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On the Subject of Negative Auxiliary Inversion

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 September 2018

Frances Blanchette*
Pennsylvania State University
Chris Collins*
New York University


This article presents a novel analysis of Negative Auxiliary Inversion (NAI) constructions such as didn't many people eat, in which a negated auxiliary appears in pre-subject position. NAI, found in varieties including Appalachian, African American, and West Texas English, has a word order identical to a yes/no question, but is pronounced and interpreted as a declarative. We propose that NAI subjects are negative DPs, and that the negation raises from the subject DP to adjoin to Fin (a functional head in the left periphery). Three properties of NAI motivate this analysis: (i) scope freezing effects, (ii) the various possible and impossible NAI subject types, and (iii) the incompatibility of NAI constructions with true Double-Negation interpretations. Implications for theories of Negative Concord, Negative Polarity Items, and the representation of negation are discussed.


Cet article présente une nouvelle analyse des constructions d'Inversion auxiliaire négatif (NAI) telles que didn't many people eat ‘beaucoup n'ont pas mangé’, dans laquelle un auxiliaire négatif apparaît dans la position pré-sujet. La construction NAI, que l'on trouve dans les variétés d'anglais des Appalaches, des Afro-Américains et de l'ouest du Texas, a un ordre de mots qui est identique à celui d'une question oui/non, mais est prononcée et interprétée comme étant déclarative. Nous proposons que les sujets NAI sont des DP négatifs, et que la négation monte du sujet DP pour s'adjoindre à Fin (une tête fonctionnelle dans la périphérie gauche). Trois propriétés de la construction NAI motivent cette analyse: (i) les effets de gel de la portée, (ii) les types de sujets NAI possibles et impossibles, et (iii) l'incompatibilité des constructions NAI avec les interprétations de Double négation veritables. Les implications pour les théories de l'accord négatif, pour les items de polarité négative et pour la représentation de la négation sont discutées.

© Canadian Linguistic Association/Association canadienne de linguistique 2018 

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Thanks to Appalachian English speakers Gregory Johnson, Paul Reed, and Tiffany Williams for providing judgments and discussion, and for helping us to recruit participants for our online survey. We are also grateful to Lisa Green for discussion of NAI in her variety of African American English, and to Paul Postal and Christina Tortora for feedback on earlier drafts.


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