Date: Sun, 16 Nov 1997 12:44:01 -0500

From: Alan Baragona baragonasa[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]VAX.VMI.EDU

Subject: Re: Double negatives (was one as a pronoun?)

Norman Roberts wrote:

Dear Ms. Flannigan,

True. Language is not math; however, it is logical. May I make

reference to computational linguistics, and in particular to a journal

article entitled "Translating Spanisn to Logic Through Logic."

Dave Pass

Can we perhaps say that language can be logical rather than asserting that

it is logical?

Many of the recent messages in this thread have evoked "logic," and

defenders of the double negative seem generally to be arguing that

language can use them because it doesn't have to be logical. Here's

another approach. Who says that double negatives are illogical in the

first place? Lowth assumed they were illogical because he saw

negativity in purely mathematical terms as canceling each other out.

But if you recognize that, in terms of the logic of language (not its

illogic), negativity is additive, then it becomes perfectly logical to

make something more negative by piling on the negative words. In fact,

it is Lowth and his descendants who are being illogical according to

their own assumptions, for if double negatives make a positive, then

triple negatives make a negative, quadruple make a positive, quintuple

make a negative again, and on and on. When a childhood schoolmate of a

friend of mine said "I am not neither no wet noodle," she was being

perfectly grammatical according to Lowth's "logic," but grammarians who

think they're rigorously applying Lowth's misguided prescriptivism would

tell that child she was ungrammatical.