Interface licensing conditions on negative polarity items: A theory of polarity and tense interactions

Date of Completion

January 1994


Language, Linguistics




This work analyzes the level at which Negative Polarity Item Licensing takes place on the basis of a cross-linguistic study of the licensing conditions imposed on Negative Polarity Items (NPIs) in structures where negation (Neg) is the polarity licenser. It is argued that the relevant level where the licensing conditions have to be met is the level of Logical Form (LF). It is shown that LF c-command of the NPI by negation is a necessary requirement for polarity item licensing to take place. We provide evidence in that direction on the basis of the behaviour of NPIs embedded within preverbal indefinite subjects. We show that polarity licensing is only possible in those cases where an LF reconstruction operation locates the indefinite in a position c-commanded by Neg at LF. We also introduce some unnoticed asymmetries in negative polarity licensing in embedded clauses. We show that these asymmetries raise a serious problem for an S-Structure (SS) theory of polarity licensing, since there is no relevant SS difference that can account for the contrasts in polarity licensing. It is shown that these asymmetries are dependent on the temporal interpretations of the predicates involved, and an account is proposed that relies on the different representations that grammatical and ungrammatical cases are forced to have at LF to license the tense of the embedded clause. We conclude that NPIs can only be licensed when the reference time of the embedded tense takes the matrix event-time as its reference time, letting the embedded clause appear in a position c-commanded by Neg at LF. This leads us to reconsider the role of the so-called Negative Complementizers in polarity licensing. Finally, we present an alternative analysis to the hypothesis that derives the behaviour of NPIs by appealing to SS binding conditions, and propose an explanation of the properties of these elements that is based on their morphological structure. ^