Negation in Japanese: A case of morphosyntactic mismatch

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This paper investigates the theoretical implications of the negative inflected forms of verbs in Japanese. Japanese verbs and adjectives overlap considerably in their morphology and syntax, but there is strong evidence that they constitute distinct morpholexical classes. Verbs and adjectives realize negative polarity, but in verbs this is realized by synthetic suffixal forms (inflections), while in adjectives it is achieved by a periphrastic construction with the negative form of the copula. However, the negative form of the plain style verb (as opposed to the polite style verb in -masu) inflects in the same way as the positive polarity adjective. Thus, in the negative conjugation the verb is morphologically an adjective. This is not a case of heteroclisis or deponency because it affects all verbs and all plain negative forms. It is also not an instance of a participle, since the primary function of the negative forms is as the head of the predication as with any other verb form, while a participle is canonically a verb transposed to an adjective so that it can function as an attributive modifier to a noun. We therefore have an instance in which a word of one morphological category shifts to another category for a large portion of its paradigm, without shifting in syntactic category. Such cases represent an important, though hardly studied, instance of morphosyntactic mismatch.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)997-1017
Number of pages21
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2008


  • Adjective
  • Morphological category
  • Morphological shift
  • Syntactic category


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