University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


There are three ways of expressing negation on indefinites in English: any-negation (I didn’t have any money), no-negation (I had no money) and negative concord (I didn’t have no money). These variants have been competing diachronically in a change in progress, where the newest variant any-negation is increasing at the expense of the oldest variant no-negation (Tottie 1991a, 1999b, Varela Pérez 2014). This raises the questions: What is the current state of this variability? Is the variation socially evaluated? What does this reveal about linguistic change? Our comparative quantitative sociolinguistic analysis of vernacular speech corpora from Northern England and Ontario, Canada reveals that no-negation is stoutly retained in Britain but is less frequent in Canada. Linguistic constraints on the variation hold cross-dialectally: functional verbs retain no-negation, while lexical verbs favour any. However, the social embedding of the variation is community-specific. Where the change to any-negation is more advanced, i.e., Canada, there are no significant social effects: the variation between any-negation and no-negation appears stable. In England, where no-negation is conserved to a greater extent, there are effects of speaker sex and education, with men and less-educated speakers favouring no-negation. Furthermore, both of the UK communities (North East England and York) display age-grading trends which suggest that the prestige associated with any-negation historically has persisted over time. While the communities share a common variable grammar, the social value in choosing a variant is localised and reflects the status of the change.