Focus particles and negative polarity

2022. №2, 30-64

Petr O. Rossyaykin
Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia;


In this article I discuss constructions i odin NP and daže odin NP ‘even one NP’ in Russian, which are negative polarity items (NPIs), e.g. Petja *(ne) smog rešit’ i / daže ODNU zadaču ‘Petya didn’t manage to solve even one problem’. Only daže-NPIs are grammatical in non-negative environments of NPI licensing, e.g. Každyj, kto rešil ?daže / ??i ODNU zadaču, polučil začët ‘Everyone who solved even one problem got credit’. The same dependence is observed in several other languages: particles with additive and coordinative functions (like i ‘even, and’) form NPIs with narrower distribution than plain scalar particles (like daže ‘even’). The following question is thus the main topic of the paper: (A) why do i- and daže-NPIs have different distribution? Two auxiliary questions are: (B) what is the semantics of i and daže, and (C) why do they form NPIs when attached to the low endpoint of a scale? I argue that daže triggers only the scalar presupposition and i triggers only the additive presupposition (question B). I show that both scalar and additive presupposition cause ungrammaticality in positive environments (C). Finally, I compare two theories which (aim to) explain why the additive presupposition of i determines a narrower distribution of i-NPIs in comparison to daže-NPIs (A). A simple theory considers ungrammaticality of i-NPIs to be the result of interaction of the additive presupposition with presuppositions of licensing environments. Although it predicts some interpretational differences between i- and daže-NPIs, it fails to explain the confinement of i-NPIs to negative contexts. According to an alternative theory, i-NPIs are subject to standard movement constraints while daže-NPIs take exceptional (i.e. sentential) scope, which explains their different distribution without any additional assumptions. I also show how this theory can explain the weak vs. strong NPIs distinction in other cases.

For citation:

Rossyaykin P. O. Focus particles and negative polarity. Voprosy Jazykoznanija, 2022, 2: 30–64.


I would like to thank Sergei Tatevosov for discussions which helped to improve both the contents and the composition of this article. I also thank two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments and additional data they provided. This research has been supported by the Interdisciplinary Scientific and Educational School of Moscow University “Preservation of the World’s Cultural and Historical Heritage”.