More ado about nothing: on the typology of negative indefinites

by Johan van der Auwera and Lauren Van Alsenoy

Read the paper here. Below is the abstract:

This study focuses on the frequency and the typology of negative indefinites of what is here called ‘negative quantification’, i.e., the use of the word like nothing in sentences that contain no clausal negator, such as I saw nothing. The frequency claim is based on a variety sample of 179 languages. The typology is also based on this sample but no less on the research literature and on consulting experts. For this typology a parallel is drawn with the study of negative concord, i.e., the use of nothing in sentences that do contain a clausal negator, such as You ain’t seen nothing yet. It is claimed that one needs to draw a distinction between strict and non-strict negative quantification, just like is commonly done for negative concord. Like for negative concord the most important parameter is the position of the indefinite vis-à-vis the finite verb. The types of non-strict negative quantification and non-strict negative concord are shown to be very similar. A final claim is that negative quantification is first and foremost a property of constructions rather than languages.