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The direct object and negation

Direct objects are positioned relative to clause negation depending on various properties. The position to the left of negation is reserved for direct objects having a presupposed reading. Definite Noun Phrases (NPs) tend to be presupposed, for example by having been mentioned earlier in the discourse. In accordance with this, definite NPs are characteristically found to the left of negation:

Example 1

a. Ik ha de film net sjoen
I have the movie not seen
I have not seen the movie
b. *Ik ha net de film sjoen
I have not the movie seen
I have not seen the movie

The last sentence above is grammatical under a contrastive reading, for example, if reading the book had been contrasted with seeing the movie. In that case, its presuppositional character is negated. Positioning to the left or right of negation seems to exhibit an interplay of syntactic, semantic and pragmatic factors.


Definite NPs which are predicative due to their idiomatic character can easily appear on either side of negation:

Example 2

a. Omdat ik de bus net nimme wol
because I the bus not take want
Because I do not want to take the bus
b. Omdat ik net de bus nimme wol
because I not the bus take want
Because I do not want to take the bus

By contrast, indefinite NPs are normally found to the right of negation:

Example 3

a. Ik woe net in taksy nimme
I wanted not a cab take
I did not want to take a cab
b. *Ik woe in taksy net nimme
I wanted a cab not take
I did not want to take a cab.'

To the extent that indefinite NPs can be presupposed, they may appear on the left side of negation. Suppose the discourse context involved the presupposition that a person named Durk would hit a girl. In such a context it is possible to use the following sentence, in which an indefinite NP is found to the left of negation:

Example 4

Durk slacht famkes net
Durk hits girls not
Durk does not hit girls

Presupposition of the affirmation results in a generic interpretation for the girls. This presupposition is subsequently cancelled by the utterance of the clause above. However, suppose the speaker intends to neutrally deny that Durk hits girls, which amounts to an interpretation without any special presuppositions. In that case, the sentence in (5) can be used:

Example 5

Durk slacht gjin famkes
Durk hits no girls
Durk does not hit girls

This sentence also shows a peculiarity of Dutch and Frisian. If clause negation were to occur before an NP without a determiner, then we do not see the clause negation, but instead the negative NP determiner gjin no appears. The net result is of course that negation precedes the NP.

All these facts are the same in Dutch and Frisian, as in several other Germanic languages. They serve as the background against which other facts can be discussed, which have a bearing on differences between Frisian and Dutch.