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Jespersen’s cycle in Arabic and Berber1


  • 1

    Versions of this paper were presented at the North American Conference in Afroasiatic Linguistics in San Antonio and CamLing in Cambridge in March 2007. I wish to express my sincere gratitude to David Willis for his impressively speedy and perceptive comments on an early draft of this paper. I am grateful also for the helpful suggestions of three anonymous reviewers. This research is funded by a Ph.D. studentship award from the AHRC.

Emmanuel College
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Cambridge CB2 3AP


Many varieties of Arabic and Berber have undergone a process of syntactic change known as Jespersen’s Cycle (JC). In JC a postverbal item is reanalysed as part of a discontinuous marker of negation together with the original preverbal negator. In some cases the original preverbal negator is then lost. This paper investigates the synchronic and historical data relevant to JC in the varieties in question, arguing that the innovation of the postverbal negator began in Arabic and later spread to Berber through contact. The various syntactic reanalyses involved in the Arabic JC are sketched, and the implications of the Arabic and Berber data for better-known instances of JC in European languages are discussed.