Pragmatic differentiation of negative markers in the early stages of Jespersen’s cycle in North Germanic

26 Apr 2018

This article investigates the pragmatic function of new negative markers during incipient renewal of negation (Jespersen’s cycle). It outlines a typology of such markers, suggesting a pathway by which they begin as specialized for use with discourse-old propositions and later expand to inferred propositions before finally becoming possible with discourse-new propositions. This framework is applied to an overlooked case of Jespersen’s cycle in North Germanic: replacement of early Norwegian ei(gi) ‘not’ by ekki (originally “nothing”) from 1250 to 1550. We document a sharp rise in frequency of ekki around 1425, suggesting that, until then, ekki had been restricted to negating discourse-old propositions. Once this constraint was lifted, ei(gi) and ekki competed directly, resulting in rapid replacement of ei(gi) by ekki. This typologically unusual direct replacement of a negator with no intervening doubling stage can be attributed to the new negator’s origin as a negative indefinite and the lack of negative concord in early Norwegian.