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The loss of negative concord in Standard English: Internal factors

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This study readdresses the loss of Negative Concord (NC) in Standard English. A detailed study of negation in Late Middle English and Early Modern English reveals that the loss of N Cw as a case of a natural change triggered by some internal factors. A close study of n -words in negative contexts and their ultimate replacement with negative polarity items (NPIs) in a number of grammatical environments shows that the decline of NC follows the same pattern across contexts in a form of parallel curvature , which indicates that the loss of NC is a natural change. However, this study reveals that the decline is not constant across time (see Contra Kroch's Constant Rate Hypothesis [CRH],1989).Context behavior suggests an alternative principle of linguistic change, the context constancy principle .
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Language Variation and Change, 19 (2007), 27–49. Printed in the U.S.A.
© 2007 Cambridge University Press 0954-3945007 $9.50
DOI: 10.10170S0954394507070019
The loss of negative concord in Standard English:
Internal factors
A m e l K a l l e l
Reading University
A B S T R A C T
This study readdresses the loss of Negative Concord (NC) in Standard English. A
detailed study of negation in Late Middle English and Early Modern English reveals
that the loss of NC was a case of a natural change triggered by some internal factors.
A close study of n-words in negative contexts and their ultimate replacement with
negative polarity items (NPIs) in a number of grammatical environments shows
that the decline of NC follows the same pattern across contexts in a form of parallel
curvature
, which indicates that the loss of NC is a natural change. However, this
study reveals that the decline is not constant across time (see Contra Kroch’s Con-
stant Rate Hypothesis [CRH], 1989). Context behavior suggests an alternative prin-
ciple of linguistic change, the context constancy principle. A context constancy
effect is obtained across all contexts, indicating that the loss of NC is triggered by
a change in a single underlying parameter setting. Accordingly, a theory-internal
explanation is suggested.
Although Modern Standard English (1800–1920) is not characterized by the
operation of negative concord (NC), in some dialects of English1 and in cer-
tain older forms of the language the operation of negative concord is much
stronger. Modern Standard English exhibits a uniform [ NC] system2, whereas
earlier forms of English are characterized by the phenomenon of NC. Refer-
ences to this effect may be found in most general studies of Middle English
(1100–1500), as well as in those of Early Modern English (1500–1800) (Bar-
ber, 1997:283; Burnley, 1983:61). These periods exhibited variable use of [ NC]
and [ NC] systems. The following two examples illustrate the ( NC) and
( NC) systems, respectively:
(1) He didn’t hurt anybody
(2) John didn’t hurt nobody
It has been largely assumed that the loss of NC was the outcome of prescriptive
views on language use (cf. Cheshire 1982:63), and of taking Latin, a [ NC]
language, as a model for English grammar. Because of these assumptions, the
issue of why NC was lost in Modern Standard English was not given enough
I would like to thank the reviewer of this article for his0her comments and suggestions on an earlier
version of this paper and for pointing to some crucial theoretical misconceptions in the previous
literature. His0her comments are very much appreciated.
27

