Regional variation in late Middle English negative concord
Structural constraint on multiple negation in Late Middle/Early Modern English
NegP and negated constituent movement in the history of English
Two types of negative concord in early English
A well-studied process of language change, called the negation cycle,
was originally noted by the Danish linguist Otto Jespersen. He pointed out how, over an extended timescale, short words that
negate a sentence tend to become eroded and replaced by new, more substantial, elements, which in their turn are subject to
erosion, hence taking the cycle round again. I have carried out work showing how the negation cycle affects the grammar of
indefinite and negated words referring to quantities (e.g. anything/nothing). A language with a short negative particle often
shows multiple negation, e.g. Chaucer's English:
Ne this ne may nat be wi seid in no manere Chaucer, Boece prose
'And this cannot be denied in any way'
Multiple negation was not stigmatised in pre-modern English, unlike in contemporary English. However, when the short
preverbal negator - e.g. ne in Chaucer, often accompanied by nat ('not'), as above - is eliminated from the language,
the grammar tends towards making indefinite words required, rather than their negated counterparts, e.g.: Queen Elizabeth
I's translation of the same passage from the Latin author Boethius:
Neither can any thing gayne say it Queen Elizabeth's
Boethius, prose 3,10
The existence of multiple negation in earlier stages of English can be regarded as linked to a certain kind
of abstract clause structure featuring a slot for a Negation Phrase constituent (NegP). The presence of this constituent in
the structure affected how negative constituents could be positioned in middle English, and explains broader scale shifts
in the syntax of negated clauses in English and other languages.
My research into negation in Old English shows that there was dialect variation in how negation was expressed,
which was carried forward into Middle English.