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Johns Hopkins University – Homewood Campus – (410-516-5250/office phone)
Thursday, October 23, 2003 - 3:30 p.m.
Room #134A Krieger Hall - (Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.)
Dr. Barbara Partee
Department of Linguistics – University of Massachusetts/Amherst
Dr. Vladamir Borschev
VINITI – Russian Academy of Sciences
“The Semantics of Russian Genitive of Negation: the
Nature and Role of Perspectival Structure”
There is a large literature on the problem of the "genitive of negation" in Russian, a construction
that poses challenges for syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, as well as for the nature of the lexicon. The
problem is illustrated in (1) and (2), two different ways to say “[the/an] answer hasn’t arrived”.
Example (2) shows the genitive of negation: the subject is in the genitive case and the verb is in a nonagreeing impersonal form.
Answer-NOM.M.SG from regiment NEG arrived-M.SG
‘The answer from the regiment has not arrived.’
from regiment NEG arrived-N.SG
‘There was no answer from the regiment.’
What the alternation between nominative and genitive in such sentences depends on is an old and
difficult problem. Almost all Western investigators believe that sentences like (1) and (2) always differ
in scope of negation. Babby (1980) proposed that topic-focus structure determines scope of negation,
and hence is crucial for genitive of negation. Pesetsky (1982) argued that the Genitive NP is always an
underlying direct object bearing a null negative polarity quantifier, and that the relevant intransitive
verbs are always “unaccusative” (their surface subject is an underlying object). Russian work on the
Genitive of Negation (Apresjan, Paducheva, and others) emphasizes the lexical semantics of the
relevant verbs and the referential status of the subject.
In our work (Borschev and Partee 2002a,b, Partee and Borschev 2002) we are trying to understand the
semantics of the construction in a way that integrates lexical and compositional semantics, but we do
not believe that scope of negation is the whole semantic story. And by no means all unaccusative verbs
participate in the construction, which seems to be limited in the intransitive case to “existential
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sentences” and modifications thereof; so some of the puzzles are related to cross-linguistic puzzles
about the differences between “existential sentences” and “ordinary” sentences. We consider
interactions of syntax and semantics of the (open class of) “genitive” verbs, referential status and
presuppositionality of the subject, and other factors. In particular, we argue for a difference in
“perspectival structure” regarding the relative roles of subject and implicit or explicit Locative, a
difference similar to the subtle semantic distinction associated with diathesis alternation in spray/load
verbs, discussed in recent work by Levin and Rappaport Hovav, Krifka, and others.
Some of our work so far on this topic can be found at
Apresjan, Juri D. 1980. Tipy informacii dlja poverxnostno-semantičeskogo komponenta modeli "Smysl  Tekst" Vienna/Moscow:
Wiener Slavistische Almanach/Škola "Jazyki Russkoj Kultury".
Babby, Leonard. 1980. Existential Sentences and Negation in Russian. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Karoma
Borschev, Vladimir, and Barbara H. Partee. 2002a. The Russian genitive of negation in existential sentences: the role of Theme-Rheme
structure reconsidered. In Travaux du Cercle Linguistique de Prague (nouvelle série), eds. Hajičová et al, 185-250. Amsterdam: John
Benjamins Pub. Co.
Borschev, Vladimir, and Barbara H. Partee. 2002b. O semantike bytijnyx predloženij (On the semantics of existential sentences).
Semiotika i Informatika 37 (Moscow:VINITI):59-78.
Paducheva, Elena V. 1997. Roditel'nyj sub"ekta v otricatel'nom predloženii: sintaksis ili semantika? (Genitive of Subject in negated
sentences: syntax or semantics?) Voprosy Jazykoznanija No.2, 101-116.
Partee, Barbara H., and Vladimir Borschev. 2002. Genitive of negation and scope of negation in Russian existential sentences. In Annual
Workshop on Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics10 (FASL 10), ed. Jindrich Toman, 181-200. Ann Arbor: Michigan Slavic
Pesetsky, David. 1982. Paths and Categories, MIT: Ph.D. dissertation.
Faculty Host: Dr. Robert Frank ([email protected])
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