28
A M E L K A L L E L
attention. This issue will be readdressed within the framework of a detailed study
of the process of decline of NC in order to find out about the nature of this change,
which took place in the Early Modern English period.
N E G A T I O N I N P R E M O D E R N E N G L I S H
After the loss of ne, which was the primary negator in Old English and for some
of the Middle English period, it became very common to express negation through
the use of the secondary negator not together with another negative element,
hence the name NC which accordingly excludes concord cases where “any” items
are used together with another negative element. Consider the following examples:
(3) ‘I would not for no good . . . ’ (The Lisle Letters, Vol. V:305)
(4) ‘I am not able to deserve with no power’ (The Lisle Letters, Vol. V:196)
By the Late Middle and Early Modern English periods, which in this study
stand for the period running from 1450 to 1600, speakers had an alternative option,
which now makes use of any-words in contexts where n-words were used, and
competition between these two variants, n-words and any-words, arose. There
was a period of variation wherein both grammars, [ NC] and [ NC], coexisted.
The notion of coexisting grammars, which implies that the rate of change in
different surface contexts reflecting a single underlying parameter change is the
same, is supported by evidence in the literature. This is known as Kroch’s (1989)
Constant Rate Effect (CRE). It implies that when one grammar is replaced by
another over time, usage frequencies change at the same rate, but not necessarily
at the same time. The following section will provide a fuller discussion of the
CRH.
T H E C O N S T A N T R A T E H Y P O T H E S I S
Kroch (1994) argued that, when one grammatical option replaces another with
which it is in competition across a set of linguistic contexts, the rate of replace-
ment is the same in all of them, that is, they do not differ in the rate at which the
new form spreads. This is known as the Constant Rate Effect of syntactic change,
whereby innovations advance at the same rate across linguistic contexts. The
Constant Rate Hypothesis, which is a statement of a statistical null hypothesis,
states that different environments involved in a change show the same (logistic)
rate of change over time, that is, the change has the same regression slope in all
contexts. This means that there is no interaction between time and context, hence
the null hypothesis. According to Kroch (1994), the grammatical analysis that
defines the contexts of a change is quite abstract. He suggested that the set of
contexts that change together is not defined by the sharing of a certain surface
property, but rather by a shared syntactic structure, whose existence can only be
the product of an abstract grammatical analysis on the part of the speakers. Thus,

T H E L O S S O F N C : I N T E R N A L F A C T O R S
29
the change in use of a particular form in different contexts proceeds at the same
rate in all contexts and the loss of one grammatical option should occur at the
same rate as the gain in use of its morphosyntactic competitor. The CRH predicts
that if the forms are in morphosyntactic competition, the logistic regression lines
will be parallel, that is, they have the same slope S, which stands for the rate of
change.
Bailey’s (1973:77) first principle of linguistic change holds that linguistic
changes follow an S-shaped curve. This principle seems to reflect a characteristic
property of changes that have been studied quantitatively. In fact, the idea was
also supported in work by Osgood and Sebeok (1954), Weinreich, Labov, and
Herzog (1968), Kroch (1989), and Chambers (1992), among many others.
D A T A S O U R C E S A N D C A T E G O R I Z A T I O N
This study makes use of a corpus of Late Middle English and Early Modern
English texts created for the purpose of this study (discussed later). The texts
selected range in date from the second half of the 15th century until the end of the
16th century, that is, from 1450 up to 1599. Only private correspondence texts
were used as a source of data because of the nature of the change we are address-
ing. Private letters are thought to be closer to the vernacular, from which changes
are more likely to spring, than other genres. Other written documents belonging
to that period tend to lack in speech-like features and show elaborate structure
and at times a high degree of literary style. Accordingly, all private correspon-
dence belonging to the time span between 1450 and 1599 are included and all
occurrences of n-words and any-words within these texts are counted. All private
letters that belong to our period, based on their dates of writing established in the
printed edition, were included. Translated letters and letters that have a quasi-
public nature, namely, those by and to members of the Royal Family, were excluded
from our analysis. The following is a list of all the sources consulted, categorized
by period.
Stage 1: (1450–1474)
The Paston Letters (1425–1495)
The Plumpton Letters (1433–155102)
The Stonor Letters (1290–1483)
Stage 2: (1475–1499)
The Cely Letters (1472–1488)
The Paston Letters (1425–1495)
The Plumpton Letters (1433–155102)
Christ Church Letters (1334–1520)
The Stonor Letters (1290–1483)
Stage 3: (1500–1524)
The Plumpton Letters (1433–155102)
Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of GB (1451–1550)

