Sailer on “Doing the Devil”

Manfred Sailer’s paper on Doing the devil. Deriving the PPI-hood of a negation-expressing multi-dimensional idiom has  appeared in the recent number of Linguistics. The paper is an elaboration of a presentation at the workshop on Positive Polarity Items organized by Mingya Liu and Gianina Iordăchioaia at DGfS 2015 and has now been integrated into a special issue on Positive Polarity Items, edited by Mingya and Gianina.

In his paper, Manfred discusses the German idiomatic expression einen/den Teufel tun ‘do a/the devil’, which is used for emphatic rejection. He argues that this expression is a PPI, as it cannot occur in the scope of negation.

Manfred provides evidence that the asserted content of the expression is negation. With German being a non-negative concord language, the co-occurrence of several expressions of negation is usually avoided. This typological fact leads to two different judgement patterns for sentences with einen/den Teufel tun and a negation marker. The expression also contributes a conventional implicature that expresses an attitude of the subject. This conventional implicature shows an interaction with negation similar to that of evaluative adverbs. Manfred shows that the PPI-hood of
the considered expression is fully reducible to its properties as an idiomatic negation marker in a non-negative concord language and its multi-dimensional semantics.


Sailer Manfred. 2018. ‘Doing the devil’: Deriving the PPI-hood of a negation-expressing multi-dimensional idiom. Linguistics 52(2), 401-433.