Celtic negation in historical and crosslinguistic perspective

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Linguistics


The project will investigate changes in the way that negation, both sentential negation ('not') and other negative and indefinite elements ('nothing / anything', 'nowhere / anywhere'), is expressed in the Celtic languages, examining the changes in the context of recurrent patterns of language change generally. Welsh and Breton have created new postverbal negative markers that have challenged existing preverbal markers, a change attested in a number of other western European languages ('Jespersen's Cycle). Welsh has also been innovative in shifting indefinite pronouns ('anything') into the function of negative quantifiers ('nothing'). Other Celtic languages (Irish, Scots Gaelic, Cornish) though have been conservative, innovating relatively little in their negation systems. The project will document and analyse the changes, and investigate the extent to which they can be accounted for in terms of language contact (influence of English and French) or language-internally in terms of language acquisition by children. The results will enrich our understanding of recurrent pathways of change, of child-based models of language change, and of the mechanisms of change induced by language contact.


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