30
A M E L K A L L E L
Christ Church Letters (1334–1520)
The Clifford Letters I (1510–1549)
Letters of Richard Fox (1486–1527)
Stage 4: (1525–1549)
The Plumpton Letters (1433–155102)
The Clifford Letters II (1525–1547)
The Clifford Letters I (1510–1549)
The Lisle Letters (1533–1540)
Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of GB (1451–1550)
The Letters of Thomas Greene (1528–3601536–38)
The Willoughby Letters (1525–1549)
Letters of Thomas Cromwell (1533–1540)
Stage 5: (1550–1574)
The Letters of Thomas Bentham (1560–1561)
The Letter-Book of John Parkhurst (1571–1575)
The Letters of Richard Scudamore (1549–1555)
The Papers of Nathaniel Bacon of Stiff key (1556–1577)
Stage 6: (1575–1599)
The Leycester Correspondence (1585–1586)
Two Elizabethan Women (1575–1611)
The Hutton Correspondence (1565–1600)
The Letters of Lady Dorothy Bacon (1597–1622)
Letters of John Holles (1587–1637)
Hastings Letters (1574–1609)
Gossip From a Muniment Room (1574–1618)
It is a well-known fact that changes are likely to be implemented in speech
before they spread to the written form of a language. It has also been suggested
that a study dealing with language change based on written texts alone would
give an unsatisfactory and incomplete picture of the change. Negation is undeni-
ably a field rich in its variety of expression. Practically, the only way to get
information on the expressions typical of the spoken language of past centuries is
through observations based on the types of writing that can be assumed to be least
distant from the oral mode of expression.
Different genres were available for this study. As in Present-day English, Early
Modern English reflects different styles, ranging from the most formal to the least
formal ones. There are some written documents belonging to that period that are
thought to be closer to the vernacular than other genres, those relating to activities
such as trials, drama, private correspondence, and diaries. There are also other
written documents, but these are literary in nature and at times very limited. This
genre lacks speech-like features and its structure is much more elaborate than
spontaneous speech.
We have looked at all negative constructions in the first place and collected
only those that make use of two negative elements within a single clause or across

T H E L O S S O F N C : I N T E R N A L F A C T O R S
31
clause boundaries, and utterances that make use of negative polarity items pre-
ceded by a negative element, either the sentential negator not or a n-item. Orig-
inally, we looked at negative, interrogative, and conditional clauses, but the last
two structures were low in absolute frequency and accordingly were excluded
from this study. These cases were categorized in terms of grammatical construc-
tions, namely, noncoordinate (examples 5– 6) and coordinate negative environ-
ments (examples 7–8).
(5) ‘that ye wryt not to me no letters’ (The Cely Letters: 10)
(6) ‘that I shulde not take any writt ageynst theym’ (Christ Church Letters: 66)
(7) ‘I had none, ner he delyueryd me none’ (The Cely Letters: 18)
(8) ‘ne bounde for any tryell of your seid’ (Christ Church Letters: 41)
They were also categorized in terms of two grammatical functions, namely, Objects
and Adjuncts, as they occur within these two grammatical constructions. The first
two examples illustrate Objects as they occur in both noncoordinate and coordi-
nate contexts. Examples 11–12 illustrate Adjuncts as they occur in both of these
constructions.
(9) ‘that ye wryt not to me no letters’ (The Cely Letters: 10)
(10) ‘Nor send me no ster.3 money’ (The Cely Letters: 12)
(11) ‘woll nott dyshease yow off yowre howsse no lenger’ (The Cely Letters: 170)
(12) ‘ne forthere prosede in no seche matere’ (The Paston Letters: 82 & 137)
In other words, all instances of n-items in positions where they c-commanded4
all instances of n-items and corresponding NPIs occurring in object and adverbial
grammatical functions within noncoordinate and coordinate constructions are
included. For the purpose of this study, only cases of NPIs in negative clauses
were collected; those within conditional and interrogative clauses were excluded,
as they are irrelevant to our research. Our negative contexts can then be summa-
rized as follows:
(13) NEG5
n-item0any-item
(14) N-item6
n-item0any-item
This study quantifies the occurrences of NC as the structural unit. Differences
are quantitatively measured, and our six stages,7 25 years each, will be distin-
guished by the frequency with which some variant occurs in one stage as opposed
to another. Differences in any one variable are tested against the background of
their frequencies rather than in terms of their absence or presence. A crucial step
in our analysis is to discover the rates of change in the use of NC in both nonco-
ordinate and coordinate contexts and to compare them. According to the CRH
(Kroch, 1989), when one grammatical option replaces another with which it is in
competition across a set of linguistic contexts, the rate of replacement is the same
in all of them. Following these claims, we would then expect to find the same rate
of change in these two grammatical constructions. We used the Proc Genmod

