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'Any' as a Negative Polarity Item: From Old English to Early Modern English

Kirby, Ian Lewis (2014)
Honors Thesis (70 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Adviser: Pak, Marjorie
Committee Members: Risjord, Mark ; Hartle, Ann
Research Fields: Language, Linguisitcs
Keywords: negative polarity items; historical linguistics; Old English; Middle English; Early Modern English; Modern English; Penn-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Middle English; PPCME2; Penn-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Early Modern English; PPCEME; York-Toronto-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Old English Prose; YCOE; corpus linguistics; historical syntax; language change; diachronic linguistics; early English
Program: College Honors Program, Linguistics
Permanent url:


This paper examines the use of the word any from Old English through Early Modern English. In present-day English, any is a clear example of a negative polarity item (NPI). NPIs are word or phrase that can appear grammatically under negation, in conditional clauses, in questions, and as a standard of comparison, but are not grammatical in affirmative sentences. For example, it is grammatical to say 'I don't have any apples', but it is ungrammatical to say 'I have any apples'. The traditional story told in the literature is that any became an NPI between Late Middle English and Early Modern English as a result of the loss of negative concord. Using corpora of Old English, Middle English, and Early Modern English, I found something quite different. In the Old English corpus, any appears with high frequency under negation. This frequency drops in Middle English, and then rises again in Early Modern English. Much of this paper seeks to explain this U-shaped trend in the historical distribution of any. I argue that, contrary to the traditional view, any was an NPI throughout Old English, Middle English, and Early Modern English. I propose a four-staged model to explain the U-shaped curve.

Table of Contents

List of Tables. 1
List of Figures. 2
Abbreviations. 3
1. Introduction. 4
2. Negative Polarity Items and Negative Concord. 6
2.1 Negative Polarity Items: An Overview. 7
2.2 NPI Any and Negative Concord. 13
2.3. The ME Negative Concord Loss Hypothesis. 16
2.3.1. Tieken's Chain Shift 17
2.3.2. Iyeiri's Response to Tieken. 18
2.3.3. Kallel's Parametric Variation. 19
2.3.4. Licensing of Any in Conditionals, Questions, and Comparatives in OE, ME. 22
3. Methods. 23
4. Results from Corpus Searches. 26
4.1 Any under Negation. 26
4.2 Any in Conditionals, Questions, and Comparatives. 30
4.2.1. Multiple Licensing of Any in OE and ME. 37
5. Interpreting the Data: Some Hypotheses. 38
5.1. Latin Influence Hypothesis. 38
5.2. Any as N-Word Hypothesis. 41
5.3 Atavism Hypothesis. 44
5.4. Emphatic Any Hypothesis. 45
5.5. Any Always NPI Hypothesis. 46
6. Conclusions and Directions for Future Research. 50
Appendices. 52
A: A Brief Overview of Three-Line Notation. 52
B: Other Figures and Tables. 54
Works Cited. 59


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