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Negation, scrambling and polarity

Certain pairs of Verb Phrase (VP)-internal elements may show up in either order. Each order may be associated with specific semantic or pragmatic effects. To illustrate, consider the following pair of sentences:

Example 1

a. Ik ha twa boeken net lêzen
I have two books not read
There are two books I did not read
b. Ik ha net twa boeken lêzen
I have not two books read
I did not read two books

The first sentence receives a specific, partitive, contrastive or presupposed interpretation, as has been emphasized in the translation. The second sentence cannot have such an interpretation; it must receive an unspecific reading. It depends on the two constituents involved what the unmarked word order is. Each pair contains the following two elements:

  1. One of the elements may be referred to as a polar adverb such as clause negation netnot, but there are also examples involving the clause affirmation wolindeed and the downtoning adverb marbut, only, just.
  2. The other element is a member of a wide class of various elements, including: the direct object, the adverb of manner and degree saso, the adverb of degree followed by an adjective, a universal quantifier, and this includes similar quantifiers such as allinne, allinnichonly and the adverbs of comparative and superlative preference, leaverrather, preferably and leafstlike best, most preferably and various adverbs and clause polarity markers besides negation.

Informally speaking, the two elements involved entertain a quantificational relation, where the more restrictive element involves the polarity of the clause as as whole. In most cases, this is simple clause negation. The interpretative effects of either order depend on the less restrictive element.

Interactions between two negative constituents are discussed in double negation.

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