Institut Jean Nicod

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Soutenance de thèse - Chloé TAHAR - "Expletive negation : from imperatives to connectives. A formal and diachronic approach"


Date : 15h00, 22 Avril 2022

lieu : Salle W ; 45 rue d’Ulm. Pour s’y rendre : depuis la cage d’escalier B, monter au dernier étage (étage 3), puis suivre les indications pour la "Salle W" en montant le petit escalier jusqu’à l’étage 4 (sur les toits).


  • Regine Eckardt, Professeure, Universität Konstanz
  • Anamaria Falaus, DR, Université de Nantes (rapporteuse)
  • Anastasia Giannakidou, Professeure, University of Chicago
  • Alda Mari, DR, Institut Jean Nicod, CNRS/ENS/EHESS/PSL (directrice de thèse)
  • Salvador Mascarenhas, Professeur Junior, Institut Jean Nicod, CNRS/ENS/EHESS/PSL
  • Hedde Zeijlstra, Professeur, Universität Göttingen (président du jury, rapporteur)



Expletive negation is a singularity in the field of polarity sensitivity. In many ways, expletive negation resembles a negative polarity item (NPI). In particular, its distribution parallels that of NPIs, which are known to be acceptable only in the scope of certain so-called semi-negative predicates (such as "doubt", "before", "without"), among other contexts. In other ways, expletive negation seems to participate in a negative concord relation. Indeed, it has the particularity of apparently not contributing to any negative meaning, in the scope of semi-negative predicates. Yet, unlike NPIs (e.g. "any") and Neg-words (e.g. "nobody") that participate in a negative concord relation, expletive negation does not belong to the class of indefinite expressions. As such, it deserves to be studied in its own right.

My dissertation aims at shedding some diachronic light on the issue of expletive negation. The first issue is to determine which diachronic processes are behind the use of expletive negation from one context to another. I show that the use of expletive negation, initially restricted to the complement clause of attitude verbs, becomes productive in the adverbial clause of connectives such as "à moins que" (unless) and "avant que" (before), starting in the 17th century. Based on a fine-grained corpus study, I conclude that the generalization of expletive negation to adverbial connectives is motivated by the expression of a discourse attitude of dispreference. The second issue is to determine which mechanism underlies the loss of expletive negation’s syntactic and semantic independence. I argue that French expletive negation descends from Latin prohibitive negation, while canonical negation ("ne ... pas") descends from another negation marker. I propose that the expletive negation results from the grammaticalization of the prohibitive negation, resorting to the notion of modal concord.