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The interaction of modality and negation in Finnish1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2012

University of Westminster
Author's address: University of Westminster, Department of English, Linguistics and Cultural Studies, 32–38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW,


In Finnish, negation is expressed via an auxiliary, and no other verb may occur above this auxiliary in the structure. This gives rise to a problem with respect to the modals of obligation and necessity, which take scope over negation yet appear below it. It is tempting to account for this in terms of LF-movement, but evidence suggests that there are in fact two modal phrases in Finnish, one above negation and the other below it, the higher of which encodes necessity/obligation. Evidence for the higher phrase comes from the negative imperative. Although the PF part of a verb in a negative sentence cannot move to the head of this higher phrase, the head itself is in the right position to take scope over negation. Thus, rather than attributing the scope properties of the modals to LF-movement, it will instead be argued that the LF-interpretable part of a head is merged precisely where it takes scope, and that the relation between the LF- and PF-interpretable parts of the modal is one of checking at a distance. Head-movement will be regarded solely as a PF phenomenon. It will be seen that the scope relations of the modals and the imperative mood can be accounted for under this hypothesis. Thus, Finnish provides evidence for a view of syntax which identifies syntactic structure largely with the LF-interpretable part of a sentence, and sees head movement as fundamentally a PF phenomenon. There are two morphological moods in Finnish, which seem to provide counter-examples to this hypothesis, which will be left as a problem for future research.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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I would like to thank Erika Mitchell for helpful discussions on the structure of the Finnish IP, Heikki Kangasniemi for help with participial constructions, Andrew Simpson for a discussion of long-distance checking, and two anonymous JL referees for many helpful comments.



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