Accessible Published by De Gruyter Mouton January 7, 2017

How languages acquire new grammatical elements: The story of ka(n)- series in Modern Greek retold

Ioannis Veloudis
From the journal Linguistics


In this paper I discuss the creative rendezvous of necrotizing habituation with the speakers’ reviving – if not artful – imagination in negative responses. Ιn particular, I reconsider the so-called kanenas- [κανένας-] series in Modern Greek as a byproduct of a discourse strategy involving the logical sequence of modus tollens. I argue that the intensifier kan [κάν < ancient κἄν] ‘even (if)’ is the diachronic manifestation of a prevalent speaker’s tactic intended for making the perception of a denial long and “laborious” by estranging and complicating the negative structure. And that when this autonomous kan comes to be processed as a single unit with the emphatic cardinal enas [ένας < ancient εἷς] ‘one’, it opens a fertile grammaticalization cycle. More specifically, as the contexts in which the resultant minimizer kanenas [emphatic] is welcome proliferate, the frequency of use of this fashionable Negative Polarity Item increases dramatically, resulting in a gradual loss in semantic specificity and phonological flesh: kanenas [non emphatic], kanas. The unavoidable price for that proliferation, which is, however, ultimately balanced by an impressive earnings yield in positive polarity items: kapjos [κάποιος] ‘some(one)’, kati [κάτι] ‘some(thing)’, kapu [κάπου] ‘somewhere’ etc.

1 Introduction

To my mind, the members of the ka(n)- series in Modern Greek are much more than simply items under the jurisdiction of “anti-veridical” and “non-veridical” operators, in the sense of Giannakidou (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000). On the other hand, ‘(anti-/non-) veridicality’ cannot in fact sustain but a licensing theory based on logical entailment. Knowing, however, which operators license which polarity items is not the entire – linguistic – story: we also, if not primarily, need to know what these items are licensed for. Lehmann’s (1985: 317) general statement is to the point: “The only explanations adequate to [language] are functional explanations. The relevant question is not ‘why is there this variation or that change?’ but rather ‘what are this variation and that change for?’ In seeking answers to such questions, we must find out what the universal tasks are that human beings constantly fulfill in language activity” [emphasis mine]. This paper deals with these issues. [1]

Quoting the following passage from Tolstoy

As I was walking around dusting things off in my room, I came to the sofa. For the life of me, I couldn’t recall whether I had already dusted it off or not. Since these movements are habitual and unconscious, I felt that it was already impossible to remember it. If I had in fact dusted the sofa and forgotten that I had done so, i. e., if I had acted unconsciously, then it is tantamount to not having done it at all. If [ … ] the complex life of many people takes place entirely on the level of the unconscious, then it’s as if this life had never been.

(Leo Tolstoy’s Diary, entry dated 1 March 1897)

the distinguished Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky notes in his Theory of prose: “And so, held accountable for nothing, life fades into nothingness. Automatization eats away at things, at clothes, at furniture, at our wives, and our fear of war” (1990: 5). Regarding the process of perception, in particular, he points out that

as it becomes habitual, it also becomes automatic. So eventually all of our skills and experiences function unconsciously-automatically. If someone were to compare the sensation of holding a pen in his hand or speaking a foreign tongue for the very first time with the sensation of performing this same operation for the tenth thousandth time, then he would no doubt agree with us. It is this process of automatization that explains the laws of our prose speech with its fragmentary phrases and half-articulated words.

(1990: 5) [emphasis mine]

In my view, what makes the grammaticalization approach more appealing, and persuasive, is that it opens a window to habituation. Scholars like Boyland (1996) and Haiman (1994, 1998), both reported in Bybee (2003), have recognized the bearings of automatization on the evolution of grammatical elements. Regarding the form, in particular, Boyland notes that “the changes in form that occur in the grammaticalization process closely resemble changes that occur as non-linguistic skills are practiced and become automatized. With repetition, sequences of units that were previously independent come to be processed as a single unit or chunk.” (Bybee 2003: 153). “It would not be entirely inappropriate”, Langacker (1977) has suggested in this connection, “to regard languages in their diachronic aspect as gigantic expression-compacting machines” (1977: 106; reported in Hopper and Traugott [1993: 65]). Similarly, regarding changes both in form and, crucially, in meaning, Haiman observes, respectively, that “the chunking and reduction features of the grammaticalization process bear a resemblance to non-linguistic ritualized behavior” and that “[r]epeated practices lead to habituation, the process by which an organism ceases to respond at the same level to a repeated stimulus. A repeated word or phrase tends to lose much of its semantic force [ … ]” (Bybee 2003: 153–154). A regular victim of this bleaching is pointed out by David Lightfoot: “[ … ] adjectives are regularly ‘devalued’ by a kind of linguistic inflation: ‘excellent’ comes to mean merely ‘good’, ‘enormous’ to mean ‘big’, and ‘fantastic’, ‘fabulous’, etc. lose their original force. As this happens, so new superlatives must be invented to describe the end-point on some scale: hence the popular ‘ginormous’, ‘fantabulous’, etc.” (Lightfoot 1981: 232) [emphasis mine].

A second – more important, in my opinion – point of parallelism is now in order. Shklovsky, best known for introducing the technique of defamiliarization-estrangement (ostranenie) as it is exploited especially in Leo Tolstoy’s works, maintains that art is the means by which we can regain the feeling of life:

And so, in order to return sensation in our limps, in order to make us feel objects, to make a stone feel stony, man has been given the tool of art. [ … ] By “enstranging” [sic] objects and complicating form, the device of art makes perception long and “laborious.” The perceptual process in art has a purpose all its own and ought to be extended to the fullest. Art is a means of experiencing the process of creativity. (Shklovsky 1990: 6) [2]

Art is not the only vehicle for experiencing the process of creativity, though. As hinted at in the end of the preceding paragraph, everyday language as well can “make us feel objects” by renewing its means. More specifically, according to Lightfoot

one way for the speaker to achieve greater expressivity is to adopt a novel or unusual form or new construction. In general, foreign influence and the constant need for unusual forms are two factors which lead adults to adopt new constructions in the course of their lifetimes and which therefore entail that linguistic environments change from generation to generation, eventually perhaps entailing a new grammar.