32
A M E L K A L L E L
procedure within the SAS statistical package to fit data into the logistic regres-
sion (Collett, 2003). The model must adequately fit8 the observed probabilities
for the fitted linear logistic model in order for it to be satisfactory. By fitting
empirical data (i.e., percentages), to the logistic function, we can determine whether
the rates of change in different contexts are the same or different.
T H E L O G I S T I C R E G R E S S I O N S
This study addresses the question of whether the change as observed in different
contexts follows an S-shaped curve (cf. Bailey, 1973; Kroch, 1989). Labov
(1994:65) showed how an S-curve is produced by the cumulative frequencies of
the binomial distribution. The logit (i.e., the logistic transform shown in [15])
produces a straight line, standing for a linear function of time; s is the slope of this
line; k is the intercept, and is related to the frequency of the old0new form at some
fixed point in time.
(15)
p
Logit
1n
k
st 9
+
1
p
The change in the frequencies of these two grammatical alternatives is inter-
preted according to the Constant Rate Hypothesis (CRH), in an attempt to find out
about the rate of replacement of one form by another in some grammatical envi-
ronments. This is crucial, as it reveals issues related to the nature of the change,
such as whether the change is the outcome of competition between grammatically
incompatible options, and thus whether the observed changes in the surface struc-
tures are triggered by a change in a single underlying parameter setting.
D A T A A N A L Y S I S
In this section we analyze the shift in the percentages of use of NC in noncoordi-
nate contexts (Table 1). In stage 1, 1450–1474, we record 105 cases of NC, equal
to 83.3% out of a total of 126 data points. This percentage gradually declined in
our period10 until NC virtually disappeared at stage 5, with 3.1%, and went com-
pletely out of use at stage 6, the last quarter of the 16th century, with only 0.6%
usage. This decline in the use of NC in noncoordinate contexts meant a corre-
sponding gradual increase in the use of negative polarity items in contexts in which
n-words once were used. In stage 1, negative polarity items were used only 16.6%
of the time; this frequency, however, rose to 96.9% in stage 5, and the use of NPIs
in negative contexts was fully established in stage 6, with a percentage of 99.4%.
The plot of the transformed data given in Figure 1 shows the observed prob-
abilities fitted into the logistic regression model. The decline of NC in nonco-
ordinate constructions follows an S-shaped curve. Table 2 summarizes the
frequencies of use of NC and NPIs in coordinate contexts throughout the six

T H E L O S S O F N C : I N T E R N A L F A C T O R S
33
TABLE 1. The frequency of n-words and NPIs in
noncoordinate constructions by stage
Type One Noncoordinate
Stage
NC
NPIs
Total
Stage 1
105
21
126
83.3%
16.7%
Stage 2
91
25
116
78.4%
21.6%
Stage 3
13
14
27
48.1%
51.9%
Stage 4
81
106
187
43.3%
56.7%
Stage 5
5
155
160
3.1%
96.9%
Stage 6
1
156
157
0.6%
99.4%
Noncoordinate constructions will be referred to as type 1
in the graphs; coordinate constructions as type 2.
figure 1. The observed data for noncoordinate contexts plotted against the fitted logistic
regression.
stages. The picture of the change is very similar to the one observed in nonco-
ordinate contexts. Again, we notice that overall there is an obvious decline of
NC in coordinate contexts. The frequency of use of NC in coordinate contexts
dropped from 96.5% in stage 1 to 7% in stage 6. The change again reflects the
on-going rise in the frequency of negative polarity items in contexts where
n-words were used. The corresponding percentage in NPIs rose from only 3.6%
in stage 1 to 93% in stage 6. Figure 2 indicates that the S-shaped curve is also
found in coordinate contexts.

