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Marloes Oomen, Roland Pfau and Ulrika Klomp recently finished a research project in which they further investigated negation in Sign Language of the Netherlands (Nederlandse Gebarentaal, NGT).

After the first more extensive corpus-based research into negation by Marloes Oomen and Roland Pfau, Ulrika, Marloes and Roland now extended these results with new studies on several aspects of negation. They presented on this work at Syntax of the World’s Languages 8 in Paris, Sign-Nonmanuals 2 in Graz, and Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research 13 in Hamburg. Additionally, the work has led to a chapter on NGT in a (yet to appear) typological handbook on negation.

An example of a new result concerns the use of the morpheme ‘un-‘, a sign that is articulated on the nose. This morpheme is a derivational prefix with a negating function, and it can be combined with a number of adjectives, adverbials and verbs. The combination of ‘un’ and ‘deep’, for example, yields the meaning ‘undeep’. The morpheme is a loan element from Dutch, and is used in particular in Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands.

Another example concerns the phenomenon neg-raising. Consider the following sentences:

a. I said my sister is not pregnant.
b. I didn’t say my sister is pregnant.
c. I thought my sister is not pregnant.
d. I didn’t think my sister is pregnant.

Although sentences (a) and (b) are clearly different in meaning, many speakers of English will agree that sentences (c) and (d) are similar in meaning. This results from the fact that some verbs, like ‘think’, yield an interpretation of negation in the embedded clause, while the negation is expressed in the main clause. This phenomenon is called neg-raising, and is understudied for sign languages. Roland, Ulrika and Marloes found for NGT that sentences with ‘say’, for example, are marked differently than sentences with ‘think’. Note that they only focused on the non-manual marking in this study, and not on the manual marker ‘not’. It turns out that, in sentences with ‘say’, there is a preference for a headshake on only the main clause verb but not on the embedded clause – this last option makes the meaning of the sentence ambiguous. Sentences with ‘think’, on the other hand, do not yield this ambiguity, and such sentences can therefore have a headshake over the full sentence. Such an extended headshake might even be the preferred marking; this will be further investigated.  

Dr. R. (Roland) Pfau

Faculty of Humanities

Capaciteitsgroep Taalwetenschap