This article investigates the distribution of the negative polarity item (NPI) syn leven (lit. ‘his life’) ‘ever’ between 1550 and 1800 in West Frisian using the Frisian Language Corpus. Phonological and syntactic evidence is presented in order to argue that the expression was borrowed from Dutch. An overview of the syntactic contexts in which it is found is presented, and these contexts are characteristic of those in which NPIs are found. The distribution of syn leven is shown to conform only partly to Haspelmath’s (1997) theory of the semantic map. Furthermore, the extent to which the original expression syn leven was grammaticalized as an NPI is investigated. Its distribution is compared to that of the near synonyms and rival expressions ea and oait ‘ever’, which turn out to have a broader context of usage. It is argued that syn leven failed to become the unmarked way of expressing the semantic content ‘ever’ for syntactic, semantic, and sociolinguistic reasons.


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pp. e39-e55
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