Negative wh-construction and its semantic properties

  • Lawrence Yam-Leung Cheung


Widely attested cross-linguistically, the Negative WH (NWH)-construction involves the special use of wh-words (e.g., ‘where’, ‘what’, and ‘how’) to convey negation in certain specific contexts. The first half of this paper identifies the negative assertion as the primary meaning of the NWH construction, in addition to two conventional implicatures. In the second half, I argue that the grammatical features in NWHCs in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese strongly suggest that NWHCs should be analyzed as interrogative wh-questions. The quantification domain of NWH-words is the sets of propositions that pick out the conversational backgrounds of the sentence (Kratzer 1977; Portner 2009). The NWHC can be paraphrased as “What is the proposition q such that in view of q, p is true?” However, the interrogative question can only receive a negative rhetorical interpretation (i.e., a question without a true answer) because the conventional implicatures make it impossible for p to be true against any of the conversational backgrounds.


Negation Wh-construction Quantification domain Rhetorical question Conversational background 

The following is a list of abbreviations used in the glossing:








Question particle










Relativization marker


Sentence particle


Declarative marker




Past tense


Rhetorical question particle


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsLos AngelesUSA

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