Continuity or change? The post-cyclic development of preverbal negation in continental West Germanic

Continuiteit of verandering? De post-cyclische ontwikkeling van de preverbale ontkenning in het continentaal Westgermaans
Start - End 
2015 - 2019 (ongoing)
Type 
Department(s) 
Department of Linguistics
Research Focus 

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Abstract

All West Germanic languages have undergone Jespersen’s cycle, the directional development of the expression of negation by which an original preverbal negation particle (e.g. Old English ne) – stage I – is first joined by an adverbial element (e.g. Old/Middle English ne…na/ne … no(wi)ht) – stage II – and ultimately replaced by it (e.g. English not) – stage III (cf. Jespersen 1917, Burridge 1993, Wallage 2005, Jäger 2008 and the contributions in Willis et al. 2013). The point of transition to stage III varies from language to language (already around 1300 in Middle High German, after 1600 in northern, and only from 1800 on in southern Dutch). 

But while most contributions to date focus on the circumstances of the rise of the postverbal particle, very little has yet been said about the fate of the original preverbal element after the (near) completion of Jespersen’s Cycle other than that it is replaced by a new marker in the expression of sentential negation. The general impression is that it quietly disappears from the language in question. However, as recent studies like Breitbarth (2014) and Breitbarth and Haegeman (2014) have shown, residual ne/en entered a (temporary but) sometimes rather extended career after the completion of Jespersen’s Cycle in different West Germanic languages, developing as yet poorly understood new functions. It is the aim of the current project to identify and analyse constructions in Middle High German, Middle Low German, and Middle Dutch with what appears to be residual stage I at a point when the language in question has already reached stage II or even III of Jespersen’s Cycle.

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