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Why were negative reinforcers used in Old French

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Beachxhair, Jul 1, 2013.

  1. Beachxhair

    Beachxhair Senior Member

    Manchester UK
    I know that in Vulgar Latin (and in Old French), other negative particles were used (ne....mie, ne....goutte, ne....point) alongside pas. One linguist (Martin Harris, The Evolution of French Syntax) calls them 'negative reinforcers' because they 'reinforced' the negative value of the ne. There are remnants of goutte in the language today, in the expressions n'y voir goutte et n'entendre goutte)

    Where did these particles come from and why where they used in Old French, while the other Romance languages simply have one negative particle ('no' in Spanish, for example)?

    Thanks :)
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2013
  2. jamesh625 Senior Member

    Sydney, Australia
    I personally wouldn't call them negatives on their on - quite justly they're called reinforcers because all they do is reinforce the actual negative which is "ne" (and "pas"). They're closer to a locution in my opinion and have evolved to expressed slightly more idiosyncratic ideas: "je ne le connais guère" = "I don't know him at all".
    Another comparison to draw would be with "point" which you mentioned. "Point" is used on its own all the time, retaining the same sense except not necesarily in the negative. "Il s'est arrêté point", "tu manges tes légumes et tu ne dis rien, point !"
  3. myšlenka Senior Member

    These particles came from the language itself and they were probably used very much the same way as you use English expressions like "I didn't see shit." You can imagine other possible ones like "I didn't drink (a) drop". Later on this became obligatory in French. The fact that French went through this development does not necessarily imply that the other Romance languages have to go through the same.

    Doesn't je ne le connais guère mean "I hardly know him"?
  4. Beachxhair

    Beachxhair Senior Member

    Manchester UK

    Weren't negative particles also used in Vulgar Latin? Gutta --> French goutte. My question was why the phenomenon prevailed in the French language, and not in others....Was it something to do with the geographical position of France, or changes in the morphology and syntax of French possibly?
  5. Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    Why "here" and and not "there" is one of the great mysteries in linguistics.
  6. Beachxhair

    Beachxhair Senior Member

    Manchester UK

    According to Harris' book (I have paraphrased slightly, to be concise):

    "The single inherited vulgar Latin negative particle, non, developed two forms, non and ne, in Old French, depending on whether or not it was in tonic position. Originally, non could occur in any stressed position (independently or with any constituent, including verbs, whereas ne could only occur within a verb phrase in unstressed preverbal position. In Old French, there are instances of structures like je non (pas moi in modern French), whereas ne was used as in modern French (negator of verbal predicates). However, ne was used alone, without 'reinforcing' particles.

    Two important developments took place during Old and Middle French periods. Firstly, what was originally a phonetic distinction, between tonic and atonic forms, became a grammatical one, between disjunctive and conjunctive forms; non came to be used in any environment except when the negative element was directly conjoined to the verbal phrase, when ne was used. Secondly, ne came to be reinforced by one of a variety of particles, originally independent nouns. This has occurred with increasing frequency since the 12th century. [...]

    The question is not so much why negative reinforcers were used in OFr nor where they came from, but rather why they (or rather, one of them [pas]) - has had such success in French compared with the other Romance languages.

    According to Harris, three stages can be distinguished:
    (1) pas largely ousts its rivals as the main negative reinforcer
    (2) ne alone becomes unacceptable except in a limited number of contexts; ne...pas becomes the rule, and pas takes on a negative value itself;
    (3) ne is ousted from popular registers"

    He then goes on to say:
    "Pas, occurring as it does at the end of the sense group, is far better placed to carry any stress in a language like French, which is largely a fixed-stress language, with the stress falling on the final syllable of the group."

    Could this last remark about the stress pattern of French explain the success of the negative reinforcer in French, given that other Romance languages have different stress patterns (Spanish and Italian are syllable timed)?

    Thank you
  7. CapnPrep Senior Member

    See the following thread for some comments on goutte and the other negative reinforcers:
    FR: Qui ne dit mot consent
    Yes, that is definitely relevant, although it would be more precise to say, instead of "occurring as it does at the end of the sense group", that pas often occurs at the end of the group, and it is capable of receiving stress, while ne is always proclitic to the following word and cannot be stressed.
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2013
  8. jmx

    jmx Senior Member

    Spain / incorrect Spanish
    I consider it very likely that the development of the "e caduc" must have played a role in the need for a reinforcement for 'ne'.
  9. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    But, as that very article tells you, in many varieties of French, especially in the South, one does say [ʒə nə lə sɛ pa], with all the vowels intact, but still with obligatory pas.
  10. myšlenka Senior Member

    French is also considered to be syllable timed.

    I would be careful with attributing this development to the stress pattern of French. First of all I don't see any a priori reason for why French would want negation in a stressable position. It is true that negative pas would be far better placed to carry stress, but that's just a basic observation, not an explanation. Moreover, it would only be stressed in a subset of all possible sentences (simple tenses of intransitive verbs etc). Second, other languages (English being one of them) have gone through the same kind of process without having the same stress properties as French.