(1981: 231)

In the same line, Paul Hopper and Elisabeth Traugott remark that

[ … ] compacting, obliteration of boundaries, and reduction of redundancy is balanced in normal language situations by the introduction of new and innovative ways of saying approximately the same thing. These new and innovative ways of saying things are brought about by speakers seeking to enhance expressivity. This is typically done through “deroutinizing” of constructions, in other words, through finding new ways to say old things.

(1993: 65) [emphasis mine]

Christian Lehmann goes even further: “To the degree that language activity is truly creative”, he says,

it is no exaggeration to say that languages change because speakers want to change them. This does not mean, of course, that they intend to restructure the linguistic system. It does mean, however, that they do not want to express themselves the same way they did yesterday, and in particular not the same way as somebody else did yesterday. To this extent, language is comparable to fashion. The two are also comparable in another respect: given that, for reasons inherent in the nature of things, there is only a limited number of possibilities, after having run through a grammaticalization scale, we are back to its start. For example, certain languages which rely on case suffixes again and again recruit new postpositions in order to renew their case system. This is why grammatical change has been likened to a spiral (Gabelentz 1901: 256; Meillet 1921 [1912]: 140–141).

(1985: 315) [emphasis mine]

Habituation-routinization, that is to say, underlies the evolution in language as it does with the evolution in fashion. (The art returns from the backdoor; recall Shklovsky’s direct reference to “clothes” and “furniture” above.) The well-ascertained, and interrelated, facts of the dramatic increase in the frequency of use of a grammaticalizing construction, i. e., on the one hand, the “increase in the types of contexts in which the new construction is possible” (Bybee 2003: 147), and, on the other hand, the consequent gradual decline, that is, the concomitant phonological reduction and semantic bleaching of the construction, become now readily explicable under the rubric “language is comparable to fashion” – their comparability being profoundly due to habituation.

My aim in this paper is to consider the creative rendezvous of necrotizing habituality with the speakers’ reviving – if not artful – imagination in negative responses. I will examine, in particular, the so-called kanenas- series or, to put it in a poetic way, the rise and fall of the Negative Polarity Item κανΕΝΑΣ [κανΕΙΣ], henceforth in transliteration: kanÉNAS [kanÍS], ‘[not] even one’ in Modern Greek. [3] More specifically, I will argue that due to its repetition, the ordinary negative particle ðén ‘not’ [4] tends to lose much of its semantic liveliness – a loss that is further reinforced by the fact that in many cases this particle covers indifferent or apathetic instances of negation as well. This means that in cases of intense denial speakers would hardly want “to express themselves the same way they did yesterday” or “the same way as somebody else did yesterday”: actually, in order to make their denial feel “denialy”, so to speak (recall Shklovsky’s stony), they struggle to “make perception long and ‘laborious’” by estranging and complicating the negative structure, sometimes in remarkable ways.

The evolution of morphological and syntactic structures, Furtado da Cunha (2007: 1649) points out, takes place through the establishment of discourse strategies. In Du Bois’ (1985: 363) words, she quotes, “grammars code best what speakers do most”. In my view, the intensifier ΚÁΝ ‘even (if)’ is in fact the emblematic representative of a prevalent discourse strategy (subconsciously) intended for making the perception of a denial long and laborious. And when this autonomous item, already “processed as a single unit or chunk” in antiquity (see Section 2.1 below), comes to be itself processed as a single unit or chunk with emphatic ÉNAS ‘one’ in Medieval Greek (: ÉNAS ΚÁΝ > kanÉNAS), it opens the grammaticalization cycle of the ‘ka(n)- series’ in Modern Greek: the frequency of use of the brand new kanÉNAS increases dramatically, as the contexts in which this fashionable, “unusual” form is welcome progressively multiply, resulting in a gradual loss in phonological flesh and semantic specificity. The unavoidable price for that proliferation, as we have seen. Which is, however, balanced by an impressive earnings yield: (non-emphatic) kanénas ‘any’, kanas or kánas ‘any [+episodic]’, kambósos or kámbosos ‘enough [adj./pron.]’ and kambóso or kámboso ‘enough [adv.]’, kápjos ‘some(one)’, káti ‘some(thing)’, kápu ‘somewhere’, kápote ‘sometime’, kápos ‘somehow’. [5]

2 Emphatic negation as defamiliarization

Criticizing Jespersen’s “insistence on the causal role of reduction”, Jack Hoeksema writes:

Jespersen argued that the reduction of French negation to ne inevitably led to the emergence of double marking as a way to reinforce the weakened sign of negation. This in turn rendered ne entirely superfluous, leading ultimately to its disappearance in the spoken vernacular. However, one might also argue the other way around. If negation is so important, and clearly it is, why would one want to reduce it at all?

(2009: 19)

This looks to me like the famous question, which came first, the chicken or the egg? In my opinion, the only difference between the two positions lies with the perspective adopted. In particular, regarding this cycle of reinforcement, Jespersen essentially focuses on automatization-habituation, surveying the consequences thereof. On the other hand, Hoeksema actually calls attention to defamiliarization-estrangement, adducing the importance of negation: thanks to it, he remarks, negation is liable to a reinforcing renewal, rather than to a weakening reduction.

Taking on this second point of view, we can say that emotional strengthening of the negative is possible in various ways. More naïve, as when we simply exploit the emphatic outcome of reduplication (recall, for example, the school kids’ “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control” in Pink Floyd’s legendary album The Wall) or when we amplify the reification of the negative particle (recall, for example, bubbles with huge NO!!!!s in comic strips). And more sophisticated, as when we seek to estrange and complicate the negative structure, making its perception longer and more laborious. Consider the following examples from Modern Greek – in fact, excellent samples of a speaker’s pragmatic and cognitive manipulation:


‘Νot even Einstein himself would be able to solve this problem.’


‘Νot even Hercules himself would be able to lift this trunk.’

toɣiót. [6]

‘Νot even Abramovich himself would be able to buy this yacht.’


‘in perpetuity’


‘out of the question’


‘I didn’t understand a thing!’


‘Nothing happened.’


‘S/he went nowhere.’


‘You never came to see me.’


‘I couldn’t care less.’


‘S/he didn’t speak at all.’


‘Our lawyer was overly laconic during the trial.’


