Cross-linguistic studies at the syntax-phonology interface

Start - End 
2018 - 2018 (ongoing)
Department of Linguistics
Research Focus 



Cross-linguistic comparison of language's diachronies has shown that new negators arise from an originally optional pragmatic reinforcer –  i.e. an expression equivalent to ‘(not) a drop/a thing' in English. This sort or reinforcers may become negative polarity adverbs (like the English expression 'at all') and, eventually, become the new standard expression of sentential negation (like 'not' in English). This grammaticalization process of new expressions of negation requires the reinforcer to lose its semantico-pragmatic original value.

Negative polarity adverbs share with the pragmatic reinforcers they derive from the property of being emphatic. That is, at the first stages of the grammaticalization process, the new element will be interpreted as expressing a narrow focus highlighting a specific part of the sentence. This can also explain why in the process of establishing new negators, newer negative expressions are also used to express narrow focus negation. Differently from emerging negators, standard negative expressions are not emphatic. Therefore, in order to become new standard negations, emerging negators need to lose this emphatic value, interpreted as narrow focus. Once a broad focus interpretation is possible for the emerging new negator, the reanalysis is complete in semantic terms. 

Broad and narrow focus have clear prosodic correlates in many languages, e.g. pitch accent. The goal of the current project is to explore the prosodic properties of potential emerging standard negators to assess their stage of grammaticalization.




Tamara Rathcke

University of Kent; School of European Culture and Languages; English Language & Linguistics