Prosodic cues to syntactic reanalysis: experimentally tracking Jespersen's cycle in progress

01 January 2019 → Ongoing
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Italian language
    • Corpus linguistics
    • Diachronic linguistics
    • Dialectology
    • Historical linguistics
    • Phonetics and phonology
    • Syntax
Jespersen's cyclus negation focus prosody syntax-prosody-interface microdiachrony language change
Project description

This project will explore how prosody interacts with syntactic structure at different stages of an
ongoing syntactic change. Innovatively, it will do so using experimental methods, studying the
interaction of syntax and prosody.
One cross-linguistically common syntactic change is the renewal of the expression of sentential
negation (Jespersen's Cycle; JC), whereby an original negator (e.g. French 'ne') is first joined by a
reinforcing expression (as in French 'ne...pas') and ultimately replaced by it (making the 'pas'
element the only negator). The current project distinguishes itself from the large body of work on JC
in zooming in on the transition of the new element from (emphatic) reinforcer to neutral negator.
Historical texts pose limitations to pinpointing the crucial moment of a reanalysis, as the exact
meaning, pronunciation, or intonation of linguistic expressions are difficult to ascertain without
additional information. However, Northern Italian dialects are currently in different stages of this
transition, thus allowing us to experimentally study this change in progress in a laboratory setting.
Besides contributing a new dimension to the modelling of language change by looking at the
interaction between syntax and prosody, the project devises a new method for the experimental
investigation of syntactic change, which may eventually be expanded to the study of other instances
of ongoing change.