‘I didn’t spill a drop on the floor.’


‘We have run out of bread.’


‘S/he didn’t move at all.’


‘I didn’t touch the cake.’


‘This kid is brainless.’


‘I don’t give a damn.’


‘No one showed today.’


‘There is no way you can get the permission.’


‘The apple fell far from the tree.’


‘I didn’t hear a thing.’


‘S/he never made a sound.’


‘S/he didn’t utter a word.’


‘Off the subject!’


‘I didn’t understand a thing.’


‘No way!’


‘S/he cannot solve the simplest of problems!’


‘They cannot beat the weakest team.’


‘He is incapable of spotting the most obvious error.’

ðéntoévaleΚÁΝs-tostómatu(to faɣitó)!
notitcliticput3sg.pstEVENin-themouthhis(the food)

‘He didn’t even try the food!’


‘No one showed.’


‘Nobody took her side’.


‘Nobody took her side.’

Our material has been cautiously arranged in accordance with the nature of the reinforcing mechanism. In particular, the examples in (1)–(2) depend on maximizers: pragmatic, cf. (1a)–(1c), or idiomatic, cf. (2a)–(2c). The examples in (3) exploit generalizers, relating to the basic cognitive categories thing, cf. (3a), place, cf. (3b), time, cf. (3c), quantity, cf. (3d), and manner, cf. (3e). The examples in (4)–(7), finally, are based on minimizers: nouns, cf. (4a)–(4h), idiomatic expressions, cf. (5a)–(5h), superlatives referring to the lowest or the highest end of a ranking, cf. (6a)–(6c), and the concessive intensifier ΚÁΝ, autonomous, cf. (7a)–(7c), or as a single unit with cardinal ‘one’, kanÉNAS, relating to the basic cognitive category person, cf. (7d). (The neuter form of this item, kanÉNA, relates to the basic cognitive category thing, together with the generalizer TÍPOTE.) [7]

The three terms, maximizers, generalizers and minimizers are, of course, descriptively adequate, but may turn out to be misleading. They really give the impression that they divide our material in three distinct groups that lack a common denominator. This does not seem though to be quite the case. In my opinion, all our “sophisticated” Examples (1)–(7) owe their dramatic effects to their profound dependence on a hidden set; in particular, on a set which may be either of a scalar organization, as in the case of the maximizers in (1)–(2) and the minimizers in (4)–(7), or of a non scalar organization, as in the case of the generalizers in (3). To restrict myself to our a.’s above, (1a) actually points to the upper end in the rank of all physicists; (2a) includes essentially all those moments from the current moment up to the far end of eternity; (3a) asserts that nothing happened, considering all those things that could/should have happened pertaining to the case in question; (4a) affirms that the lawyer said almost no word of all those available; (5a) admits in fact that of all Greek governments, ranked according to their dedication to meritocracy, not even the one with the worse marks would consent; (6a) refers to the simplest problem in a collection of varying in difficulty problems; and, finally, in (7a) the speaker has no hesitation in denying even – what is considered to be – the most elementary condition among all those required for someone to enjoy a meal (and for the truth of the corresponding proposition).

This alleged presence of a hidden set, scalar or not, now, cannot be simply a matter of coincidence; quite to the contrary, it must be critical, as far as the intended emphatic denial is concerned. To be more precise, our estranged examples in (1)–(7) claim no less than the status of “logical” contradictions. By explicitly (cf. generalizers) or implicitly (cf. maximizers and minimizers) exhausting all the pragmatically pertinent possibilities, they “prove” that the current situation cannot hold in any case, i. e., that it is not simply contingently false, but in all – pragmatically possible – cases false! (Recall that a logical contradiction is a proposition that is false in all possible worlds.) Take, for example, (1a): it actually “argues” that the proposition ‘the (current) problem is solved’ could never be true, given that Einstein, and, for that matter, any other physicist, let alone ordinary people, could not possibly – in the pragmatic sense of the adverb – deal successfully with it.

I suspect that the comparability of this falsity to that of the logical contradictions offers us a well promising starting point, as far as questions like ‘Why is it that the reinforcement of negation by and large relies on minimizers, generalizers, and maximizers?’ or ‘What is it that makes our emphatic material above cohere?’ are concerned. However, I won’t pursue this analogical, not to say metaphoric, association with logical contradictions, and the subsequent generalization, any further here.

2.1 ΚÁΝ

It has been observed that minimizers constitute the “largest subgroup of the intensifiers of negation” (van der Wouden 1997: 73; Hoeksema 1994: 279). [8] Why is this so, however? Or, to rephrase the question: What is it that makes these expressions more attractive for rendering the perception of a speaker’s negative reaction long and laborious, by creatively estranging its structure? To the best of my knowledge, this issue has hardly been investigated.

In a number of earlier papers (Veloudis 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2003) I tried in effect to deal with that preference. And I would like to revive my analysis here, as I continue to believe that the proposal I argued for therein is able to handle more satisfactorily the speaker’s emotional involvement. In my view, expressions denoting minimal quantity or value, such as our minimizers, are absolutely apt, not to say virtually predestined, to feed a particular rhetorical strategy: instead of simply asserting that a proposition is not true, the speaker, acting on her own initiative, “concedes” to commit herself to the falsity of the most elementary condition concerning the truth of that proposition. Take (4e), for instance: the speaker reacts to the accusation that she ate the cake by asserting that she had not even a morsel of it (instead of straightforwardly denying eating the cake). Crucially, it could equally be ΚÁΝ BUKIÁ ðén éfaɣa or BUKIÁ ΚÁΝ ðén éfaɣa or BUKIÁ ðén éfaɣa ΚÁΝ; and the same holds for all our examples with minimizers (with the exception, of course, of those in which ΚÁΝ is already present as a free word or as an attachment). As we shall see below, ΚÁΝ ‘even if’ is the epitome of the speaker’s concession to consider the least.

