Project A03 "A comparative approach to the mysteries of the Jespersen cycle"

Principal investigators: Prof. Cecilia Poletto & Prof. Helmut Weiß

The project aims to analyse the syntax of sentential negative markers from a Germanic/Romance micro-comparative perspective by investigating the factors that influence the varying speed along which the Jespersen cycle (from now on JC) develops in different languages. In order to establish the reason(s) why in some languages the JC proceeds very quickly while in others it is rather slow or just does not start at all, we examine the factors that can a) trigger it, b) slow down, or c) accelerate its development by comparing the timelines of different languages. We will test whether this depends on the presence of old and new negative markers or whether it is determined by other independent properties of the language(s) in question such as VO/OV word order, verb raising, the presence of a high clitic field, etc. We will compare the diachronic path and synchronic microvariation of German and Italian dialects. Once they have been identified, it will be possible to study their distribution across the JC in different languages from the sample of Germanic and Romance we are taking here and widen the perspective both in terms of types of negative markers and in terms of languages in the second funding period. This will be instrumental in determining the deep motivation for the existence of the cycle and the reason why some languages undergo it while others do not. It will also aid in revealing how general mechanisms of syntactic change work even beyond the case in point, and it will help us to identify the morphosyntactic building blocks that sentential negation consists of. In so doing, we intend to answer question A, namely to identify how negative semantics is realized morphosyntactically.