This paper points to a development currently taking place in the grammar of the Romanian negative polarity item (NPI) decât, specifically in its licensing: instead of occurring in a negative context (its canonical distribution), the adverb occurs without an overt negative licensor, giving rise to precisely those contexts which are ruled out by (traditional) grammar, e.g. "Am decât 17 ani" ('have.aff decât 17 years') instead of "N-am decât 17 ani" ('not.clitic have decât 17 ani'). This usage seems to be characteristic of the southern part of the country. Polarity switches are by no means rare or unattested, and this paper puts forth an attempted account of "decât+affirmative verb" in terms of polyfunctionality (Haspelmath 1993), layering (Hoeksema 2004), and Giannakidou's (1997, 2001) notion of sensitivity in the semantics of polarity items. The paper leaves open the question raised by Ladusaw 1996: what is the theoretical status of a structure containing an unlicensed polarity item? Are such ill-formed strings syntactically well-formed but uninterpretable or do they have well-defined interpretations which make them pragmatically unusable?
It is too early to tell whether unlicensed decât will oust NPI-decât or even become so frequent as to warrant its reception of the 'Grammar of the Academy' seal of approval. There is also the question of idiomatic negative expressions such as 'N-ai decât' ('not.clitic have.2sg DECÂT'), meaning 'suit yourself', 'have it your way', 'do whatever you please, I don't care'. Should we expect idiomatic decât to occur in a parallel, affirmative context? The best one can do at the moment is to keep a close eye on the evolution of unlicensed decât in the media and on its (probable) spread throughout the country. A more substantial account of this polarity change will only be possible when there are enough data available.
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