Grammatical Polarity in Maithili

Authors: Prashant Priyadarshi (Department of Humanistic Studies, IIT BHU, India)
Samapika Roy (Department of Humanistic Studies, IIT BHU, India)
Sukhada (Department of Humanistic Studies, IIT BHU, India)
Speaker: Prashant Priyadarshi
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


This paper focuses on grammatical polarity in Maithili language. Polarity is a grammatical category which is associated with positive and negative semanticity in a language. Grammatical polarity is depicted in a language via lexical items which appear in their own licensing context (LC), called polarity items(PI). PI in languages have their own environment and behavior. A PI that sets a negative environment is called negative polarity item (NPI) and which sets a positive environment is a positive polarity item (PPI) (Fauconnier, 1975). This interesting feature has been observed by many Linguists like Klima (1964), Ladusaw (1980) et al in English.

For example:
1a. Raman didn’t buy any paper,
1b. *Raman did buy any paper.

In example 1a. the determiner ‘any’ needs a LC which is provided by the negation of auxiliary verbs (‘do’ in our example). Since, ‘any’ needs a negative environment to exist in a sentence construction, it is an NPI.

From the studies of Bhadra (2016), and Lahiri et al (2008), it has been found that Bangla and Hindi both being Indo Aryan languages (IAL) have this phenomenon. In this study, we have tried to find out whether PIs are found in Maithili as well which is also an IAL. This study tries to contribute to a better understanding of Maithili language. After a qualitative data collection and observation of the data, we infer that PIs indeed exist in Maithili. Let us consider the following instance for clarification.

For example,
2a. ham okaraa kakhanahun nahi dekhaliyaik
I him ever not see+pst
I never saw him.
2b. *ham okaraa kakhanahun dekhaliyaik
I him ever see+pst
*I ever saw him.

This is a result of downward entailment (DE) as described by Fauconnier (1975, 1978) and Ladusaw (1979,1980), where the contexts that support the PIs are inferred from sets to subsets. As polarity items are licensed to specific environments in the example 2a., ‘kakhanahun’ is licensed to negative DE i.e. negation marker ‘nahi’ creates an environment for the NPI ‘kakhanahun’ and, the absence of the negation marker makes the appearance of ‘kakhanahun’ in 2b. syntactically incorrect.


Bhadra,D.Et al. 2016. Bangla Negative Polarity Items: A Detailed Study. Indian Linguistics

Fauconnier, G. 1975. Polarity and the Scale Principle. Proceedings of the Chicago Linguistic Society 11. P-188-199
Ladusaw, W. 1980. Affective Or, Factive Verbs, and Negative Polarity Items. Papers from the Sixteenth Regional Meeting, Chicago Linguistic Society, Chicago, pp. 170–184.
Lahiri, Utpal. 2008. Focus and Negative Polarity in Hindi.

Keywords: Polarity Items, NPI, PPI, Licensing Context, Maithili, Indo-Aryan Languages