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Transatlantic perspectives on variation in negative expressions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 September 2018

Department of Language and Linguistic Science, University of York, Heslington, YorkYO10 5DD, UK,
Department of Linguistics, University of Toronto, Sidney Smith Hall, 4th Floor, 100 St George Street, Toronto, OntarioM5S 3G3, Canada,
School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, Percy Building, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK,
Department of Linguistics, University of Toronto, Sidney Smith Hall, 4th Floor, 100 St George Street, Toronto, OntarioM5S 3G3, Canada,


Negation with indefinite items in English can be expressed in three ways: any-negation (I didn’t have any money), no-negation (I had no money) and negative concord (I didn’t have no money). These variants have persisted over time, with some studies suggesting that the newest variant, any-negation, is increasing at the expense of no-negation (Tottie 1991a, 1991b). Others suggest that although this variable was undergoing change in earlier centuries, it is stable in Modern English (Wallage 2017). This article examines the current state of the variability in four communities within two distinctive English-speaking regions: Toronto and Belleville in Ontario, Canada, and Tyneside and York in Northern England. Our comparative quantitative analysis of speech corpora from these communities shows that the rates of no-negation vary between Northern England and Ontario, but the variation is largely stable and primarily conditioned by verb type in a robust effect that holds cross-dialectally: functional verbs retain no-negation, while lexical verbs favour any. The social embedding of the variability varies between the communities, but they share a common variable grammar.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018

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This article is a thoroughly revised and redeveloped version of our earlier working paper published in the University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 21(2), 2015. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support from the Economic and Social Research Council’s North East Doctoral Training Centre (for an award granted to the first author), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (for awards granted to the second author) and the Economic and Social Research Council of the UK and the Social Science and Humanities Council of Canada (for awards granted to the fourth author). We would also like to thank Jack Chambers, Elizabeth Cowper, Anders Holmberg, Heike Pichler, Jennifer Smith, Jennifer Thorburn, Joel Wallenberg and Hedde Zeijlstra for comments and discussion on this variable over the past few years, as well as audiences at NWAV43 (Chicago), ICLaVE8 (Leipzig) and ICAME36 (Trier). Many thanks also go to the DECTE project team for access to the Tyneside data.


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