Negation in the History of English

Negation in the History of English

Negation in the History of English

Negation in the History of English


In spite of the attention that has been devoted to negation in the synchronic and diachronic study of English, there are still vast lacunae in our knowledge of the forms, meanings and functions of this phenomenon. This volume contains twelve papers on negation in the history of English which attempt to fill some of these gaps. Most of the papers were presented at the conference on Negation in the History of English held at the University of Leiden on December 15–16, 1994. All are empirically based, representing different theoretical and methodological approaches to corpus evidence of various kinds. Four of the papers are written within a generative framework, and also offer theory-internal argumentation based on historical negative material. Most of the other papers take a quantitative perspective and seek functional explanations of the problems under study.

One of the phenomena that have been extensively studied is multiple negation or negative concord, i.e. the copying of the negative element on to more than one clause element without the cancelling of negative meaning, as in Chaucer's characterisation of the Knight:

(1) He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde.
In al his lyf unto no maner wight

(Chaucer General Prologue 70–71)

Five studies included in this volume deal with different aspects of multiple negation, i.e. those by Haeberli and Haegeman, Iyeiri, van Kemenade, Tieken-Boon van Ostade, and Ukaji.

Although multiple negation was frequent in Old English, Middle English is the locus of both its peak and its decline — as is well known, negative concord disappeared in standard English (see Tieken-Boon van Ostade 1995 for a description of the early stages of this process) but it remains in non-standard dialects. Yoko lyeiri studies its rise and fall in a large corpus of Middle English poetry. She distinguishes three (sometimes intersecting) main types of multiple negation, (i) with ne… noght, (ii) with the negative conjunctions nelnor, and (iii) the type where . . .

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