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Review of  Negation and Nonveridicality in the History of Greek

Book Title: Negation and Nonveridicality in the History of Greek
Book Author: Katerina Chatzopoulou
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Issue Number: 30.4092

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This book was published in January 2019 by Oxford University Press and it is available as a hardcover, as an ebook and through Oxford Scholarship Online. It consists of six chapters, starting from an Introduction and background description of the main data, followed by the theoretical framework of (non)veridicality which is adopted, and three chapters structured according to linguistic diachrony in the eras of Classical Greek, Hellenistic-Roman times and Late Medieval Greek. All the chapters provide a plethora of examples that provide evidence for the theory of (non)veridicality capturing the distribution of the Greek negators and making a significant contribution to the understanding of these in the context of Jespersen’s Cycle. The book overall makes a novel contribution to the diachrony of Greek semantics and syntax and encourages new links between existent theories and the historical development of particular elements.

Chapter 1

The first chapter in the book starts with a description of the main historical asymmetry between the Greek negators u:k(k[h]) and the item μή /me:/, labeled as Neg1 and Neg2, which differ in their diachronic development with the first having been replaced with dhe(n) in Modern Greek and the second having been preserved. The chapter introduces the viewpoint that the pattern observed “targets intensified predicate negation and with time transforms it into propositional negation” (p. 2) and introduces a basic exploration of theories of language change in historical semantics and syntax. For her diachronic approach, Chatzopoulou first presents the periodization of Greek following Markopoulos (2009) and the criteria for the selection of these stages of the languages and the textual sources that have been used in her investigation. Examples are based on the chronological stages of Classical Greek, Hellenistic Greek, Early Medieval Greek, Late Medieval Greek and Post-Medieval Greek and drawn from the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) database, Strabo’s Geographica, the Greek New Testament, the Epictetus’ Dissertationes ad Arriano, the Chronicle of Johannes Malalas, the Chronicon Pascalae, the Suda dictionary, the Chronicle of Morea and other texts. Following this introduction, a summary and criticism of previous work on the distinction between the two negators is provided highlighting the relevance of emphatic and nonemphatic negation to markedness theories. The chapter ends with a discussion of markedness on veridicality and nonveridicality, with the latter being the marked environment given its dependence on a different element in the clause and its nonveridicality syntactic projection. The author concludes with a note on the relevance of speakers being maximally cooperative and of the role of Pragmatics in language change and language evolution.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2 `The (non)veridicality theory of polarity and negator selection’ introduces polarity aspects that are relevant to the choice of the two negators in Greek introduced in the previous chapter and more specifically the (non)veridicality theory as a property of propositional operators (Giannakidou 2006). Modern Greek distinguishes between polarity items that are sensitive only to negative operators and items that are sensitive to nonveridical operators in general (Giannakidou 1998). (Non)veridicality also defines mood choice, which is grammaticalized in the verb morphology and determined by the semantics of the attitude verbs in embedded contexts. Following this discussion, the distribution of Neg1 differs from Neg2 in that the latter is marked in terms of nonveridicality, while Neg1 is unmarked in terms of nonveridicality. Chatzopoulou shows in this chapter how Modern Greek “grammaticalizes (non)veridicality within the language system in many ways, regarding both lexical and functional categories” (p. 31) and supporting the idea that the theory can apply to different categories based on their licensing environment. The sensitivity in these environments found in Greek is also attested in other varieties of Greek as well as cross-linguistically, and typologically unrelated languages that preserved the dual negation system.

Chapter 3

‘Negation, mood and (non)veridicality in Classical Greek (Fifth to fourth centuries BC)’ presents evidence from the Attic dialect spoken in fifth-fourth-century BC, which uses two negators sensitive to (non)veridicality. In Attic Greek, negators are phrasal as they can appear at any position preceding the category they are negating, the blocking of head movement, their positive response to the `why not’ ellipsis test, their selection of other XPs and their appearance as anaphoric negation markers. The distribution of the two negators in Attic is immediately explained with reference to the semantic notion of (non)veridicality with Neg1 being the unmarked negator and Neg2 licensed in nonveridical environments. Neg2 also productively shows nonnegative uses as a question particle, as complementizer and as an attitudinal. The distinction found between the negators also appears in what Chapter 3 discusses as Neg1-words and Neg2-words with both categories showing negative morphology and participating in negative concord but with the Neg2 list of words appearing in nonveridical environments only similarly to the Neg2 negator. The Neg1 and Neg2- words are assumed to bear an uninterpretable negative feature [uNeg] with the Neg2-words bearing nonveridical marking [uNonVer]. This analysis supports the idea of the presence of a nonveridicality projection in syntax.

Chapter 4

With the presentation of the distribution of Neg1 and Neg2 in Classical Greek, Chapter 4 `Developments in Hellenistic-Roman times and the Nonveridicality projection (third century bc to four century ad)’ looks at data from Hellenistic Koine as found in texts from the first century bc to the second century ad, showing the relevance of Neg2 to nonveridicality. This is a period that shows language change that results to homophony between the different moods expressed on the verb and the change of the subjunctive complementizer /hina/ into a nonveridical indicator. Examples showing the distribution of the complementizer provide the basis for the discussion on the broadening of /hina/ in Koine Greek and its reanalysis as a result of upward featural micromovement (Roberts & Roussou 2003). This element merges at the Nonveridicality projection that also hosts other operators, such as question, imperative, modals and others as well as manifestations of Neg2 in the history of Greek; All of these are regulated by nonveridicality. In the transition from Classical Greek to Hellenistic Koine, there is also a word order shift from SOV to VSO (or OV to VO considering pro-drop) correlating with the Greek Jespersen’s Cycle, according to the author. Koine Greek also follows the Classical era in allowing similar distribution of the two negators, namely /u(k)/ appearing in assertions and other veridical environments like infinitives, participles, veridical predicates and others. Neg2 /mi/ in Koine Greek, as well as Neg2-words, appear in all the nonveridical environments as the relevant examples in the chapter indicate. The frequency of these is provided in raw numbers and percentages towards the end of the chapter.

