The Loss of Negative Concord in Standard English: A Case of Lexical Reanalysis
The loss of Negative Concord (NC) has long been attributed to external factors. This study readdresses this issue and provides evidence of the failure of certain external factors to account for the observed decline and ultimate disappearance of NC in Standard English. A detailed study of negation in Late Middle and Early Modern English reveals that the process of the decline of NC was a case of a natural change, preceded by a period of variation manifested in the obtained S-curves for all the contexts studied. Variation existed not only on the level of the speech community as a whole but also within individual speakers (contra Lightfoot, 1991). A close study of n-indefinites in negative contexts and their ultimate replacement with Negative Polarity Items (NPIs) in a number of grammatical environments shows that the decline of NC follows the same pattern across contexts in a form of parallel curvature, which indicates that the loss of NC is a natural process. However, this study reveals that the decline is not constant across time and thus the Constant Rate Hypothesis (Kroch, 1989) does not, in that respect, fully account for this change. Context behaviour suggests an alternative principle of linguistic change, the Context Constancy Principle. A Context Constancy Effect is obtained across all contexts indicating that the loss of NC is triggered by a change in a single underlying parameter setting. Accordingly, a theory-internal explanation is suggested. N-words underwent a lexical reanalysis whereby they acquired a new grammatical feature [+Neg] and were thus reinterpreted as negative quantifiers, rather than NPIs. This lexical reanalysis was triggered by the ambiguous status of n-words between [±Neg] and thus between single and double negative meanings. This change is treated as a case of parameter resetting as this lexical reanalysis affected a whole set of lexical items and can thus economically account for the different observed surface changes.
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Adjuncts in coordinate Adjuncts in non-coordinate analysis argues c-commanded Chancery English Chapter clause Constant Rate Effect Constant Rate Hypothesis coordinate constructions coordinate contexts data for Adjuncts data for Objects decline of n-words decline of NC Early Middle English Early Modern English English language fitted logistic regression frequency of n-words gradual grammar change grammatical constructions grammatical functions Haegeman I-language Iyeiri Kroch language change Late Middle English lexical reanalysis linguistic change logistic regression line loss of NC micro contexts Middle and Early Modern English period Modern Standard English multiple negation n-items n-words and any-words NC-type negative concord negative contexts negative element negative meaning negative polarity items NegP non-coordinate and coordinate non-coordinate contexts NPIs Objects and Adjuncts Objects in coordinate observed change Paston Letters plot of data Plumpton Principles and Parameters regression line superimposed Richard Scudamore S-shaped curve sentential negator sixteenth century speech community stage syntactic change variation verb