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date: 06 December 2023

Negation in Germaniclocked

Negation in Germaniclocked

  • Johan BrandtlerJohan BrandtlerStockholm University
  •  and Anne BreitbarthAnne BreitbarthUniversity of Ghent


This article focuses on the formal expression of sentential negation in the Germanic languages and its diachronic development.

Not surprisingly, the Germanic languages share a number of characteristics with regard to negation.

1. With the exception of English, the Germanic languages use symmetric strategies of negating a clause: negative clauses are distinguished from affirmative clauses only by the presence of a negative marker.

2. In the historical development of the Germanic languages, standard negation has undergone a general change from preverbal particle to post-verbal adverb.

3. The standard varieties of the modern Germanic languages lack negative concord (NC), that is, the possibility of having two negative elements jointly expressing sentential negation.

In this article, each of these three aspects is discussed in more detail. It is shown that the historical changes leading up to the present set of standard negators in the extant Germanic languages can be subsumed under the more general principle known as Jespersen’s Cycle: the original expression of negation is first joined and later replaced by a new expression. In the second part of the article, we discuss the diachronic development of different types of negative concord in the Germanic languages.


  • Historical Linguistics

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