Positive vs. negative inversion exclamatives


  • Ai Taniguchi


Not all exclamatives intensify in the same way. In this paper, I examine the semantics of positive inversion exclamatives (e.g., boy, is he an idiot!) and negative inversion exclamatives (e.g., isn’t he an idiot!) in English, and propose that the source of the strengthened meaning is distinct in each construction. The difference, moreover, is derivable from each sibling’s question counterpart. I therefore adopt the exclamatives-as-questions approach in my analysis, although I abandon domain widening as the mechanism responsible for their out-of-the-norm meaning. I analyze inversion exclamatives as self-answered polar questions. In the positive variant, the sentence-initial particle boy provides the pure “extreme degree” reading canonically associated with exclamatives. Negative inversion exclamatives owe their intensity to the polarity emphasizer VERUM, which is inherited from negative polar questions. At a broader level, the similarities and differences between positive inversion exclamatives, negative inversion exclamatives, and their question counterparts highlight a basic question of form and meaning with respect to sentencial classes — what are exclamatives, are they questions, and what do they do? The convergence sheds light on what “exclamatives” as a natural class are, and the divergence tells a story of the diverse ways in which language can encode intensity.


How to Cite

Taniguchi, A. (2019). Positive vs. negative inversion exclamatives. Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung, 21(2), 1225–1240. Retrieved from https://ojs.ub.uni-konstanz.de/sub/index.php/sub/article/view/195