The Loss of Negative Concord in Standard English: A Case of Lexical Reanalysis

Cambridge Scholars Publishing
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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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About the author

Amel Kallel is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics, a member of the Linguistic Association of Great Britain and of the Philological Society. She graduated from the University of Reading, lectured at the Witan International College, Reading, in the UK, and later at Birmingham City University. She is currently working at the University of Kairouan, Tunisia. Her research areas include Historical Linguistics, Sociolinguistics and Language Variation and Change. She has published in Language Variation and Change amongst other linguistic journals.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Cambridge Scholars Publishing
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Published on
Jan 18, 2011
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Pages
195
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ISBN
9781443828154
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Language Arts & Disciplines / Linguistics / Historical & Comparative
Language Arts & Disciplines / Linguistics / Sociolinguistics
Language Arts & Disciplines / Linguistics / Syntax
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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