Jespersen’s Cycle and the issue of prosodic ‘weakness’

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Jespersen&#8217;s Cycle (1917), according to which a negation particle is weakened and therefore later strengthened through an additional element, is a generally accepted explanation in language change. The German data, however, reveals that the weakening of the negation particle preceded the initiation of Jespersen&#8217;s Cycle by centuries. The further weakening caused the ineffi cacy of the old negation particle and thus initiated Jespersen&#8217;s Cycle. The reduction is demonstrated to result from segmental, prosodic, and syntactic factors. The progressive weakening of the negation particle (PIE *<i>ne</i> > OHG <i>ni</i> > MHG <i>ne</i> > NHG &#216;) is due to the fact that its chances of attracting rhythmic stress became increasingly rare.


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