenon that perhaps does not even exist in a given dialect. This is the reason why a preliminary search is in order.

  2. The second positive effect of a layered methodology has to do with the fact that in order to analyze a phenomenon, it is necessary to already know many of the syntactic properties of a language, like, for instance, whether it has verb movement or not, and to what extent, how the auxiliary and pronominal systems work, what is the basic order of the arguments and what are the restrictions on its left periphery.

  3. Some general facts about phonology can also be very useful, because sometimes there are phenomena which really seem to be ambiguous between a phonological or a syntactic analysis (the case of phonological rules which only apply inside the domain of a constituent but not outside are well known also from standard languages, see for instance the case of French liason).

  4. It maximizes time and manpower.

  5. Notice that every linguistic research could be conceived as a layered enterprise, with a progressive and deepening analysis of the facts under consideration, this is obviously the case if we considered the history of widely discussed phenomena (like anaphors, V2, pro drop or clitics) in the literature.

  6. It provides a discovery procedure of new phenomena

5. The SAND-phenomena: negative markers and negative quantifiers
5.1 Preverbal en, discontinous negation and negative quantifiers
In the written questionnaire there are only two answers (out of 368) showing preverbal negation, as exemplified in (3), (see (1a)):
(2) a. Hij en werkt Hapert, Netherlands

b. Hai en waark Bellingwolde, Netherlands

he neg works
The answers in (3) are presumably brought about by task-effects. The SAND data show that Dutch dialects have evolved loosing preverbal negation such that they no longer have a preverbal negative marker alone but only combined with a postverbal negative marker.

a) Mode of eliciting – oral versus written? negative marker in input or not?

b) One context more plausible than other?

c) Different social evaluations, attitudes

d) Transitional zones
Map 1 reveals the geographical distribution of the preverbal marker en combined with the negative quantifier geen N meer 'no N more' on the basis of the following stimulus sentence in the written questionnaire:
(3) Jan en heeft geen boek meer

Jan en has no book more

Map 1: The geographical distribution of discontinuous negation in the written questionnaire; en is offered in the stimulus

Map 2: The geographical distribution of the preverbal negation marker en in the written questionnaire for subjects who write en spontaneously in their translation and subjects who only copy en in the input. In Map 2, all negative sentences offered in the written questionnaire are considered

(4) Er wil niemand niet dansen

it wants noone not dance

Map 3: The geographical distribution of embracing negation in oral elicitation; en is not present in the stimulus

  • Individual grammars in zone A: preverbal marker is never present; preverbal marker doesn’t consitute a possible grammar (The Netherlands, in Belgium, Antwerpen and Limburg see Map 1)

  • Individual grammars in zone B: preverbal marker is present in judgment/translation if it is offered in the input, it is absent when it is absent in the input (Brabant see Map 2)

  • Individual grammars in zone C: Preverbal marker is present even when it is not in the stimulus (West-Flanders, East-Flanders, see Map 2 and 3)

5.2 The lower negative marker niet and negative quantifiers
The negative marker niet in the stimulus of the written questionnaire corresponds to the one of standard Dutch in terms of position (see (1c). This negative marker can be combined both with preverbal negative markers and with negative quantifiers. Sentence internal nie is located in the same position whether it occurs alone or co-occurs with preverbal en (see (6)), this confirming the observation originally made by Zanuttini (1997) for Romance negation:
(5) a. Ei 'n werkt nie Oosterzele

he not works not

b. Jan en e ni vele gelt me Westvleteren

John not has not much money more

Only in a very restricted area (Flanders and two locations in the Netherlands), a combination of the negative quantifier with sentence internal niet is presented in the translation, as exemplified by (6):
(6) a. 'k wee da de golder op niemand nie kwaad zijn

I know that you at noone not angry are Oosterzele

b. Piet peis da Jan en Marie ip nieman nie kwaad en zijn

Piet thins that John and Mary at noone not angry en are


  • §5.1 and (6) also confirms the distinction between structurally high and low negation found in Romance: negative concord with negative quantifiers is only optional for low negation of the niet and obligatory for high negation of the en type.

  • Cases like (6), where negative concord between a negative quantifier and sentence internal niet is possible, could in principle be analysed as instances of a spec-head relation similarly to what has been proposed for Romance negative concord by Haegeman and Zanuttini (1996) and Zanuttini (1997) with niet sitting in the head and the QP in the specifier of a negative projection.

  • Apparently, sentence internal niet always maintains the same properties; that is, it is compatible with a negative quantifier whether it co-occurs with preverbal en or not and it is located after a negative N-word as op niemand 'with no one', as illustrated in (6b). This is a strong indication that the negative marker niet occurring in the doubling structures with en and the one occurring alone has to be analyzed in the same way.