What now is the import of this maneuver? As a matter of fact, eating something evidently implies having at least a morsel of it (and not vice versa): if it is the case that I ate a cake, then it is practically the case that I had a morsel of it (at least); or, to put this trivial (pragmatic) truth in logical terms: P→Q (where P=‘I ate the cake’ and Q=‘I had a morsel of the cake’). To my mind, what the speaker actually does here is to build on this readily available triviality. In an astonishing, I must acknowledge, way, she tacitly takes this implication for granted, whilst denying at the same time the truth of the apodosis, ~Q (=‘it is not the case that I had [even] a morsel of the cake’), furnishing thus a well-known logical argument, the modus (tollendo) tollens,


with its appropriate premises:

If I ate the cake, then I had a morsel of it (at least)
I did not have (even) a MORSEL of it
Therefore, I did not eat the cake

In other words, the logical sequence of modus tollens, despite appearances, is there in its entirety, thanks to its metonymic representation by the minor (key-)premise, ~Q, emphatically uttered by the speaker (see Veloudis [1996: 367], and Veloudis [1998: 220–231]). A readily recognizable part for whole substitution, of course, since, on the one hand, the missing major premise of the sequence, ‘If I ate the cake, then I had a morsel of it (at least)’, in addition to being a familiar truth, is effortlessly recoverable from the immediate context (a preceding question like Did you eat the cake?, for example); and on the other hand, the conclusion is also there, as a logically inescapable outcome, given the truth of the premises. [9]

In this way we can reasonably explain why eventually the speaker’s reaction, understood as the minor premise of the modus, counts as an amplified, as well as coherent, [10] version of the proposition ‘I did not eat the cake’. Obtainable as the conclusion of a valid argument, the latter is now essentially guaranteed by the logic itself, not simply by a human locution (Veloudis 1996: 369–370). Above all: it is artfully the mathematical product of a long and laborious process; a significant sample of estranging complication.

It should be added in this connection that by theatrically considering the ultimate possibility of having a morsel, the speaker actually caters for the needs of the hearer, the person who elicited her reaction in the first place (e. g., by posing the question Did you eat the cake?). In fact, the entire logical maneuver presented above has been designed in his favor: to make him feel her denial (as she feels it herself). I must say I consider (7a)–(7d) above, exemplifying the concessive intensifier ΚÁΝ, to be the most exciting representatives of the subgroup of minimizers, exactly because their ΚÁΝ essentially puts this conversational courtesy in a nutshell. (I suspect that it is for this reason that ΚÁΝ, on the one hand, has never ceased to be in this use since antiquity, as pointed out e. g., in Veloudis [2003: 619], and, on the other hand, has been the “Negative Polarity Item” on which the whole ka[n]- series of Modern Greek is founded, as we will see in the sections to follow.) In (7a), for example,

ðéntoévaleΚÁΝs-tostómatu(to faɣitó)!
notitcliticput3sg.pstEVENin-artmouthhis(the food)

‘He didn’t even try the food!’

considered as a moving response to a question like Did he enjoy the food you prepared?, ΚÁΝ intuitively means something like ‘even if I do you the favor to check, evaluate, count, mind, bother (to consider), etc. [11]the least, most elemental, rudimentary, etc. condition regarding his having enjoyed my food, I assure you this: he didn’t (even) put it into his mouth’ (where ‘putting food into one’s mouth’ is the least, most elemental, etc. condition of one’s enjoying this food). That is to say, by uttering (7a) the speaker in fact summons the hearer to the following processing (see Veloudis 1995: 402–403):

If it is the case that he enjoyed my food, then it is the case that he put it into his mouth (at least).
He did NOT EVEN put it into his mouth.
Therefore, it is the case that he did not enjoy my food.

Crucially, the older occurrences of the item seem to bear out this intuition (see also Veloudis 2003: 618–623). As we read in H. G. Liddell and R. Scott’s (1992) A Greek-English Lexicon, henceforth LSJ, ancient κἄν [kan] was mainly employed to designate – what the speaker, on her own initiative, conceded to consider as – the most elemental, rudimentary, remote, and out-of-the-way condition:

κἄν (not κᾄν), by crasis, I for καὶ ἄν [ … ] not often when καί [and] is simply copul. [ … ], but freq. when καί is intens. [ … ]; sts. repeated after or before a Verb with ἄν [epistemic mod. marker] ἐπεὶ κ. σὺ …, εἴ τις σε διδάξειεν …, βελτίων ἂν γένοιο [because even you – if we concede that we consider your chances – would become better, in case that someone undertook to teach you] Pl. Prt. 318b, cf. R 515e; freq. in the phrase κ. εἰ [if], where καί properly belongs to εἰ, even if, and ἄν to the Verb that follows in apodosi, νῦν δέ μοι δοκεῖ, κ. ἀσέβειαν εἰ καταγιγνώσκοι, τὰ προσήκοντα ποιεῖν [it seems to me now that even if – we concede that we consider the remote case in which – he detects disrespect, he will act accordingly] (for καὶ εἰ καταγιγνώσκοι, ποιεῖν ἄν) D. 21.51: hence, 2. even when the Verb in apodosis was of a tense that could not be joined with ἄν, κ. εἰ πολλαὶ [αἱ ἀρεταί] εἰσιν, ἕν γέ τι εἶδος ταυτὸν ἅπασαι ἔχουσι [even if – we concede that we consider the slight possibility that – there are many virtues, they nevertheless are all of exactly the same kind] Pl. Men. 72c; κ. εἰ μή τῳ δοκεῖ [even if – we concede that – one does not think so] Id. R 473a, 579d, cf. 408b, Phd. 71b, Sph. 247e, Arist. Top. 136a, al. [ … ] II for καὶ ἄν (=ἐάν), even if, with the same moods as ἐάν [if], S. Aj. 15, Pl. Prt. 319c, etc.: freq. used ellipt., ἄνδρα χρὴ δοκεῖν πεσεῖν ἂν κ. (sc. πέσῃ) ἀπὸ σμικροῦ κακοῦ [a man should think that he will not escape fall, even – if we concede that we consider the apparently innocent possibility of his falling – by an insignificant portion of misfortune][12] S. Aj. 1078, cf. Ar. V 92, Ach. 1021, and so prob. In S El. 1483; later folld. by ind., κἂν γὰρ οὕτω φαμέν [even if – we concede that we consider the remote possibility that – we say so] A.D. Synt. 70.22 [ … ]

To sum up, the employment of modus tollens, and the consequent logical blessing, applies not only to examples with ΚÁΝ, but to examples with minimizers as a whole. (For a more inclusive analysis, see Veloudis 1995, 1998). And we can now see what their characterization as “Negative Polarity Items” is in fact due to: in case negation is present, they are always bound to the minor premise ~Q of the sequence of modus tollens. What renders examples with ΚÁΝ unique, however, within this subgroup is that they convey, so to speak, a meta-message: in using ΚÁΝ, the speaker actually hints at the estranging, almost logico-mathematical, strategy she adopts.

