Who watches the NEG-raisers?

🕑 2 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 June 13, 2019 in Discussions

I reread Alan Moore’s Watchmen today. Still amazing, not one bit overrated, and whenever I pick it up I can’t help but finish it in one sitting. But did you know that Watchmen actually challenges the very foundations of syntactic theory?

I present to you Exhibit A, which also happens to be the only exhibit:

Exhibit A
Exhibit A

In case the picture doesn’t load for you, here’s what a dapper gent says to lil’ Rohrschach’s mum when their financially incentivized exchange of bodily fluids is interrupted by the runt:

  1. You didn’t tell me you had no kids around here!

Holy ungrammaticality, Batman! That’s one crazy case of negative concord. Usually, negative concord cannot cross clause boundaries, which is pretty much expected if you treat it as as an agreement relation and believe that clauses are privileged locality domains. So (1) should be impossible.

But wait, there are exceptions with NEG-raising verbs such as reckon, think, or figure. The idea is that the negation starts out in the embedded clause and then raises to the matrix clause. Even though it looks like negative concord crosses a clause boundary, it actually doesn’t because it takes place before NEG-raising. There’s one problem, though: tell is not a NEG-raising verb. That’s why NPI licensing is impossible in (2) with tell but fine in (3) with figure.

  1. *John didn’t tell us that Mary would tell a living soul about his sister.
  2. John didn’t figure that Mary would tell a living soul about his sister.

Now you might say this just shows that Alan Moore is completely clueless about negative concord or NEG-raising. And I don’t tell you you should shit on Alan Moore. Nobody can’t say the guy is freaking brilliant.

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