Identifying the Role of Pragmatic Activation in Changes to the Expression of English Negation

  • Phillip WallageEmail author
Part of the Language, Cognition, and Mind book series (LCAM, volume 1)


This paper builds on Wallage (2013) to demonstrate that pragmatic activation plays a role in two processes of grammaticalisation in early English—not only in the grammaticalisation of the negative marker not during Middle English (c. 1100–1500AD), but also in the grammaticalisation of do as a tense marker in Early Modern English negative clauses (c. 1500–1700AD). While competing variants are semantically equivalent, different variants are used to mark different pragmatic functions. Innovative forms tend to appear in pragmatically activated (discourse-given) propositions and older forms in inactivated (discourse-new) propositions. Logistic regression analyses of diachronic data provide a way to identify pragmatic changes in progress, and hence to ascertain what role the loss of functional constraints on a form plays in its grammaticalisation. van der Auwera (2009), Hansen (2009) and Hansen and Visconti (2009) argue that pragmatic change precedes the grammaticalisation of the French negative marker pas. They argue this accounts for its increased use over time. However, the overall frequencies of not and do increase despite pragmatic constraints on their use remaining consistent over time. Instead, pragmatic constraints on not and do are lost at the point when the forms are grammaticalised—that is, when the competitors to not and do are lost.


Jespersen cycle Grammaticalisation Middle English negation Early modern English negation Pragmatic activation Do-support Grammar competition Functional change 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HumanitiesNorthumbria UniversityNewcastle upon TyneUK

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