2.1.1 kanÉNAS

The cardinal ‘one’ can be roughly considered as the most mathematical, plainest representative of minimal quantity. It comes as no surprise, then, that it very early acquired the status of ΚÁΝ’s ideal associate in the estranging strategy I have been arguing for. To complete the passage from LSJ with point 3 (which I skipped in my initial quotation above), κἄν occurs “I [ … ] 3. In later Gr. without εἰ, simply as a stronger form of καί, even, [ … ] (and so with εἷς, μία, ἕν [one, M, F, N], κ. μίαν ἡμέραν δόντες αὐτοῖς [allowing them even one day] v.l. in X. HG 1.7.19; [ … ])”. A. N. Jannaris’ historical grammar and E. A. Sophocles’ lexicon offer us more examples of this innovation in the following two passages (cited also in Veloudis [2003: 619–620], and Veloudis [2010: 267–268]):

598b. In its association with cardinal numerals, κἄν gradually assumed the force of a merely indefinite particle, as: Apophth. 261 B πάντως δὲ ἐξ αὐτῶν ΚἊΝ ἛΝ ἀρέσει αὐτῷ; [ … ] Chron. 723, 20 KἊΝ ἙΒΔΟΜΉΚΟΝΤΑ κάραβοι ‘some seventy boats’[ … ] (Jannaris 1897: 165)

κἂν (καὶ ἄν), at least, even, but [ … ] Kἂν εἷς, κἂν μία, κἂν ἕν, even one, at least one [ … ] Galen. VI, 349 D κἂν μιᾶς ἡμέρας, for at least one day. Sext. 102, 16. Clem. A. I. 748 A. II, 645 C. Philostr. Epist. 38. Apophth. 261 B. Abuc. 1548 D. – Polyb. 3. 9, 2 Οὐδὲ χωρίζεσθαι κἂν ἅπαξ, not even once.

(Sophocles 1914)

This status of the cardinal ‘one’ continues to date, as we can see in (7c)–(7d) above. It should not pass unnoticed though that despite the fact that these two examples do not really differ in meaning, they differ significantly as far as their degree of grammaticalization is concerned. In fact, what is simply hinted at in (7c) has been grammatically taken care of in (7d). That is, ΚÁΝ’s reanalysis as an attachment to cardinal ÉNAS ‘one’ is morphologically blessed in the latter example: obviously, ΚÁΝ is no more an autonomous word here; and its syntactic downgrading goes hand in hand with the loss of its original emphatic stress: ÉNAS KÁN > kanÉNAS. [13]

To be more precise, ‘autonomy’ is a crucial parameter, regarding the grammaticalization of an item. As we read in Lehmann (1985: 306),

The more freedom with which a sign is used, the more autonomous it is. The grammaticalization of a sign detracts from its autonomy. Consequently, if we want to measure the degree to which a sign is grammaticalized, we will determine its degree of autonomy. This has three principal aspects. First, in order to be autonomous, a sign must have a certain weight, a property which renders it distinct from the members of its class and endows it with prominence in the syntagm. Second, autonomy decreases to the extent that a sign systematically contracts certain relations with other signs; the factor inherent in such relations which detracts from autonomy will be called cohesion. Third, a sign is the more autonomous the more variability it enjoys; this means a momentary mobility or shiftability with respect to other signs.

kanÉNAS then turns out to be a highly grammaticalized product: its formation is the result of ΚÁΝ’s (i) loss of ‘weight’, (ii) ‘cohesive’ unification with ÉNAS, and, most importantly, (iii) lack of ‘variability’. ΚÁΝ’s freedom to bring in any minimal, elemental, remote, etc., condition regarding the occurrence of a situation drops dramatically: as non-emphatic attachment, kan-, it is now attracted by, and essentially belongs to, emphatic ÉNAS. [14]

Being a minimizer, kanÉNAS experiences, of course, the same critical distributional restriction as ΚÁΝ: it is welcome in negative responses only (Veloudis 1982: 200–225), expressing what is actually understood as the minor premise of modus tollens. As a matter of fact, this restriction is so strong that kanÉNAS is felt to be – though it is not – [15] negative itself: since it cannot but occur in negative sentences solely, its presence makes the rest of the structure, including the negative particle, predictable, not to say redundant; thus, it may readily operate as their metonymic (: part for whole) substitute. For example, (7d) could equally have the form of a one-word response

d΄. kanÉNAS.

to the extent that the surrounding context, an immediately preceding question like Did anyone of the bystanders take her side?, for instance, supplies the missing material to heal the ellipsis. (Interestingly, the same holds for other minimizers as well, e. g., STAɣÓNA, KUKÚTSI, PSIHÍ (ZÓSA), etc., and the entire series of generalizers in [3] above.)

In other words, kanÉNAS attends the requirements of the conversational strategy presented above as well as ΚÁΝ has been shown to do. It allows the speaker an equally well-built appeal to modus tollens. To be more specific, in our (7d), for example, where kanÉNAS is considered as an emotional response to a question like the one above, Did anyone of the bystanders take her side?, it can be intuitively interpreted along the following lines: ‘even if I do you the favor to check, evaluate, count, etc. the least, most elemental, most rudimentary, etc. condition regarding her being supported, I assure you this: ‘not even one person took her side’ (for an early discussion, see Veloudis 1996: 368–371). That is to say, by uttering (7d) the speaker in fact summons the hearer to the following processing:

If the bystanders took her side, then one (person, at least) took her side.
Not even one (person) took her side.
Therefore, the bystanders didn’t take her side. [16]

This logical sequence, despite appearances, is again present in its entirety, thanks to its metonymic representation by the minor (key-) premise, ~Q, emphatically uttered by the speaker. A readily recognizable part for whole substitution, of course, since, on the one hand, the missing major premise of the sequence, ‘If the bystanders took her side, then one (at least) person took her side’, in addition to being a trivial truth, is effortlessly recoverable from the immediate context (cf. the question above); and on the other hand, the conclusion is also there, as a logically inevitable outcome, given the truth of the premises. [17]

In this way we can reasonably explain why eventually the speaker’s response, understood as the minor premise of the modus, counts as an amplified, as well as coherent, equivalent to ‘the bystanders did not take her side’. Obtainable as the conclusion of a valid argument, the latter is now in fact guaranteed by the logic itself, not simply by a human locution (see Veloudis 1995: 403). Above all: as with ΚÁΝ, it is artfully the mathematical product of a long and laborious process; a significant sample of estranging complication.

