Date: Sat, 15 Nov 1997 09:13:33 -0500

From: "Dennis R. Preston" preston[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]PILOT.MSU.EDU

Subject: Re: Not a comment not about multiple negation in English


I agree that double (or multiple) negation seldom follows simple math rules

in English, but I wonder about the emphatic function you assign it. It

seems to me that in most varieties of English which regularly employ it,

multiple negation does not emphasize the negation at all. It is simply an

obligatory attachment of a negator to the AUX and to every indefinite of

the clause (and in some varieties, other clauses).

For example,

Didn't nobody never mess with us kids from New Albany.

is not an 'emphatic' form of

Nobody ever messed with us kids from New Albany.

It is simply the 'normal' assignment of negation (with some accomnying

adjustments, AUX-fronting, for example) in that variety. If you wanted

emphatic qualities for that string, stress would do the trick,


Didn't NObody never...


Didn't nobody NEver..

DInIS (a native speaker of that variety) Preston

And of course Modern English double (and triple, and quadruple,...)

negation also emphasizes the negative; it does not make the sentence

meaning positive, despite the prescriptions of our Miss Fidditch grade

school teachers. Language ain't mathematics!

Dennis R. Preston

Department of Linguistics and Languages

Michigan State University

East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA


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