34
A M E L K A L L E L
TABLE 2. The frequency of n-words and NPIs in
coordinate constructions by stage
Type Two Coordinate
Stage
NC
NPIs
Total
Stage 1
82
3
85
96.5%
3.5%
Stage 2
54
6
60
90%
10%
Stage 3
23
6
29
79.3%
20.7%
Stage 4
64
45
109
58.7%
41.3%
Stage 5
4
47
51
7.8%
92.2%
Stage 6
3
40
43
7%
93%
figure 2. The observed data for coordinate contexts plotted against the fitted logistic
regression.
An analysis of the process of loss of NC in the two grammatical functions,
Objects and Adjuncts,11 as they occur within the two grammatical constructions,
yields the same results: an S-shaped curve. Tables 3 and 4 record the occurrences
and percentages of both NC and NPIs in negative clauses as Objects in noncoor-
dinate and coordinate contexts. As in the case of other contexts, there is an overall
decline of n-words in coordinate constructions, corresponding to a rise in the
frequency of polarity items, across time. Cases of NC as Objects occurred with a
frequency of 80% in noncoordinate contexts and 95% in coordinate contexts at
stage 1 and then dropped to 1.3% and 3.6% at stage 6 in both grammatical con-
structions, respectively.

T H E L O S S O F N C : I N T E R N A L F A C T O R S
35
TABLE 3. The frequency of n-words and NPIs in
Objects in noncoordinate contexts by stage
Object Noncoordinate
Stage
NC
NPIs
Total
Stage 1
44
11
55
80%
20%
Stage 2
49
13
62
79%
21%
Stage 3
5
7
12
41.7%
58.3%
Stage 4
27
49
76
35.5%
64.5%
Stage 5
3
79
82
3.7%
96.3%
Stage 6
1
74
75
1.3%
98.7%
TABLE 4. The frequency of n-words and NPIs in
Objects in coordinate contexts by stage
Object Coordinate
Stage
NC
NPIs
Total
Stage 1
38
2
40
95%
5%
Stage 2
30
4
34
88.2%
11.8%
Stage 3
14
2
16
87.5%
12.5%
Stage 4
36
20
56
64.3%
35.7%
Stage 5
2
28
30
6.7%
93.3%
Stage 6
1
27
28
3.6%
96.4%
The change in NC in Adjuncts (see Tables 5 and 6) follows the same pattern.
We notice an on-going decline in the percentages of use of n-words as opposed to
an ongoing rise in the percentages of use of negative polarity items and an S-shaped
curve was also obtained for these contexts.
We would now like to apply the Constant Rate Hypothesis and find out whether
the decline of NC occurred at the same rate in all studied contexts, as well as
whether it took place at the same rate across the time line. Accordingly, linear
logistic regression models are used to model the data. We begin by studying the

36
A M E L K A L L E L
TABLE 5. The frequency of n-words and NPIs in
Adjuncts in noncoordinate contexts by stage
Adjunct Noncoordinate
Stage
NC
NPIs
Total
Stage 1
59
9
68
86.8%
13.2%
Stage 2
40
12
52
77%
23%
Stage 3
7
7
14
50%
50%
Stage 4
54
55
109
49.5%
50.5%
Stage 5
1
76
77
1.3%
98.7%
Stage 6
0
82
82
0%
100%
TABLE 6. The frequency of n-words and NPIs in
Adjuncts in coordinate contexts by stage
Adjunct Coordinate
Stage
NC
NPIs
Total
Stage 1
30
1
31
96.8%
3.2%
Stage 2
17
2
19
89.5%
10.5%
Stage 3
8
4
12
87.5%
12.5%
Stage 4
25
21
46
54.4%
45.6%
Stage 5
2
14
16
12.5%
87.5%
Stage 6
1
13
14
7.2%
92.8%
Constant Rate Effect in macro contexts, that is, noncoordinate and coordinate
contexts being the larger unit comprising object and adverbial grammatical func-
tions (GFs), which will be analyzed subsequently.
Macro contexts: Grammatical constructions
Without a mathematical model of the S-curves, it would be difficult to evaluate
certain predictions, as it would not be clear how to measure their rates of change.

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