2.2 kanénas

It is well known in the relevant literature (cf. Veloudis [1982: 189–231]; Giannakidou [1993: 130–137]; Tsimpli and Roussou [1993: 148–155]; Klidi [1995: 452–458], to mention some earlier works) that kanÉNAS has a non emphatic twin kanénas

ðéntinipostíri ksekan-ÉNAS.

‘No one took her side.’


‘No one took her side.’

the distribution of which is not as severely restricted. In fact, kanénas is equally welcome in environments nourishing generally speaker’s involvement. It is no more a Negative Polarity Item; instead, it has acquired the more general status of an Affective Polarity Item:


‘I wish someone took her side!’


‘Someone must take her side.’


‘It might have been the case that someone took her side.’


‘At last, let someone take her side!’


‘If someone takes her side, she has a chance.’


‘I wonder if anyone will take her side.’


‘I doubt that anyone took her side.’

póte pótetinipostírizekan-énas/*kan-ÉNAS.
ever everhersupport3sg.pst.ipfveven-one/*even-ONE

‘From time to time someone took her side.’

In my view, the only members of the series that deserve the characterization ‘Negative Polarity Items’ are ΚÁΝ and kanÉNAS. As (9) clearly shows, the characterization of kanénas as n- word in the relevant literature is an unsuccessful oversimplification: this item is happy in modal environments in general, indicating a speaker interested in expressivity. In some cases, in much the same way as English any (see Veloudis 1982: 192–200). Interestingly, Lee and Horn (1994), reported in van der Wouden (1997: 62), propose “lexical decomposition of any as an indefinite plus even”, while Johan van der Auwera’s (2010: 96) remark below makes any even more comparable to – my conception of – kanénas: “As an original minimizer based on the numeral ‘one’ (Haspelmath 1997: 228), anything was probably emphatic, paraphrasable as ‘even one thing’, just like [French] pas ‘even a step’ [ … ], and then underwent bleaching, resulting in the present-day ‘anything’ sense”.

Metaphorically speaking, the absence of emphatic stress “means” here that the speaker does not any more insist on pointing to 1 ‘one’, the very first mark, say, next to 0 ‘zero’, in a graduated rod: in fact, ignoring scalarity, she actually allows access to any random mark of the rod (Veloudis 2003: 622). To put it in a less metaphoric way, the speaker re-orientates her concession, and the concomitant favor to the hearer: instead of conceding to consider the most elemental, the most remote possibility, as we have seen in the case of kanÉNAS, she now concedes to abstain from determining the referent of kanénas; or, even more, to abstain from imposing a referent on the hearer: any possible referent is now accountable, she admits. To my mind, it is this re-orientation that makes kanénas resemble a “domain widener”, in the sense of Kadmon and Landman (1993), or makes it comparable to the English any, as it is conceived by Horn (2000: 168), at least: “any is more or less always an indefinite-plus, whose use is bound up with some aspect of hearer’s free choice in identifying referents or witnesses to fill out the proposition”. As a matter of fact, with kanénas the speaker gives the impression that she has simply given up from fixing the referent; the aura of the speaker’s indifference that we felt when analyzing the genitor of the series (see also fn. 11) has now changed direction, getting stronger and stronger, as it is maintained in Section 2.4 below.

Along with the lines of the analysis presented here, we would say that the phonetic deprivation of kanÉNAS, i. e., the dispossession of its emphatic stress, is the rather low price of the – one-way – ticket that grants to this item the necessary indefiniteness leading to a significant increase in the number of contexts and, consequently, in its frequency of use. This, however, is not absolutely accurate as this ticket turns out to be much more expensive. For one thing, kanénas cannot normally occur in the initial position of a sentence (see Veloudis 1982: 193–195). There cannot be an exact “photocopy” of (7d), for instance, with kanénas in the place of kanÉNAS, as it is shown in (10):

*kan-énas ðén tin ipostírikse.
even-one not her support3sg.pst

Equally, kanénas cannot occur alone, in elliptic responses. Thus, again, there cannot be an exact “photocopy” of (7d΄), for instance, with kanénas in the place of kanÉNAS, as it is shown in (11):


Moreover, this low profile, degenerated descendant is unable to support the estranging strategy we have been discussing in the preceding sections: it is not intended to reside in the lowest end of a scale and thus it can by no means trigger the expansion of the logical sequence of modus tollens, as its emphatic twin kanÉNAS.

We can easily see what this additional ‘semantic attrition’, in Lehmann’s terms, is due to. Non-emphatic kanénas does not serve exclusively in the strict environment of an inflexible ‘no’, analogous to that in the minor premise ~Q of modus tollens. Being an affective polarity item, it now serves equally well in the lenient environment of a flexible ‘no/yes’, as in our (9) above: the examples therein generally allow both a negative development (: eventually, it turned out that nobody backed her) and a positive development (: eventually, it turned out that somebody backed her). That is, regarding the contexts of use, the 100 % ‘no’ prerequisite for emphatic kanÉNAS has fallen to a polar 50 %-‘no’-and-50 %-‘yes’ prerequisite for non-emphatic kanénas (in non-negative sentences). [18] The story of kan- does not end here, though, in so far as the speaker has not yet exhausted her concessive policy, on the one hand, and kanénas has still enough phonological weight to lose, on the other.

2.3 kanas, kamiá

As a matter of fact, this last expansion cannot but be judged as insufficient, granted that episodic contexts are still hardly touched. A new development, involving a less radical, weaker, version of kanénas, is then in order. Consider the examples in (12) and (13):


‘At least, Peter used to give me a ring from time to time while I was hospitalized.’

customersg.n,he(didn’t) EVER

‘You used to attract some customers from time to time. He never did that!’

keéðineka-miá/∅ [19]diáleksi.