Chapter 5

Chapter 5 ‘Late Medieval and beyond: the renewal of Neg1’ discusses the third major stage of spoken Greek regarding the distribution of Neg1 and Neg2. Given the different registers at the time, the negators develop a variant with which they are in free variation, namely /udhen/ and /midhen/ and its phonetically reduced form /dhen/. During this era, the negators undergo a change in syntactic status from phrase to head and from being a negator of nonveridical environments to being a Comp-related element based on their appearance as (a) they are strictly preverbal with only clitics intervening between the negator and the verb, (b) they do not appear inside the DP and (c) they interfere with head movement. The latter also results in the unavailability of True Negative Imperatives since the overt negator blocks head movement from V-to-C. In addition, Neg2 /mi(n)/ cannot appear in conditional protasis with the possibility of the negator to have shifted syntactically and be competing with the conditional particle both in Late Medieval and in Standard Modern Greek as a case of upward lexical micromovement. In summary, this period documents the change of the syntactic status of Neg1 and Neg2 and the ban of Neg2 from the conditional protasis that relies on its reanalysis.

Chapter 6

Following the chapters describing change in the history of Greek negation, the chapter on `Renewal and stability: One full Jespersen’s Cycle’ proposes the idea that out of the two negators, Neg1 underwent a completed Jespersen’s Cycle and was replaced by (u)dhen, showing the process described by Otto Jespersen by which negation tends to increase and decrease in complexity over time in regular ways. According to the author, Greek shows evidence for the stages seen in Jespersen’s Cycle with additional intermediate stages in particular during the Late Medieval stage. The Greek Neg2 preserved its behavior as an element dependent on nonveridicality and its uninterpretable NonVeridicality feature [uNonVer]. This negator has four diachronically preserved functions analyzed in this chapter: (i) in negative directives or volitionals, (ii) as an optional question particle, (iii) in the scope of verbs of fearing and (iv) as lexical negation. This chapter nicely presents a connection between the Greek negators and Jespersen’s Cycle and proposes a modification of the latter and setting Greek as a Jespersen’s Cycle language.


In the preface, Chatzopoulou comments that an outcome of this work that is based on Chatzopoulou (2012) was “to witness the attempts in diverse fields, starting with the classical scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the generative theories, typologists, and field linguistics” to account for the same phenomenon in language. Indeed this work, contextualized in the theory of (non)veridicality previously proposed for Greek (Giannakidou 1998 and subsequent work), is exactly as described, a detailed and thorough investigation presented in a clear way to the reader, who wishes to learn from scratch, or refresh or enrich his knowledge of regular patterns concerning negation and environments met in the history of Greek. For this, the book would make a valuable companion to seminars on negation or historical linguistics courses. Courses on Greek syntax and semantics could also benefit from the discussion provided in Chapter 2, which provides the theoretical background relevant to the distribution of the negators at a synchronic linguistic stage. As for some of the other points mentioned in the preface, this work could benefit from research in psycholinguistics to enrich the synchronic description of the polarity phenomenon in Greek in Chapter 2 (see Chatzikonstantinou 2012, for example).

Chatzopoulou’s work also makes a great reference guide for aspects of Greek language diachrony beyond negation, such as the information given to the reader on the broadening of /hina/ with a presentation of a variety of environments including modal predicates, directive predicates, unembedded directives, yes/no questions, fragment answers and nominalizations. In addition, the discussion on change in word order, a well-known fact about the diachrony of Greek, shows examples from complex sentences that also involve embedded clauses, negation and different positions of the verb allowing the interested reader to build a mental representation of the syntax of Greek of the relevant period. All of the data provided, complementary to the main argument and proposal of this work can be used for work on different phenomena by scholars working on Greek particularly but also other theoretical contributions on modality and selectional requirements of predicates. The observations recorded here open up future research questions that examine the diachrony of these phenomena related to synchronic syntactic and semantic theories.

Overall, the book is clear and well-organized. It presents a coherent view of the (non)veridicality theory diachronically through the study of Greek negation. The book would make a great addition to the libraries of semanticists, historical linguists and anyone else requiring a book providing synchronic and diachronic evidence and a novel perspective on the much-discussed phenomenon of negation.


Chatzopoulou, Katerina. 2012. Negation and Nonveridicality in the history of Greek. PhD Dissertation, University of Chicago.

Chatzikonstantinou, Anastasios. 2012. Semantic and Prosodic Processing of the negative polarity items in Greek. PhD Dissertation, University of Chicago.

Giannakidou, Anastasia. 1998. Polarity Sensitivity as (Non)veridical Dependency. Amsterdam: John Benjamins

Giannakidou, Anastasia. 2006. Only, Emotive Factives, and the Dulan Nature of Polarity Dependency. Language, 82(3), 575-603.

Markopoulos, Theodore. 2009. The Future in Greek. From Ancient to Medieval. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Natalia Pavlou is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of English Studies at the University of Cyprus and her research focuses on a) syntax and morphology of Greek, b) language acquisition and variation in bilectal and heritage environments. She earned her PhD from the Department of Linguistics at the University of Chicago in 2018.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780198712404
Pages: 288
Prices: U.S. $ 85.00