‘Not’ in focus:

objects under negation in Zulu

  • Jochen Zeller University of KwaZulu-Natal
Keywords: negation, polarity focus, Bantu, presupposition, association with focus, contrast, negative polarity items, object marking


This paper investigates the interaction of focus and negation in the Bantu language Zulu (Nguni; S42). I discuss four strategies that are used to negate transitive sentences in Zulu. The default strategy, in which an object marker is added to the negated verb, expresses polarity focus by dislocating the object-marked object from the VP-focus domain. In the second strategy, no object marker occurs, and focus falls on the object or the VP. I show that in this strategy, negation typically associates with the focus and is not part of the presupposition, and I argue that this is responsible for a (hitherto unexplained) additional contrastive inference that speakers report with this negation strategy. The third strategy, a cleft, is used to remove the focused object from the scope of negation; as a result, negation can associate with the presupposition. In the fourth strategy, the object noun loses its augment and is interpreted as a negative polarity item (NPI). Based on a proposal by Lahiri (1998), I argue that in negated sentences with NPI-objects, focus is placed on an implicit cardinality predicate which is associated with the semantic representation of the indefinite NPI-object.