Dialects, variation and corpus data

Position of the negation word in Võru and Seto

Keywords: dialects, language variation, multivariate analysis, corpus linguistics, ­negation, Võru, Seto

The article exemplifies contemporary language variation studies by examining the variation in the position of the negation word in the Võru and Seto varieties of South Estonian. Using frequency analysis of dialect corpus data, it is shown that despite being close both geographically and linguistically, Seto and Võru exhibit opposite tendencies with regard to their preferences towards pre- and postverbal negation. Võru speakers predominantly use preverbal negation patterns, showing more variation only in two southwestern parishes – Rõuge and Vastseliina. Seto, in turn, prefers the typologically rare postverbal negation construction, but occasionally also makes use of preverbal negation.

Mixed-effects logistic regression analysis was conducted to compare newer East Seto data with older data from Rõuge and Vastseliina with regard to the importance, strength and direction of the factors conditioning the variation in Seto and Võru. The results suggested that the variation in both language varieties is primarily affected by factors related to memory, processing, and communication. In particular, it was the word order of the previously activated negation construction that turned out to have the strongest effect: the use of both pre- and postverbal negation significantly raised the probability of the construction being repeated with the same respective word order. In East Seto, the lexical negation word (expressing grammatical tense) also had a significant role: the use of a preverbal negation construction became more likely with the present tense negation word ei. This had probably to do with copying the word order of frequent fixed expressions (ma ei tiijäq ‘I don’t know’) from Estonian and Russian as contact languages. The individual effects of speakers and verb lemmas were also accounted for in the analyses as important sources of random variation.


Maarja-Liisa Pilvik (b. 1989), MA, University of Tartu, PhD Student, Junior Research ­Fellow (Jakobi 2-430, 51005 Tartu),

Helen Plado (b. 1981), PhD, University of Tartu, Research Fellow; Võro Institute, Researcher (Jakobi 2-426, 51005 Tartu),

Liina Lindström (b. 1973), PhD, University of Tartu, Professor of Modern Estonian, Head of the Centre for Digital Humanities and Information Society (Jakobi 2-443, 51005 Tartu),