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."
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.