No lo he visto ‘masque’ yo?

Emergence and properties of a negative polarity item in Peninsular Spanish


  • Borja Herce University of Zurich


This paper shows that Spanish ‘más que’ (lit. more than) is much more than a comparative construction synchronically. Phonological, syntactic, and semantic evidence shows that various grammatically different entities hide under this single spelling. The most prominent of these is a (phonologically unstressed) negative polarity item with a meaning “only” or “just”. By means of robust synchronic and diachronic corpus evidence, this paper explores its morphosyntactic properties and geographic distribution in the modern language, as well as when and how a comparative expression with no polarity associations could come to grammaticalize into a negative polarity item.


Spanish, negative polarity, corpus, grammaticalization


Andersen, Henning. 1988. Center and periphery: adoption, diffusion. In Jacek Fisiak (Ed.), Historical dialectology: Regional and social. Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs [TiLSM] 37: 39-83.

de Benito Moreno, Carlota, Javier Pueyo & Inés Fernández-Ordóñez. 2016. Creating and designing a corpus of rural Spanish. In KONVENS 2016, 20 de septiembre de 2016. Rühr-Universität Bochum: 78-83.

Bickel, Balthasar & Johanna Nichols. 2002. Autotypologizing databases and their use in fieldwork. In Proceedings of the International LREC Workshop on Resources and Tools in Field Linguistics, Las Palmas, vol. 2627. Nijmegen: MPI for Psycholinguistics.

Boye, Kasper & Peter Harder. 2012. A usage-based theory of grammatical status and grammaticalization. Language 88, 1: 1-44.

Brooks, John. 1933. Más que, mas que and mas ¡qué! Hispania 16, 1: 23-34.

Bybee, Joan. 2006. From usage to grammar: The mind's response to repetition. Language 82, 4: 711-733.

Clegg, J. Halvor, and Mark Seely. 1985. Set Theory as an Explanation for the Selection Between más que/más de in Spanish. In Deseret Language and Linguistic Society Symposium 11, 1: 58-69.

Espinal, M. Teresa. 2000. On the semantic status of n-words in Catalan and Spanish. Lingua 110, 8: 557-580.

Espinal, M. Teresa, Susagna Tubau, Joan Borràs-Comes, and Pilar Prieto. 2016. Double negation in Catalan and Spanish. Interaction between syntax and prosody. In Pierre Larrivée, and Chungmin Lee (Eds.), Negation and polarity: Experimental perspectives: 145-176. New York: Springer.

Fernández-Ordóñez, Inés. 2004. Nuevas perspectivas en el estudio de la variación dialectal del español: el Corpus Oral y Sonoro del Español Rural. In David Trotter (Ed.), Actes du XXIV Congrès de Linguistique et Philologie Romanes: 29-43. Tübingen : Niemeyer.

Giannakidou, Anastasia. 1998. Polarity Sensitivity as (non) Veridical Dependency. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Giannakidou, Anastasia, and Hedde Zeijlstra. 2017. The Landscape of Negative Dependencies: Negative Concord and N‐Words. The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Syntax, Second Edition: 1-38.

Grice, Paul, 1981. Presupposition and Implicature. In Peter Cole (Ed.), Radical Pragmatics: 183–199. New York: Academic Press.

Heine, Bernd. 2017. Grammaticalization. In Brian D. Joseph, and Richard D. Janda (Eds.), The Handbook of Historical Linguistics: 573-601.

Herce, Borja. 2017a. The diachrony of Spanish haber/hacer + time: A quantitative corpus-based approach to grammaticalization. Journal of Historical Linguistics 7, 3: 276-321.

Herce, Borja. 2017b. Past–future asymmetries in time adverbials and adpositions: A crosslinguistic and diachronic perspective. Linguistic Typology 21, 1: 101-142.

Hoeksema, Jack. 1994. On the grammaticalization of negative polarity items. In Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, 20, 1: 273-282.

Hopper, Paul J. & Elizabeth C. Traugott. 2003. Grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Israel, Michael. 1996. Polarity sensitivity as lexical semantics. Linguistics and Philosophy 19, 6: 619-666.

Israel, Michael. 2001. Minimizers, maximizers and the rhetoric of scalar reasoning." Journal of semantics 18, 4: 297-331.

Larrivée, Pierre & Amel Kallel. 2020. The empirical reality of bridging contexts: Strong polarity contexts as the transition between NPIs and n-words. Journal of Historical Linguistics 10, 3: 427-451.

Lee, Ji Won. 2015. A corpus-based study of change and variation in much, many, far and often as Negative Polarity Items. PhD dissertation. State University of New York at Buffalo.

Lehmann, Christian. 1995. Thoughts on grammaticalization. Munich: LINCOM.

Lehmann, Christian. 2020. Univerbation. Folia Linguistica 54, 1: 205-252.

Mann, Jason, David Zhang, Lu Yang, Dipanjan Das, and Slav Petrov. 2014. Enhanced Search with Wildcards and Morphological Inflections in the Google Books Ngram Viewer. In Proceedings of ACL Demonstrations Track. Association for Computational Linguistics, June 2014.

Nichols, Johanna. 2015. Types of spread zones. Open and closed, horizontal and vertical. In Rik De Busser & Randy J. LaPolla (Eds.), Language structure and environment. Social, cultural, and natural factors. Cognitive Linguistic Studies in Cultural Contexts 6: 261–286. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

O’Neill, Teresa. 2011. The syntax of ne… que exceptives in French. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 17, 1: 175–184.

Poole, Geoffrey. 2011. Focus and the development of N-words in Spanish. Romance languages and linguistic theory 2009. Selected papers from ‘Going Romance’(Nice 2009): 291-303.

RAE-ASALE (= Real Academia Española / Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española) 2009. Nueva Gramática de la Lengua Española. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe.

Templin, Ernest H. 1929. An Additional Note on mas que. Hispania 12, 2: 163-170.

Traugott, Elisabeth Closs. 1995. Subjectification in grammaticalisation. In Dieter Stein and Susan Wright, (Eds.), Subjectivity and subjectivication: Linguistic perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vallduví, Enric. 1994. Polarity items, n-words, and minimizers in Catalan and Spanish. HCRC Publications, University of Edinburgh.

Veiga, Nancy Vázquez, and Mauro A. Fernández. 2012. Maskin, maski, masque… in the Spanish and Portuguese creoles of Asia. In Hugo C. Cardoso, Alan N. Baxter, and Mário Pinharanda-Nunes (Eds.), Ibero-Asian Creoles: Comparative Perspectives 46: 181-204.

Vicente, Luis. 2010. On the syntax of adversative coordination. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 28, 2: 381-415.

Von Fintel, Kai, and Sabine Iatridou. 2007. Anatomy of a modal construction. Linguistic Inquiry 38, 3:445-483.

Willis, David. 2011. Negative polarity and the quantifier cycle: Comparative diachronic perspectives from European languages. In Pierre Larriveé, and Richard P. Ingham (Eds.), The evolution of negation. Beyond the Jespersen cycle: 285-323.




Download data is not yet available.