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「それじゃあ放課後、茶道室に来て下さい。
そこでこれからのことを話し合いましょう」

先輩は校舎のほうへ走っていく。
それに遅れまいと、こっちも校舎へと走り出した。

Why is the negative volitional used in the last sentence?

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  • Already solved. – Splikie Oct 13 '15 at 17:02
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Construction and meaning

You might have already encountered the positive volitional + と: this indicates something that the subject is trying to do, such as 店{みせ}に行{い}こうとする: to try to go to the store. The final verb is what is happening, and the volitional verb before it is a kind of dependent hoped-for result: "suru so as to iku to the store".

The positive form of your example above would be: 遅{おく}れようと…走り出した: "[I] ran off to try to be later [than my sempai]" → "[I] ran off so I would be later [than my sempai]".

From this construction, we simply change it to the negative form: 遅れまいと…走り出した: "[I] ran off to try to not be later [than my sempai]" → "[I] ran off so I wouldn't [get there] later [than my sempai]".

This construction using the negative volitional + と appears to be less common and it might be somewhat old-fashioned. In everyday usage, I'm more accustomed to seeing negative + ように, such as 遅れないように…走り出した. A few Google searches broadly corroborate this general impression, but a native speaker could give more definitive feedback.

Derivation

The -まい negative volitional ending most likely comes from the classical volitional / presumptive ending -む. Modern -まい grew out of classical -まじ that conjugated almost like a classical -shi/-ki adjective (modern -i adjective). This -まじ appears to be a compound of ま (the 未然形{みぜんけい} "irrealis or incomplete form" of む) + じ, an alternative negative volitional / presumptive ending (appearing in the Man'yōshū and The Tale of Genji, among other older works). However, the conjugation similar to a -shi/-ki adjective suggests some influence from adjectivizing suffix じ, which Shogakukan describes as attaching to nouns and indicating "that kind of quality".

More history - the modern volitional

Note that the classical volitional / presumptive ending -む evolved into the modern volitional. For regular 五段{ごだん}活用{かつよう} ("five-step conjugation", i.e. type 1) verbs where the ending changes, the -む suffix attaches to the 未然形{みぜんけい} ("irrealis or incomplete form"), the stem form ending in -a, resulting in -amu. Over time, the -mu suffix lost the "m" sound to become just -u, with the combination becoming -au. This diphthong then shifted into a long "o" sound, resulting in the modern volitional ending.

For the simpler 一段{いちだん}活用{かつよう} ("one-step conjugation", i.e. type 2) verbs, the derivation is a little more complicated. Here too, the -む suffix attaches to the 未然形{みぜんけい} ("irrealis or incomplete form"), but the mizenkei for these verbs ends in either -i or -e -- the same stem ending for all forms. As the -mu suffix lost its "m", the resulting -imu or -emu endings become -iu or -eu. These diphthongs similarly shifted, producing a contracted -yō, such as in classical 上{あ}ぎょう or 見{み}ょう. That contracted -yō was then reanalyzed as a non-contracted suffix on its own, and was then added back onto the mizenkei stem of -i or -e, producing the modern -iyō and -eyō endings.

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