The locus of linguistic variation
  • ISSN 2211-6834
  • E-ISSN: 2211-6842
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This paper addresses the contribution that corpus-based studies of syntactic variation can make to the construction, elaboration and testing of formal syntactic theories, with a particular focus on the testing dimension. In particular, I present a new empirical study of obligatory and optional asymmetric negative concord phenomena, and I show how an influential analysis for obligatory concord patterns (de Swart, 2010) can be tested using variation data through looking at the predictions that its natural probabilistic extension makes for the forms, interpretations and frequency distributions of expressions in languages in which asymmetric concord is optional. In obligatory negative concord languages like Spanish, negative indefinites, such as ‘no one’, appear bare in preverbal position (i.e. in an expression like Nadie ‘No one came’), but they co-occur with the negative marker in postverbal negative concord structures such as No nadie ‘I did not see anyone.’ (lit. ‘I did not see no one.’). Furthermore, in this language, co-occurrence between a negative marker and an n-word is either prohibited (Nadie no ), or it is obligatory (nadie). Québec French shows a variable version of the Spanish pattern in which the negation marker optionally co-occurs with postverbal negative indefinites (paspersonne ‘I saw no one’) but is prohibited with preverbal negative indefinites Personne pas (Ok: Personne ‘No one came’). I show how the predictions for Montréal French of de Swart’s analysis of Spanish can be tested (and, in this case, mostly verified) using a quantitative study of the distribution of bare and concord structures in the corpus of spoken Montréal French (Thibault & Vincent, 1990) through looking at its natural extension within Boersma (1998)’s stochastic generalization of the Optimality Theory framework, which is the framework in which de Swart’s proposal is set.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): Montreal French; negative concord; probabilistic grammar; syntactic variation
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