Today Maria gave us a super clear scope judgement about the Hiaki word ‘nothing’. We were trying to get ditransitives in the -able construction, which is a strange periphrastic thing in Hiaki, made up of a potential adverbial aa and the ‘become/be’ suffix -tu, kind of like ‘can be Ved’ except that -tu is not the real passive. Anyway, the target sentence was, “They can’t be taught anything today”, “They are not teachable anything today.” (-able doesn’t let you embed complement DPs, but aa V-tu does). The answer was,

  1. Ian vempo kaita aa mahta-tu
    now they nothing can teach-BE
    “They can be taught nothing today.”

Normally, aa can precede DP objects in the aa V-tu (though it doesn’t have to), as in

2.   Ume kohtumbre aa savanam mik-tu
The customs.authority can sheets offer-BE
“The lenten.authorities can be offered sheets.”

BUT — the object emphatically CANNOT follow aa when it is kaita; Maria was super-clear that (3), as a variant of (1) is out:

3.    *Ian vempo aa kaita mahta-tu
Now they can nothing taught-BE

The sense was that this kind of gives that weird ‘de re’ type of reading to kaita, such that there is a nothing that they cannot be taught. Super clear, spontaneous judgement about scope of negative and modal element! Gives me hope that we’re going to get somewhere someday with understanding negative polarity and other negative-y words in the language. And maybe with specific and nonspecific indefinites too. So so cool!

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