    However, stress does seem to be part of the explanation but in the opposite way. It seems that the reduction of non to unstressed perverbal clitics nen/ne/n' in the history of French is a step in what is called Jespersen's_Cycle, where unstressed preverbal negative markes are reinforced with postverbal elements. Later the original negative marker becomes extinct. If Jespersen's Cycle is a correct model, it was rather the stresslessness of ne that made way for pas/point/mie... etc, and not the (possible) stress of these elements themselves.

    When we compare French with the other Romance languages, we find that French has gone through a lot more apocope and reduction than the other ones. This is also true for the Latin negative marker non. French has a reduced one (ne/n') while Spanish and Italian have, to know knowledge, kept the negative marker more or less the same which means that, according to Jespersen's cycle, reinforcing negative elements taking over is not really possible.

    Jesperson's cycle is of course merely a model, not an explanation. And if it describes the life cycle of negation in languages correctly, I can't really offer an explanation for why it should be so. It is perhaps a property deeply rooted in language itself.
  11. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    The number of languages displaying “Jespersen’s cycle” is extremely small. I think you should think twice before claiming it as a universal.
  12. CapnPrep Senior Member

    Negation is something that speakers often want to emphasize/reinforce/contrast. I would be surprised to find a language where verbal negation was only ever expressed by an unstressed, unstressable element and could not be reinforced in any way. Of course, adding pas/point/mie etc. was not and is not the only imaginable way of achieving this, so you are right to say that we have no explanation for why things necessarily had to happen exactly this way in French. But I don't think that it is reasonable to insist on this level of explanation.
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2013
  13. myšlenka Senior Member

    Yes, you are absolutely right. However, Beachxhair's question about "why French and not Italian/Spanish too?" is somehow aiming at universality, as if it was expected that closely related languages followed the same path. The only thing I found about morpho-syntactic change in negations with universal implications was Jespersen's cycle.
  14. Beachxhair

    Beachxhair Senior Member

    Manchester UK
    Well, I didn't intend to aim at universality, I simply wondered why negative reinforcers didn't have the same success in other Romance languages, as there are always reasons for these things. I didn't mean to imply that I believed closely related languages always follow the same path (in fact, this very question demonstrates that they don't).
  15. onoda New Member

    Jespersen's cycle foresees :

    1) the original negative adverb is first weakened.
    In Latin you have : ne ,adverb negative archaic,meaning:not.
    Subsequently you have,always in Latin,nec/neque ,meaning : "and not" and so on.

    The first Jespersen's cycle condition is respected.So we know that the French language uses, from birth,a weak negative particle.

    2) then found insufficient and therefore strengthened, generally through some additional word.
    In this case pas.

    3) and this in turn may be felt as the negative proper.
    Pas is,also, used as a strong negation.Pas du tout.

    Now in Italian, but i suppose also in Portuguese and Spanish,differently from French language,we use a strong negative adverb,it comes from latin non (strong negative adverb,from a subsequent evolution of that nec/neque,nec/neque it became non).So the Jespersen's cycle does not works.

    I hope it can be useful,although it does not explain why it has been selected the word pas.
  16. CapnPrep Senior Member

    As myšlenka explained above, French ne also derives from Latin non (not from ne or nec or neque). The Old French form was nen before vowels, again as mentioned by myšlenka. In Latin, non and nec/neque are all reinforced forms of ne, and it is not correct to say that non (< ne + unum) is a "subsequent evolution" of nec/neque.
  17. jmx

    jmx Senior Member

    Spain / incorrect Spanish
    Let's see, as far as I know, French was almost a foreign language in southern France, spoken only by the élites, until a couple of centuries ago. Whatever development reached modern standard French must have taken place mainly in Paris and Île-de-France. Is that correct?
  18. CapnPrep Senior Member

    No, it is not. The Jespersen cycle can also be observed in the syntax of negation in Occitan, where there is no vowel reduction, and it is even further along than in standard French. See, for example:
    Occitan: pas
  19. jmx

    jmx Senior Member

    Spain / incorrect Spanish
    Welll, that would perhaps refute what I say in post #8, but not what I say in post #17.
  20. onoda New Member

    Ok :),i tried to give an answer using the resources available.

    english wikitionary

    "French from Latin non."

    french wikitionary

    "Étymologie du latin ne. "

    So...i go to see this ne,i suppose that a french know better than me his own language.

