Positive Negativity: Discourse and Pragmatic Subtleties of Ukrainian

Alla Nedashkivska, University of Alberta

The concern of the present study is to underline the importance of pragmatic theory in the process of developing communicative rather than formal-linguistic competence of learners of Ukrainian as a foreign language. The premise is that a learner of a given language, in order to function successfully in that language, must attain more than mere linguistic competence (vocabulary and grammar), but necessarily pragmatic rules of a target language. For non-native speakers, it is often the pragmatic subtleties that prove to be more difficult than the use of complicated vocabulary and grammatical constructions.

In Ukrainian, one area of the language structure in which grammatical patterns are dedicated to specific pragmatic purposes is a set of negative constructions that do not bear the semantics of negativity. Compare (i) and (ii), identical in their English translation, however, in Ukrainian, differing in syntax and in the pragmatic force that they carry (the connotation of (i) is that “you need the money” and the connotation of (ii) is “I need the money”):

(i)U tebehrošije?(positive coding)
Do you have any money?
(ii)U tebehrošejnemaje? (negative coding)
youmoneydon’t have
Do you have any money?/*You don’t have any money?

Constructions similar to (i) and (ii) will form the core of the present analysis and will be referred to as “positives” and “unnegatives” respectively. It will be shown that the unnegatives are neither derivative from the sentence level description nor can be analyzed as a compositional product of its constituent parts (due to their failure to connote the negative meaning). Rather they represent an instance of complex structures with their own status as separately functioning grammatical constructions governed by pragmatic rules. Thus, the concern here will be to extend our understanding of negation beyond the articulation of major sentential constituents. The present analysis will study these constructions in terms of their structure, usage, meaning, circumstances of use and their dependency on the set of pragmatic rules used by the speaker and the hearer during the linguistic interchange. In particular, I argue that the choice of either positive or negative coding depends on the speaker’s conceptualization of discourse, referential set of Deixis and the subjectivity focus. The framework utilized is based on Yokoyama’s Transactional Discourse Model (1986), Zaitseva’s study on speaker perspective in the grammar and lexicon (1995) and the Theory of Utterance (1994) elaborated further.

In addition, questions into how these constructions are presented to learners of a target language, as well as how their presentation could be enhanced in order to expand the repertoire of pragmatic skills and to assist in acquiring communicative competence by non-native speakers will be addressed.

Selected References

Yokoyama, Olga T. (1986) Discourse and Word Order. (Pragmatics and Beyond Companion series 6). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Zaitseva, V. (1994) “The Metaphoric Nature of Coding: Toward a Theory of Utterance.” Journal of Pragmatics (22): 103–126.

—. (1995) The Speaker’s Perspective in Grammar and Lexicon: The Case of Russian. New York: P. Lang.