The negative ostensive is a new linguistic form, not merely a variant of the ostensive. The original imperative-ostensive dialogue took place around the successful presentation of the imperative object. The two utterances of its “name” mark the beginning and the end of the first speaker’s awaiting of this object. If we imagine a conversation consisting of a series of such exchanges, this name is all that can be said “about” each object, that is, just enough to identify it as the topic of both linguistic and real interest.
In contrast, if the negative ostensive is acceptable to the first speaker as terminating, at least for the moment, the awaiting created by his request, the role of the object as topic would remain limited by the imperative and ostensive just as before. But whereas the imperative intends the presentification of its object, the negative ostensive, on the contrary, represents its non-presence. Thus it is the first linguistic form that truly says something about its object.
As a “name” for its absence, it would be not unlike other names, but precisely, it is not the absence that is the topic of interest but the object itself. Whereas in the negative imperative, the operator of negation was a coordinate element of the requested performance, the not-hammer or not-run being both a kind of hammer or run and a specified inaction, hence a kind of “not-,” in the negative ostensive the preexistence of the hammer as topic makes its absence for the first time a true predicate.
The negative ostensive is the germ of the declarative sentence. The widespread existence, alongside the subject-predicate form, of the topic-comment sentence, notably in Chinese and Japanese, lends support to our derivation, which suggests that in the declarative form a topic is first established and then commented on. We have no need to distinguish here between the two types. The topic exists a priori as supplied by the desire of the first speaker, and the “comment” is at the same time a predicate.
No doubt the negative ostensive allows only for negative predication. But once a wholly verbal reply to the imperative is accepted as adequate in certain situations, the dialogue will naturally attract other predicates, since once language has become acceptable in lieu of performance, more informative language can only be an improvement over bare negation. The criterion, here as before, is the level of significance of the imperative situation. Where this level remains high, the imperative retains its exigency. But if a verbal reply comes to be expected, the imperative is transformed into an interrogative, and presumably pronounced in the hesitant tone, raised at the end as a rifle barrel is raised to demonstrate the absence of violent intention, that remains in most languages its distinguishing characteristic.
Thus in our linguistic genealogy, Scalpel? is a softened form of Scalpel! The request for information is a direct descendant of the request for the object. It suffices that as a consequence of the modified imperative-ostensive dialogue, the category of predication exist as an intentional structure. Nor would imperative language presumably lack potential predicates, either predicate nominatives/adjectives or verbals. The imperative speaker could no doubt request a big hammer or a small one, a green branch or a yellow one. Now, given the lowering of the threshold of significance implied by the new form, what could formerly only be named by an ostensive/imperative (Big hammer!) can now become an information-bearing utterance ([The] hammer [is] big). We need not deny the validity of the transformational analysis that considers adjective-noun constructions like the first to be derived from sentences like the second. But this analysis applies only in mature, declarative language, within which the proto-grammatical relationships of ostensive and imperative language are formalized in hierarchies of dependent and independent terms. Within elementary language, Big hammer! was not a true grammatical construction because there was no way of discriminating between the hammer being big and the big (thing) being a hammer. It is only in the declarative that, the sentence topic having an a priori existence, its qualities can be predicated of it as accidents of a substance.
As an example of the evolution that might have led to the multiplication of predicative terms, consider the case of locatives. Clearly locative expressions, which can be formulated gesturally by pointing, must have been among the earliest linguistic terms. Thus a speaker of ostensive language, seeing or hearing the arrival of, say, a herd of buffalo, might not only produce the sign “Buffalo!” but indicate by a gestural signal and/or verbal sign the location of the herd. In ostensive language this usage, even if “symbolic,” is not predicative; it expresses rather a modification of the presence within which the utterance is made, as is still the case when we use an ostensive in this manner today. (“Over there! Buffalo!”)
Now let us suppose that, in answer to an imperative request for a hammer, the addressee, rather than simply denying the presence of the hammer, replies that it is “over there.” In ostensive language, use of the sign for “over there” included that location within the scene of representation, that is, within the domain with which the speaker and his audience could consider themselves immediately concerned. But used as a reply to an imperative, the sign locates this same space outside the immediate presence defined by the speaker’s request. It thus becomes a modification not of presence but of absence, an elaboration of the negative ostensive: the hammer is not-present, and furthermore it is over there. Given an appropriately non-crucial situation, this reply will be not only understood by the first speaker but accepted as supplying information adequate to his request; he wants the hammer, and he learns where to find it. Were such a reply anticipated, the “imperative” would thus be already little more than an interrogative, less “Give me a hammer!” than “Is there a hammer around here?” and eventually “Where is the hammer?” This example can serve to suggest the variety of conceivable nuances between the simple imperative on the one hand and the simple interrogative on the other. The degree of urgency of the situation and the spatial extent of “presence” for the speaker define a continuum between the surgeon’s urgent demand for a scalpel and a casual request made to an indifferent stranger.
With the derivation of the declarative sentence we reach the final stage of the dialectic of linguistic form per se. The further evolution of linguistic representation will take place on a higher level, that of discourse, within which the declarative sentence is of course predominant.
To be continued…