    "Le Dictionnaire étymologique latin [1] explique :

    La négation s’est successivement exprimée en latin par ne, nec et non. Ne est la forme la plus ancienne : c’est cette forme que nous avons encore dans les composés ne-queo, ne-fas. Il s’est changé en ni sous l’influence de la syllabe suivante, dans ni-si, ni-hil, ni-mis ; il s'est contracté dans nemo, pour *ne-homo, nullus pour *ne-ullus, nunquam pour *ne-unquam, nusquam pour *ne-usquam. De ne est venu ne-que ou ne-c, qui est la négation ordinaire au temps de la Loi des Douze Tables. De même dans les vieilles formules de rituel citées par Caton Mars pater, si quid tibi illisce suovetaurilibus neque satis factum est. Cet emploi de nec s’est continué jusqu’au temps d'Auguste. C’est cette négation qui est restée en composition dans neg-otium, neg-lego, nec-opinus, ainsi que dans le verbe negare (→ voir l’allemand ver-nein-en « nier »). Enfin, en troisième lieu, vient la négation noenum, qui s’abrège en noenu et non. Noenum est un compose de ne et de oinom, unum. Nous avons ici un exemple d’un fait qui s’est continué dans les langues romanes : la négation s’appuyant sur un mot positif, comme en français je n'avance pas, je ne sais point, je n’ai rien. La seconde syllabe de noenum a été d’abord mutilée, puis supprimée : → voir ni-hilum devenu ni-hil. La conjonction ne est pour nei. On la trouve aussi sous la forme ni. Cette particule ne ou ni se trouve en composition dans ne-ve, ne-quiquam, ne-dum, ni-mirum, quid-ni. La locution quidni hoc fiat équivaut à quid impedit ne hoc fiat. "

    So i go to see the source that he/she used

    here http://www.archive.org/stream/dictionnairetym00bailgoog/dictionnairetym00bailgoog_djvu.txt

    "La negation s'est successivement
    exprimee en latin par ne, nee et non.
    N^ est la forme la plus ancienne :
    c'est cette forme que nous avons en-
    core dans les composes ne-queo, ne-
    fas; ne s'est change en ni sous Tin-
    fluence de la syllabe suivante, dans
    m-si, nX'hil, m-mis; il s'est contracts
    dans nemo, pour *ne-homo, nullus
    pour *ne'UUus, nunquam pour *neun'
    quam, nusquam pour * ne-usquam, De
    ne est venu ne-que ou n^-c , qui est la
    negation ordinaire au temps de la Loi
    des XII Tables : Si intestato moritur,
    cui suus heres nee escit, adgnatu"

    They can not have used the archaic ne,they used nec,which is weaker,in italian we have né cong. [lat. nĕc],in spanish we have ni (Del lat. nec).

    But i m not happy,i go to see here http://www.cnrtl.fr/etymologie/ne

    Étymol. et Hist. I. Négation portant sur le verbe A. Négation simple 1. 842 non devant consonne (Serments de Strasbourg, 20 ds Henry Chrestomathie, p.2: Si Lodhuuigs sagrament que son fradre Karlo jurat conservat, et Karlus ... de suo part non loˑs tanit, si jo returnar non l'int pois ...); 881 non devant consonne, non devant voyelle (Ste Eulalie, 9-10, ibid., p.3: Niule cose non la pouret omque pleier La polle sempre non amast lo Deo menestier); id. noˑs [non suivi du pron. enclitique se] (ibid., 20: Elle colpes non auret, por o noˑs coist); 1remoitié xes. ne

    They began to use non,but at some point around X century,they began to use ne,i don t know why.

    So I deepen the research

    Dictionnaire de l'Académie française, neuvième édition Version informatisée

    (3)NE adv. de négation (s'élide devant une voyelle ou un h muet). Xe siècle. Issu du latin non, « non ; ne... pas ».

    Now i want know who wrote it.

    Fiche de syntaxe sur la négation (Corneille, Nicomède, Acte II, 3, v. 691-727)


    713 Je n'y réponds qu'un mot, étant sans intérêt.
    724 Rien du tout, que garder ou rompre le silence.
    4.1. Description du mécanisme
    En corrélation avec ne, que forme le signifiant discontinu de
    la négation exceptive, qui consiste à soustraire de la négat
    ivité l'élément sur lequel elle porte, et équivaut à restricti-
    vement, exclusivement, limitativement. Issu du latin non aliud
    , donc d'une altérité niée, l'élément, formellement négatif,
    aboutit à l'effet de sens d'un positif restreint.

    Afff but it is not explaining the etymology....it is explaining the grammar structure.
  21. J.F. de TROYES Senior Member


    That's right :thumbsup:
  22. bo-marco Senior Member

    Italiano Italia - Emiliano Mirandola
    I have to say that even in Emilian language, ​​spoken in north of Italy (Bologna region), there are two negative particles (always necessary) as in french.

    Je ne sais pas = A n al minga
    Il ne parle pas français = Al n dascór minga francéś
  23. Ёж! Senior Member

    Maybe yes, maybe not. What if we have to consider languages, developing in neighbourhoods, as chaotic systems, that choose to approach to random attractors? In this case, it is impossible to talk of high-level reasons: a thing just starts to happen, then continues; somewhere it had to happen like you described because it's likely this way, then why not in France?

    By the way, take a look at this article about Milanese. They even put no after the verb…

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