Diachronic changes in negative expressions: The case of French

Marie Labelle, M. Teresa Espinal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Diachronic changes in the distribution of French negative expressions are studied, concentrating on the period covering Old and Middle French (9th c. to 16th c.). An account is provided for the evolution in the distribution of the Old French n-initial negative expressions ( negun, nuns, nesun, nient, nului), as well as for the emergence of Modern French negative expressions ( personne, rien, aucun). It is shown that there is no priviledged direction of change: in the evolution from Latin to Modern French, some expressions became less negative over time, while others became more negative over time. It is argued that these diachronic changes result from the emergence of variants of lexical items with different feature specifications, followed by grammar competition between these new variants and existing variants, or other lexical items. It is argued that two features are involved in the changes: (1) a semantic feature responsible for the interpretation of an expression as a polarity item, and (2) a morphosyntactic feature responsible for the n-word behavior of an expression. © 2014 Elsevier B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)194-225
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Diachronic change
  • French
  • N-word
  • Negation
  • Negative quantifier
  • Polarity item


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