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Jespersen's cycle is something that happens in the history of language in how the grammar of negation changes. The best example is from French, although it happens in other languages like Welsh. There are three stages:

1. A simple negative particle occurs before the verb being negated: Old French jeo ne dis "I do not say".

2. Next a preverbal and postverbal particle are used: (modern) French je ne dis pas "I do not say"; the pas means "step" and was originally an intensifier, but it has become a negative particle on its own: e.g., pas mal "not bad".

3. Finally, the original preverbal negative particle disappears: (colloquial) French je dis pas "I do not say".

I was reminded of this by the current double negation threads occuring in these fora as well as while watching a French movie yesterday. There are at least three words in French that have gone from etymologically p[positive to negative over the course of the history of French. They are:

a. pas "step" to "not".

b. rien (< Latin rem, accusative of res "thing" to "nothing".

c. personne (< Latin persona "mask; role") "person" to "nobody".


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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So, if I understand it (since I don't know French), the change happens because of intensifiers?
 
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z: not sure where to ask this question so I'll start here. Any comment on the diminishing use in everyday French and Spanish of subject-verb inversion to form a question? I am finding questions such as "¿Puedo ir al baño?" and "Je peux entrer?" commonly taught as English equivalents for "May I go to the bathroom?" and "May I come in?" in the [rather new] body of pedogogical materials for young beginners. (lit. transl. 'I may go?' & 'I may enter?')

It may be that these locutions have been commonplace for a long time. I'm certain that while I was being taught ("in the old days") to reverse verb & subject to form a French question, as we do in English, I was hearing Frenchmen with imperfect English ask such questions as "I may bring you a menu?"

Although I applaud teaching everyday conversational usage to young beginners (& do it), I'm wondering about the effect on teachers in later grades who begin to introduce grammar..
 
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So, if I understand it (since I don't know French), the change happens because of intensifiers?

Yes, the intensifiers became the negative particles.

Any comment on the diminishing use in everyday French and Spanish of subject-verb inversion to form a question? I am finding questions such as "¿Puedo ir al baño?" and "Je peux entrer?" commonly taught as English equivalents for "May I go to the bathroom?" and "May I come in?" in the [rather new] body of pedogogical materials for young beginners. (lit. transl. 'I may go?' & 'I may enter?')

Interesting question, B35. There are four standard ways in French to ask a question: (1) Est-ce que + affirmative clause; (2) Subject-verb inversion (formal); (3) Intonation question, i.e., affirmative sentence with rising intonation at end of sentence (informal); and (4) Tag question, affirmative clause with n'est-ce pas tag at end. One author I looked at said that intonation questions go back at least to Vulgar Latin, pre-Old French.


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I don't think intonation is all that rare in English. If someone asked, "I may go?" in English, with a rising inflection on "go," wouldn't we all understand it? I use such a structure often, with nearly perfect comprehension.


It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. -J. Krishnamurti
 
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And we all certainly understant when a youngster wails "I gotta GOOOO!"


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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One author I looked at said that intonation questions go back at least to Vulgar Latin, pre-Old French.

That is so interesting, z. I'll think henceforth of the intonation question as simply a common and correct alternative to the more formal subject-verb inversion. It's a lot easier to handle for the very young beginner, & that's probably why it's been in use the longest.

The intonation bit reminded me of a curious turn of speech my Chicago cousins used. When asking a question their voice would rise, then drop at the end. So a question like "Are you joining the Democrats, Joe?" would be intoned the same as "So I hear you're a Democrat now."
 
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I don't think intonation is all that rare in English.

Neither do I, but B35's question was specifically about French and Spanish. I think intonation questions are perfectly grammatical in informal situations.

The intonation bit reminded me of a curious turn of speech my Chicago cousins used. When asking a question their voice would rise, then drop at the end. So a question like "Are you joining the Democrats, Joe?" would be intoned the same as "So I hear you're a Democrat now."

This does show that tone is important in English (and other non-tone, in the Chinese sense) languages. We use tone to mark constituents in a sentence in certain ways, whereas tonal languages use tone lexically to mark words that would be otherwise homonyms.

One of the most fascinating assignments I had in a linguistics class was transcribing (pauses, tones, and everything) some stories being told that I had recorded earlier. I had never really looked carefully at how people actually speak. It's nothing like writing.


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Yes, indeed. I enjoy my mystery stories (ltest kick: the dour Scandinavians). Listening to one of these audiobooks read by a favorite actor/reader is equally enjoyable & yet a different experience than reading one.
 
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