From negative cleft to external negator

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter discusses the syntax and the semantics of the negator lāw in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (henceforth JBA) through the lens of the diachronic emergence of this negator. The new negator lāw is a sentential external negator, whose syntactic and semantic properties is discussed alongside a diachronic study concerning its origin. Syntactically, we propose that lāw, like negative DPs/PPs in English (Haegeman 2000) and Sicilian neca (Cruschina 2010; Garzonio and Poletto 2015) is merged in SpecFocP in the extended CP-domain from where it takes wide scope. Semantically, lāw takes propositional scope and expresses the meaning of external negation, equivalent to the independent clause: ‘it is not the case’. Diachronically, lāw, as a single-morpheme external negation, developed from a cleft whose matrix clause negates the content of the embedded clause. Following work by Bar-Asher Siegal (2015b), we argue that the syntactic reanalysis of lāw is triggered by a phonological process of univerbation between the regular negator lā in clefts with the agreement clitic. This syntactic reanalysis involves a morphological univerbation of lāw (Andersen 1987). The main claim of this chapter is that the syntactic and the semantic characteristics of this negator can be better understood in the light of its historical origin. Moreover, this is an interesting example of how a similar semantic interpretation can be associated with two different syntactic structures, thus allowing a syntactic reanalysis. This type of development is not part of the Jespersen Cycle or Croft’s cycle, but constitutes the development of a non-standard negator next to the standard negator. It is demonstrated that a similar development can be observed for the Sicilian negator neca as well (cf. Garzonio and Poletto 2015).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCycles in Language Change
EditorsMiriam Bouzouita, Anne Breitbarth, Lieven Danckaert, Elisabeth Witzenhausen
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford Univerisity Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9780191863608
ISBN (Print)9780198824961
StatePublished - 2019


  • General Linguistics
  • Semitics


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