The main event was a presentation by Ian Roberts, entitled ‘Negative words and related expressions: some familiar puzzles’. Roberts proposed that n-words such as Modern French rien, jamais and aucun are ambivalent between a negative and a negative polarity status. When they are negative polarity items, n-words are goals that are dependent on the probe constituted by negative n-words. The dependence is captured by a Minimalist Agree relation. In keeping with Chomsky (2008), Roberts sought to pursue the assumption that only phase heads are true probes, doing away with the need for a NegP functional projection. He explored the implications of this approach for a range of contemporary languages such as Greek English and Italian, using the features [u/iNEG] and [u/iOp]. The feature system was applied to history of French. Revisiting Déprez (1997, 2000), Roberts argued that the emergence of determiners made it impossible to have null D apart from negative quantifiers such as rien, jamais and aucun, which as negatives remained the only ones capable of being interpreted as non-referential. In short, French n-words developed an iNEG feature via the inherently negative null D. The trigger of the change would therefore be the change of category of the n-words from nouns to pronouns and the ban on null D. He concluded that French n-words are [iNEG], [uOP], the latter feature having developed first, and the [iNeg] feature having developed from interaction with a null negative D.
The discussion was led by Pierre Larrivée and Richard Ingham. Larrivée posed some questions arising from the analysis of negative words in French presented in Roberts (2000) circulated before the meeting. The question of how to diagnose the status of Probe and Goal was raised, in view of item uses as constituent negation and in double negation that evidence the negative status of n-words. [The ensuing discussion raised the issue of locality as a difference between n-words and negative polarity items.] Richard Ingham mentioned the development of aucun as a non-assertive indefinite at the expense of nul, and noted that it spread from Continental French to Anglo-Norman in the mid 14th century, shortly after its emergence in CF. This change in the distribution of indefinites seemed independent of Jespersen’s cycle, if Roberts (2000) is right and Old French was a non-NC language.
Henriette de Swart offered an OT analysis of the interpretation of a sequence of n-items (personne, rien etc.) which she took to be inherently negative. She distinguished two main cases, iteration (giving a DN reading) and resumption (giving an NC reading). These can be expressed in OT terms as Interpret Negation and Maximise Negation, whose relative positions in an OT tableau can then be varied to derive DN and NC readings. She then showed how her analysis could account for Jespersen cycle phenomena in various languages, and the gradual character of grammaticalisation.
From the exchanges emerged the idea that the option for the analysis of n-words was to treat them as symmetrically negative or as asymmetrically dependent on an external source of negation, and that criteria to determine the appropriate perspective were needed. Also in need of syntactic appraisal was the issue of the apparent gradual character of language change.
de Swart, Henriëtte. Negative polarity and negative indefinites in an optimization approach: a sketch of features, typology and grammaticalization
Ingham, Richard. Negation and indefinites in Old French: an extremely short introduction
Larrivée, Pierre. Concerning our Goals
Roberts, Ian. Negative words and related expressions: some familiar puzzles