Contact as catalyst: The case for Coptic influence in the development of Arabic negation

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Lucas, Christopher ; Lash, Elliott (2010)

This article discusses similar developments in the expression of negation in the histories of Egyptian-Coptic and Arabic and explores the evidence for these respective\ud developments being related by language contact. Both Coptic and Arabic have undergone a development known as Jespersen’s Cycle (JC), whereby an original negative marker is joined by some new element to form a bipartite negative construction.\ud The original marker then becomes optional while the new element becomes the primary negator. We present the results of a corpus study of negation in late Coptic, showing that, at the time when Arabic speakers began to settle in Egypt, the bipartite negative construction still predominated. This being the case, we argue that native speakers of Coptic learning Arabic as a second language played a key role in\ud the genesis of the Arabic bipartite negative construction. More generally, we give reasons to doubt the a priori preference for internal explanations of syntactic change\ud over those involving contact, as well as the assumption that the two are mutually exclusive. Rather, we suggest that not only purely internal but also (partially) contactinduced\ud change can profitably be accounted for in terms of child language acquisition leading to a change in the grammars of individual speakers.
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