The case for external sentential negation: Evidence from Jewish Babylonian Aramaic

Elitzur A. Bar-Asher Siegal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This paper has a twofold goal: (i) In the context of negation in general to provide a clear conceptual distinction between internal and external negation, which is summarized as follows: Internal negation/predicate denial: the negative statement is about the topic of the sentence. It provides new negative information about the topic of the clause. External negation: it is a statement about a statement; it provides information about the truth value of the root proposition, i.e., reverses it; (ii) In the context of the Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (=JBA) to present an analysis according to which law is marked for external negation, while la is the unmarked negator, which usually appears in internal negation. I propose that in various contexts law, which historically functioned as a complete clause, was reanalyzed as an independent negator and thus grammaticalized as an external negation. The support for this hypothesis comes from historical, syntactic, and functional evidence. Moreover, this paper demonstrates a connection between its two goals: although Jewish Babylonian Aramaic is a historic language, its data still provoke a discussion on negation in a more general way. The following claims have been stated among those who argue that with respect to negation the TL framework is more suitable for natural languages: (i) Standard negations represent predicate denials and (ii) Natural languages do not express external negations without subordination (it is not the case that/it is not true that.) Following our analyses for the data from JBA, it becomes clear that claim (2) is not true. Moreover, paying attention to the environments in which the law appears in JBA reveals contexts that should be classified as cases of external negation even when it is not marked syntactically, for the distinction which has been made between the two categories is a conceptual one and not a syntactic one. Accordingly, claim (i) is also not accurate, as in other languages, we do find standard negations in such contexts.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1031-1078
Number of pages48
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by De Gruyter Mouton.


  • Aristotelian Logic
  • Jewish Babylonian Aramaic
  • counterfactual conditional sentences
  • external negation
  • negation
  • negative rhetorical questions
  • presupposition cancelling
  • topic


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