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Coordinate negation in Middle English

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Anne Breitbarth.

Various aspects of the expression of negation are known to show discontinuity between medieval and modern English. Ingham (2007) considered that the presence and subsequent loss of a nonovert negative operator in SpecNegP (Zeijlstra 2004) succeeds in uniting negation phenomena of early English contrasted with later developments, including the loss of negative concord from the textual record of (educated) written English in the Early Modern period (Nevalainen & Raumollin-Brumberg 1998, Kallel 2004). According to the Zeijlstra (2004) analysis, Negative Concord grammars require the presence of a Neg operator. However, the timing of the changes in question could be thought problematic for this account, since negative concord persists well after the 14th century, when according to Ingham (2007) the null negative operator was lost. Here we extend our investigation to the syntax of coordinate negative clauses in Middle English, showing that a change in the licensing of the negative coordinator ne/nor occurred in the C14 which should be attributed to the loss of the null negative operator at that time. In EME , the coordinator ne introduced a negative clause regardless of the polarity of the preceding clause, e.g.:

(1)a. Ne scule ghe neure god don unforgolden. Ne ec ne scule ghe nefre ufel don… ‘You will never do good unrewarded. Nor either will you ever do evil… ‘Lamb. Hom. 41, 1

(1)b. Ant he haueð iþolet us þe þolemode lauerd ne we nusten hwet we duden. St. Kath. 42, 8 ‘And he has suffered us, the patient Lord, and we do not know what we did.’

And could also introduce a negated conjunct clause following an affirmative conjunct clause, e.g.:

(2) Heore godmoderes scullen onswerie for hem… and heo sculen beon bi-lefulle .Men. and heore bileue cunnen… and þis ne mei þe godfadres ne þe godmodres don. Lamb. Hom. p. 74-5 ‘Their godmothers should answer for them… and they should be devout men and know their faith…. And this the godfathers and godmothers may not do.’

By the C14 , ne or nor was tending to be used only the first conjunct clause was negative, e.g:

(3) For þoo þat beþ in cloystre schulde not bysi hem to vnderfonge gystes, ne þey schulde not be distract to ministre to þe pouere men. ‘For those that are in cloisters should not busy themselves with receiving guests, nor should they be distracted by looking after the poor.’ De Inst. Inclus. 3, ch. 13

This pattern becomes absolute in the C15 data, even in sources such as Paston where NC between indefinites, with or without the clause negator not, remained in force. Thus the form of the coordinator introducing a negative clause increasingly depended by the late C14 on c-command. We take this to mean that a negative coordinator was no longer licensed by an element of the clause it introduced, following the disappearance from the syntactic structure of a null Neg operator. Up to the C14 it was syntactically licensed by an Agree relationship with a negative element in the negated conjunct clause, acting as the Goal of an Agree relationship, as in Zeijlstra’s analysis of clausal negation; the local domain of negative concord extended to the ConjP (Johannesen 1998), as in (4a). Thereafter, as with indefinites having an uninterpretable Neg feature, it was licensed by an inverse Agree relationship (Roberts 2007) with a ccommanding negative element as the Goal, as in (4b):

(4)a. [CP ….. [ConjP ne [CP …. NEG ….. ]]] (4)b. [CP …. NEG ….. [ ConjP ne/nor [CP ….. ]]]

Thus a key change in coordinate negation is shown to have taken place when the null Neg operator was lost, in line with theoretical expectations. The deferred impact of the change on nitem co-occurrence, however, is attributable to the mediating effect of the lexicon, where alternative entries for n-items (Ingham 2005) permitted co-occurrence of n-items with interpretable and uninterpretable features despite the loss of the null Neg operator.

This talk is part of the Conference "Continuity and Change in Grammar" series.

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