‘S/he used to give a lecture every now and then.’

tuéðosakanadjó/*kan-éna djóvíðes
himdatgive1sg.psteven.onetwo/*even-one twoskrews

‘I gave him a couple of additional screws but he asked for more.’


‘There were about five hundred protestors gathered.’


‘They bought another two to three hundred sheep.’

Obviously, (12) exemplifies a further phonological attrition: kanas or kánas [M], kana or kána [N]. On the other hand, the loss exemplified in (13) is not phonological: kamiá, a feminine singular form typically, [20] suffers a serious syntactic-morphological attrition. Specifically, it has no more the obligation to agree in gender and number with the noun it precedes: deprived from its defining syntactic-morphological features, it may function as an indeclinable item. [21] Thus, in (13b) this new form has no problem in modifying a noun of neutral gender in plural. It should not pass unnoticed in this connection that the same holds with the concessive quantifier kana djó ‘a couple’ in (12c), where kana (but not kanéna), typically a masculine singular accusative, may well precede a noun of feminine gender, in plural.

‘No pain, no gain’ it is said. And if the losses above are in fact the pain, what is actually the gain? In my view, these new members of the series develop further a fact already hinted in examples with kanénas like our (9h) above, repeated below for convenience

póte pótetinipostírizekan-énas/*kan-ÉNAS.
ever everhersupport3sg.pst.ipfveven-one/*even-ONE

‘From time to time someone took her side.’

(No doubt, what is asserted here, despite the presence of the polar kanénas, is that some people did actually take her side – although sporadically, as in many other cases they probably did not.) It is this fact that the less radical, weaker, episodic-like, kanénas-, kamiá-, kanéna- versions of (12a)–(12c) actually promote, bridging the previous section with the present. [22] At least, until (real) episodicity comes into play: it is not accidental, for instance, that their interchangeability with kanas etc. is called off when it stumbles on the simple past éðosa ‘I gave’ in (12d). This allows for a first description of these fashionable items, as well as for a first depiction of their difference from their genitor, kanénas: kana(s)/kána(s), kána/kana and kamiá “lawfully”, i. e., after paying the necessary price, are allowed in contexts implementing a serious attempt at episodicity.

This coarse-grained characterization needs some further refinement, though, as that implementation is not actually unconditional (full- fleshed episodicity is still far away): the main verb of (12a)–(12b), for example, should normally be in the imperfective, acceding to a habitual interpretation; otherwise, even their kana(s)- versions cannot be very acceptable. Cf. (12΄):


‘At least Peter gave me a ring while I was hospitalized.’


‘At least, you attracted some customers. He never did!’

Not surprisingly (see below), (12΄a)–(12ʹb) get much worse, if the concessive modifiers tuláhiston and ke are not present:



he(didn’t) EVER

On the other hand, this aspectual restriction is withdrawn in the cases of kana djó and the indeclinable kamiá, as (12d) and (13a)–(13b) above clearly witness. Why is this so? I suspect that what distinguishes the problematic examples in (12΄) and (12ʺ) from the non-problematic ones in (12) and (13) is that the former allow the speaker low, cf. (12΄), or almost zero, cf.(12ʺ), suppleness. On the contrary, habituality (cf. Veloudis 1992: 495), on the one hand, and quantity estimations like those expressed by kana djó or the adverbial kamiá, on the other, can be said to open widely the window to the speaker’s flexibility-subjectivity. (We have been arguing that affective kan- is not welcome in cases deprived from, or poor in, that characteristic.)

This obviously means that, despite appearances, what I have called above “a serious attempt at episodicity” is not yet absolutely free from the speaker’s control. A further step toward this end, and the consequent generalization in the contexts of use, is still to be made. (As a signal of this transitional phase, stress appears to be unstable in the case of these new items: although kamiá keeps its stress on the ultimate syllable, in the masculine and neuter forms, kánas and kána, the stress, if any, falls on the penultimate syllable.)

2.4 κá-

Of course, nothing prevents the speaker’s concession from extending its scope beyond the expression of some kind of quantity (see Veloudis 1996: 371). Delveroudi (1989: 418) presents a series of interesting examples witnessing what can be considered to be simply an aspect of this possibility. Consider (14a)–(14b) below (her [34]–[35]):


‘If Petros turns up, don’t tell him that I am here.’


(Notably, [14a] can equally well have kanas in the place of kanénas.) I agree with Delveroudi’s intuition that the presence of kanénas allows the speaker to “avoid speaking in a categorical way” (1989: 420): in fact, the speaker gives the impression that she wants to refrain not simply from accurate quantity estimations, as in (12) and (13) above, but from her very conversational duty to refer with accuracy, especially regarding well-known referents.

It goes without saying that the speaker would not restrict this behavior to polar 50 %-‘no’-and-50 %-‘yes’ contexts only, like those of (14a)–(14b), where an ‘if’ and borí ‘may’ equally allow the occurrence / non-occurrence of the situation at hand. Nothing prevents her from extending it to 100 % ‘yes’, i. e., to clearly episodic contexts as well, where no room is left for the non-occurrence of the situation at hand. - signifies exactly this final, and most productive, phase of the grammatical unfolding we have been following: kápjos ‘someone’, kápu ‘somewhere, kápote ‘sometime’, kápos ‘somehow’, etc. [23] Look at the examples in (15):


‘Someone voted against the proposal.’


‘We met after a few days somewhere in Thessaloniki.’


‘s/he once took the decision to speak to her.’


‘He seemed to me somewhat abrupt.’

The original kan-, having survived all the losses up to this point, is now time to sacrifice its -n-, the remnant of the epistemic modal particle ἄν (or the conditional conjunction ἐάν ‘if’. Recall points I and II in the extensive passage from LSJ in Section 2.1.) This further erosion is the symbolic gesture, so to speak, of an honest acceptance that speaker’s concession has reached its limits. Or, even more: that the speaker is almost indifferent. It would not be an exaggeration to say in this connection that the “negotiation”, not to say the “control”, of parameters like ‘who’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘how’ etc., concerning the occurrence of an episode, rests now with the world itself, not with two “unmoved” interlocutors.

