A minimalist approach to Jespersen’s Cycle in Welsh

David Willis

in Grammatical Change

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199582624
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731068 | DOI:
A minimalist approach to Jespersen’s Cycle in Welsh

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This chapter gives a minimalist analysis of the development of clausal negation in Welsh. It attests the familiar Jespersen's Cycle with negation: The Modern Welsh negative marker ddim descends from the Middle Welsh noun dim ‘thing’, which co-occurred as a minimizer with the original negative particle ny(t) before eventually replacing it. The chapter takes on the important question of the apparent gradualness of these developments, always a challenge to acquisition-based accounts of grammatical change. It argues that the ‘cycle’ in fact decomposes into a series of stages, with the crucial stages being those where some children reanalyze dim as an adverb, then as a polarity adverb, and finally as the bearer of the uninterpretable [Neg] feature in the clause. The switch in the locus of this feature brings a distinctively minimalist flavour to the analysis of an important diachronic pattern.

Keywords: clausal negation; Jespersen's Cycle; negative marker; grammatical change

Chapter.  9799 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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