Research Seminars

Research seminars

Non-canonical questions and “negation” in Glasgow Scots

E Jamieson (University of Edinburgh)

24th January 2018

‘Non-canonical questions’ define a broad set of interrogative constructions in which the speaker already has a belief about what the answer to the question should be. These include biased questions (1), tag questions (2), rhetorical questions (3) and interrogative exclamatives (4), all of which are produced in standard English with the negation marker –n’t (Domaneschi et al. 2017, Ladd 1981, Zanuttini & Portner 2003)

1.     Can’t he come too?

2.     He can come, can’t he?

3.     Didn’t I tell you it would be easy?

4.     Isn’t she brilliant!

In Scots varieties, -n’t is not used; instead these questions generally have low negation, no (equivalent to standard English not).

5.     Can he no come too? / He can come, can he no?

However, some Scots varieties have “negation” markers that can only be used in these non-canonical questions. In this talk I will present results of acceptability judgment tasks showing the distribution of Glasgow Scots –int.

6.     *He kint come.

7.     *Kint he come too?

8.     He can come, kint he?

9.     He cannae come, kint he no?

10.  Dint I tell you it would be easy?

11.  Wint she brilliant!

I will show that there are specific pragmatic contexts that license the use of this particle, and argue that despite looking on the surface like negation and appearing in the same contexts as negation does in standard English, –int is in fact not negation. Rather, it is a check marker that checks that the addressee also believes the proposition p that the speaker believes. Rather than being syntactically in NegP, I argue that it is situated in ResponseP, in the conversation domain of the left periphery (Wiltschko & Heim 2016). This analysis accounts for its limited distribution, lack of negation-like behaviour (such as not anti-licensing positive polarity items like too) and crucially, its ability to appear with lower negation marker no in contexts like (9).

I will round off with a brief discussion of other varieties of English which appear to have similar particles – other Scots varieties, Newcastle English and Tyrone English


Domaneschi, F., Romero, M. & Braun, B. (2017) ‘Bias in polar questions: Evidence from English and German production experiments’ Glossa 

Ladd, R. (1981) ‘A first look at the semantics and pragmatics of negative questions and tag questions’ CLS 18

Wiltschko, M. & Heim, J. (2016) ‘The syntax of confirmationals: A neo-performative analysis’ in Outside the Clause: Form and function of extra-clausal constituents

Zanuttini, R. & Portner, P. (2003) ‘Exclamative clauses: At the syntax-semantics interface’ Language 79(1)