The parametric enhancement in this phase is really impressive: a whole series of indefinites inspired by the basic cognitive categories person, thing, space, time, quantity, manner, [24] are now at -’s disposal. And we can imagine the consequent explosion in frequency of use: no context can now resist the occurrence of any member of this - subgroup. After all, the loss of kan-’s -n- proved to be quite a low price for such a wide expansion.

The loss of -n- with one considerable exception, though: kambósos or kámbosos ‘enough’ (see fn. 23). Presumably due to its inherent relationship to quantity assessments, this item appears to bridge the gap between kana djó or kamiá, the quantifying expressions we met in the previous section, and -. See (16) below:


‘He took quite a few with him.’


‘Quite a few years passed since then.’


‘He stayed for quite a long time with them before going to America.’

– ítanakrivótofórema?
– wasexpensivethedress?
– e,kam-bóso/kám-boso!
– er,quite!

As with kánas-kamiá, we observe instability in the position of the stress. Not absolutely unpredictable, this time. Interestingly, kambósos’ ‘enough’ has rather “negative” connotations: with no stress on -a- (as in kanénas), the speaker shows indifference as to the exact measurement of the quantity expressed (cf. the kambósos- versions in (16a)–(16c) or, even more, underplays it (cf. the kambósos- version in [16d]). [25] On the other hand, kámbosos’ ‘enough’ has rather “positive” connotations: with stress on -á- (as in kápjos, kápu, etc.), the speaker shows his approval with regard to the adequacy of the quantity expressed. I think that the difference in acceptability between (17a) and (17b), as well as between the two versions of the examples in (18), makes this point more graspable:


‘I told you to get quite a few apples. These are not enough.’


‘He tries to impress her and this annoys her.’


‘Don’t you thing that you overdo it in pretending to be important?’


‘He pretends to be important all this time!’

3 Epilogue

Grammaticalization takes place along both the synchronic and the diachronic axes. As Lehmann (1985: 303) points out, “Under the diachronic aspect, grammaticalization is a process which turns lexemes into grammatical formatives and makes grammatical formatives still more grammatical (cf. Kuryłowicz 1965: 52). From the synchronic point of view, grammaticalization provides a principle according to which subcategories of a given grammatical category may be ordered.” Table 1 below (see also Veloudis [1996: 373], and Veloudis [2003: 617]), sums up the grammaticalization cycle we have been following in the preceding sections, giving us a hint as to how languages may develop new elements and how these elements may be systematically ordered:

Table 1:

The grammaticalization process of the ka(n)- series.

(i)“eschatological”radical concession :ΚÁΝ, kanÉΝΑΣ
(ii)“eschatological”radical concession:kanénas
(iii)radical concession:kanas (kánas), kamiá
(iv) concession:kápjos, kápu, etc.episodicity

Notably, this four-stage cycle starts with a Negative Polarity Item, the autonomous ΚÁΝ, and smoothly, by ‘attrition’, ends up in a series of positive polarity items, kápjos, kápu, etc., as the more we move away from stage (i) the more speaker’s concessive involvement retreats, giving way to “apathetic” episodicity. One might observe that in essence we are back to our starting point, i. e., the lack of expressivity from which the estranging κἄν initially, more than 2,500 years ago, helped ancient Greeks to escape. Such an observation, however, would be inaccurate. In fact, this apparent return to the starting point is comparable to a spiral: we are certainly back, but one level up, regarding the grammatical resources of the language.

It is true that in the last two decades it has been almost unthinkable to analyze polarity phenomena in Greek with no appeal to (anti-/non-)veridicality. [26] To speak in terms of the relevant approach, cultivated in a long series of publications by Anastasia Giannakidou (Giannakidou 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, etc.), the contexts that license ΚÁΝ/kanÉΝΑΣ and kanénas (cf. stages [i] and [ii] above) are characterized, and distinguished, by the presence of anti-veridical and non-veridical propositional operators, respectively. [27] In my opinion, this proposal cannot offer a satisfactory account of the data presented in the preceding sections. Most notably, because it obviously misses important generalizations. According to Giannakidou (2000: 459), for instance, “[b]ecause of the fairly heterogeneous nature of n-words [including kanÉNAS and kanénas, etc.], it is impossible to provide a definition of them less general than saying that ‘n-words occur in N[egative]C[oncord] structures and can be associated with negative meaning’.” (where NC is “nothing more than a subcase of negative polarity”; see Giannakidou 1997, 1998, 1999). It is no accident, that is, that the notion of veridicality comes to postulate lexical marking for – allegedly heterogeneous – polarity items; [28] or to treat their distribution as if it was simply coincidental and independent from their “personal” semantic characteristics; or to pay actually no attention to the striking relation in form between the members of the ka(n)- series; or to ignore the progressive weakening in form from stage (i) to stage (iv), as if that was just a matter of pure accident; or to overlook the substantial role of the speaker’s concession in the development of the series.

Admittedly, the account I have put forward does not escape a critical appeal to logic. With one vital difference, though: the deductive mechanism of modus tollens is called forth for no other reason than to promote the concessive strategy of a speaker who feels – and not just thinks. (On the contrary, in the ‘[anti-/non-]veridicality’analysis, feelings have no substantial role: the speaker is, above all, a logical thinker.) Foregrounding the feeling speaker, our analysis of negative polarity items not only puts logic at the disposal of expressivity, but, moreover, opens the window to an additional – the most important, to my mind – generalization, concerning, this time, the deeper question of why languages develop new elements/structures when they apparently don’t need them: it associates negative polarity phenomena with the possibly universal human affinity, not to say emotional need, for artfully estranging and defamiliarizing things; and, furthermore, for fun. I consider the following general comment particularly important in this connection:

Why do languages have such odd and complicated things as negative and positive polarity items? Surely, life would be much easier without them, and to be entirely frank, I have not yet encountered a single such item that I could not do without, if forced to. They appear to be part of the stylistic icing on the linguistic cake, adding color to texts and speech, making our daily conversations not only more complex than they need to be, but perhaps also a bit more fun.

(Hoeksema 2010: 187) [emphasis mine]


I would like to thank the reviewers for their constructive criticisms and valuable comments that helped me to improve this paper.


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Published in Print: 2017-1-1

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