Jespersen’s Cycle and the issue of prosodic ‘weakness’
Jespersen’s Cycle (1917), according to which a negation particle is weakened and therefore later strengthened through an additional element, is a generally accepted explanation in language change. The German data, however, reveals that the weakening of the negation particle preceded the initiation of Jespersen’s Cycle by centuries. The further weakening caused the ineffi cacy of the old negation particle and thus initiated Jespersen’s Cycle. The reduction is demonstrated to result from segmental, prosodic, and syntactic factors. The progressive weakening of the negation particle (PIE *ne > OHG ni > MHG ne > NHG Ø) is due to the fact that its chances of attracting rhythmic stress became increasingly rare.