Cases of sentence internal niet and quantifiers preceding the negative marker seem to confirm Haegeman’s idea that the negative QP is located in SpecNeg

(7) kwil niemant ni kwetse (40 tokens)

I want noone not harm

The translations of (3) in the written questionnaires reveal that if there is more than one negative quantifier, niet is quite easily found (27 out of 51 possible answers) when the two negative quantifiers are to its right, as illustrated in (8b):
(8) a Jan en heeft niet veel geld niet meer

Jan en has not much money no more

b Jan e nie vele geen geld nie me Gistel

John has not much no money no more

Even if these cases were analysed as LF-movement, it would be necessary to admit multiple specifiers, as more than one negative quantifier should be moved to the left of negation (at least at LF).

Therefore, data coming from a great number of dialects only point towards possible further lines of research, they do not provide answers, but only questions (which we think are nonetheless extremely important).

In conclusion, if there is more than one negative quantifier, niet is always found after the negative quantifiers nooit ‘never’ and niemand ‘noone’, but before geen X ‘no X’ and niet meer ‘no more’. Putting all these data together, we obtain a template like the following:
(9) nooit niemand niet geen X niet meer

never noone niet no X no more

Importantly, this template is confirmed by the fact that even when niet is not present, the ordering of the negative quantifiers is:
(10) nooit niemand geen prijs

never noone no reward (only 1 instance of the opposite out of 134 tokens)

  • As the elements inside the template are in a rigid order, probably the spec-head agreement idea, which clearly contains the important intuition that negative quantifiers have to move to positions where they can check their negative feature by means of the negative head, could be modified by postulating not a single SpecNeg, but a whole 'negative field' where a number of negative projections can host different types of negative quantifiers and the negative marker itself (see again Brugger and Poletto (1995)).

  • This also explains why the negative quantifiers have the same order in the absence of a negative marker. The type of dialectal variation found in the respective Dutch dialects i.e. the dialects displaying such a negative field converges with the variation pattern in the NIDs (see Cornips & Poletto in prep)

  • Up to now no tests have been done in order to further control all possible variables that might interfere: the form of the negative quantifier (QP versus Q NP) the syntactic function (subject versus object) and the animate versus inanimate status of the quantifier. This will be a possible next step in the layered method. For the moment we can only state that in the template an animate subject QP is found to the left of an inanimate object Q-NP.

The elicitation results show that there is an implicational hierarchy in the negative concord cases, in particular:
(i) sentence internal nie is located in the same position when it co-occurs with preverbal en;

(ii) the most widespread type of negative concord is the one between two quantifiers;

(iii) then there is negative concord between one QP and the sentence internal negative marker niet;

(iv) then there is the negative concord with two quantifiers and the sentence internal niet;

(v) all the dialects that have the en morpheme also have negative concord with quantifiers (see also Zeijlstra 2004:120 and Zanuttini (1997) for Romance)
This hierarchy confirms once again the fact that, if we analyze the negative marker en as a high negative head on a par with Romance preverbal negation of the non type, negative concord is obligatory for high negative heads while it is not for the lower negative marker niet. The status as head or specifier might play a role in the possibility of negative concord.

6. Concluding remarks
From the experiment on postverbal negation in the ASIS-questionnaire and the distribution of the negative markers in the SAND-project, we can conclude that:

a) by means of investigating close enough languages it is possible to gather a very precise picture on the range of variation of a phenomenon, which can be blurred by interfering factors when examining languages that have a very different grammar.

b) one always have to take very seriously each piece of data, and see whether a single occurrence of a construction in a questionnaire including a large number of potential contexts in which the construction could have been present is due to interference or to external phenomena or whether it is a genuine case indicating a hidden 'iceberg' of phenomena whose surface is manifested in a very small set of data.

c) gathering dialectal data is not a flat process, but involves various stages, each of which can exploit different types of tasks. In the first stage, which is essentially devoted to finding new phenomena, translation is often the simplest way of gathering data. In a second (or third) level inquiry other types of tasks are more likely to reveal the exact range of variation of the phenomenon: at this stage grammaticality tests (with all possible disadvantages they might have (Cornips & Poletto 2005 part I)) are unavoidable.


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  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. The phenomena: negative markers and negative quantifiers, Syntactic Atlas of the Dutch Dialects (SAND; Barbiers et al. 2005)
  • 3. Some preliminaries
  • 4. The layered methodology
  • 5. The SAND-phenomena: negative markers and negative quantifiers 5.1 Preverbal en
  • 6. Concluding remarks

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