Øyndusyka – XIV (Negation, Topicalisation)

The Øyndusyka project begins to near its end, but not before a good deal more syntax gets presented…


Nominal negation is straightforward: the noun is placed into the genitive plural, and the preceding negator náva is employed: thus, náva hussa, “no house”.

Negation of verbs is more difficult. In general, the verbal negator precedes the verb, and this is seen unproblematically when object fronting has caused the verb to thrown to the back of the clause: ða huss ech ná byld, “the house, I didn’t build”. Copulas and modal verbs, likewise, have no difficulty in this respect, given their default second-position location, but must display inversion with their subjects: iss is háss, “ice is hot”, but ná is iss háss, “ice is not hot”.

However, where the verb is required to be the first element of a clause, it is impossible for it to be preceded by a negator. In these cases, a modal is employed as an auxiliary, with secondary negation on the main verb by means of the particle na; a wide range of modals are found in this function, particularly for events in the present (or future), often encoding an epistemological or evidentiary force – so, ná macht he ðam na bylda, “I am certain it is not possible for him to build it”, against ná cu he ðam na bylda, “it is possible he may not build it” or “I hear he may not build it”. Where no particular intent is present beyond negation, the modal ech dar is typically used in the aorist, progressive, or perfect: ná dar he ðam na bylda, “he doesn’t build it”. In other tenses, the modal dorsht is used: ná dorsht he ðam na bylda, “he didn’t build it”.

As in other modal expressions, it is typical to only use the aorist or preterite tenses, although other forms are on occasion found.

Where a verb is negated and has an indefinite object or subject, the indefinite argument must also be negated, with the particle na; in this case, negative agreement on the main verb is not required. Full negation with náva may also be used, with emphatic effect: ná dorsht ech na huss bylda, “I did not build a house”; ná dorsht ech náva hussa bylda, “I did not build any house” or “I did not build a house at all”. An even more emphatic alternative is to use nawt, with the genitive plural of the noun: ná dorsht ech nawt hussa bylda, “I have never built even a scrap of a house”. Nawt may also be used more generally as a negative indefinite pronoun, when agreement on the main verb is required: ná dorsht ech nawt na bylda, “I built nothing”.

An alternative method of verbal negation – or more strictly clausal negation – involves the Wackernagel particles nöt and nasa. These are used when making specific denials: the latter tends to be more specific than the former. Both trigger agreement on the object. Thus byld nöt ech na huss, “No, I don’t build a house”, and byld nasa ech na huss, “No, I don’t exactly build a house”, or “I don’t build a house in that way”. These constructions are more marked than the modal negatives.



Where the subject of a clause is also its topic, it is typically found only as a pronoun in the clause itself, with the full noun or noun phrase attached (if necessary) either to the beginning or to the end of the clause. Typically, preposed topics indicate a change of topic, while postposed topics indicate continuity. Failure to reduce the subject to a pronoun typically indicates that the subject is not the topic, and represents new or surprising information.

Thus, breaka he ða cuppa up, ða tarb most likely indicates “regarding the bull, it breaks the cup” or “the bull breaks the cup”; ða tarb, breaka he ða cuppa up more likely indicates “whereas the bull breaks the cup” or “and as for the bull, it breaks the cup”. The more syntactically straightforward breaka ða tarb ða cuppa up instead implies the more marked “(it’s) the bull (that) breaks the cup”.

Objects are not dealt with in this way. Changes of emphasis toward discussing the object may sometimes by indicated where necessary by emphatic fronting of the object; objects that are established topics may be reduced to pronouns, but not with extraclausal full nouns adposed. If particularly necessary, periphrasis may be employed: breaka he ðat up, ða tarb – stąmm wi bi ða cuppa, “the bull breaks it – the cup, I mean” (lit. “he breaks it, the bull – we stand at the cup”).

Objects may also, where they are sufficiently clear from context, be simply elided entirely, but this may not occur when the object is the topic – in such cases, at least a pronoun must be found. Thus, upbreaka he, “he breaks (it/something)”, but breaka he ðam up, “he breaks (it/the thing we are talking about)”.

Postposed topics come between the core clause and any postposed adverbs, and usually come before postposed prepositional phrases: breaka he ðam up, ða tarb, befós ða treos, and breaka he ðam up, ða tarb, lawli.


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