The Negative Existential Cycle

Ljuba Veselinova   Arja Hamari  


In 1991, William Croft suggested that negative existentials (typically lexical expressions that mean ‘not exist, not have’) are one possible source for negation markers and gave his hypothesis the name Negative Existential Cycle (NEC). It is a variationist model based on cross-linguistic data. For a good twenty years following its formulation, it was cited at face-value without ever having been tested by (historical)-comparative data. Over the last decade, Ljuba Veselinova has worked on testing the model in a comparative perspective, and this edited volume further expands on her work.

The collection presented here features detailed studies of several language families such as Bantu, Chadic and Indo-European. A number of articles focus on the micro-variation and attested historical developments within smaller groups and clusters such as Arabic, Mandarin and Cantonese, and Nanaic. Finally, variation and historical developments in specific languages are discussed for Ancient Hebrew, Ancient Egyptian, Moksha-Mordvin (Uralic), Bashkir (Turkic), Kalmyk (Mongolic), three Pama-Nyungan languages, O’dam (Southern Uto-Aztecan) and Tacana (Takanan, Amazonian Bolivia). The book is concluded by two chapters devoted to modeling cyclical processes in language change from different theoretical perspectives.

Key notions discussed throughout the book include affirmative and negative existential constructions, the expansion of the latter into verbal negation, and subsequently from more specific to more general markers of negation. Nominalizations as well as the uses of negative existentials as standalone negative answers figure among the most frequent pathways whereby negative existentials evolve as general negation markers. The operation of the Negative Existential Cycle appears partly genealogically conditioned, as the cycle is found to iterate regularly within some families but never starts in others, as is the case in Bantu. In addition, other special negation markers such as nominal negators are found to undergo similar processes, i.e. they expand into the verbal domain and thereby develop into more general negation markers.

The book provides rich information on a specific path of the evolution of negation, on cyclical processes in language change, and it show-cases the historical-comparative method in a modern setting.


  • Introducing the Negative Existential Cycle
    Ljuba Veselinova, Arja Hamari
  • The negative existential cycle in Bantu
    Rasmus Bernander, Maud Devos, Hannah Gibson
  • The negative existential cycle in Chadic
    Marielle Butters
  • Extensions and commonalities in negative existential cycles in Arabic
    David Wilmsen
  • The negative existential cycle in Ancient Hebrew
    Jacobus A. Naudé, Cynthia L. Miller-Naudé, Daniel J. Wilson
  • The negative existential cycle in Ancient Egyptian
    Elsa Oréal
  • Negative existentials in Indo-European: a typological and diachronic overview
    Annemarie Verkerk, Shahar Shirtz
  • The negative existential cycle in Moksha
    Arja Hamari
  • Croft’s Cycle in Mandarin and Cantonese throughout history and across varieties
    Cherry Chit-Yu Lam
  • Non-verbal negation markers and the Negative Existential Cycle in Bashkir and Kalmyk with some typological parallels
    Vlada V. Baranova, Daria F. Mishchenko
  • Integration of the negative existential into the standard negation system: The case of Nanaic languages
    Sofia Oskolskay, Natalia Stoynova
  • Privation and Negation: Semantic change in the negative domains of three Australian (Pama-Nyungan) languages
    Joshua Phillips
  • Negation in Tacana (Amazonian Bolivia): synchronic description and diachronic reconstruction
    Antoine Guillaume
  • Existential negation in O’dam
    Michael Everdell, Gabriela García Salido
  • The Negative Existential and other Cycles: Jespersen, Givón, and the copula cycle
    Elly van Gelderen
  • Intertwining the negative cycles
    Johan van der Auwera, Olga Krasnoukhova, Frens Vossen



Ljuba Veselinova

Ljuba Veselinova is a Professor of linguistics at the University of Stockholm. Her main interests lie in linguistic typology, the shaping of grammar and lexicon via processes of grammaticalization and lexicalization, numerical concepts and their linguistic expressions, and cyclical processes in language change.

Arja Hamari

Arja Hamari is a University Lecturer for Finnish and Finno-Ugric Languages at the University of Turku.

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December 18, 2022
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Veselinova, Ljuba & Hamari, Arja (eds.). 2022. The Negative Existential Cycle. (Research on Comparative Grammar 2). Berlin: Language Science Press. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.6306474


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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ISBN-13 (15)




Details about the available publication format: Hardcover


ISBN-13 (15)


Physical Dimensions

180mm x 245mm