Date: Sun, 16 Nov 1997 18:14:30 -0500

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

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

Dennis R. Preston wrote:


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..

This is an interesting point. The usage sounds more emphatic to me, but

I don't know that it would to the speaker. Maybe it just sounds more

emphatic (whether in "nonstandard" modern English or in Chaucer) to

those of us trained not to use multiple negatives at all by a tradition

of prescriptivism.

In addition, there are standard double negatives that neither negate

each other nor emphasize each other but imply a nuance or gray area

between positive and negative, as in, "he is not unlike his father."

This is not the same as "he is like his father" (despite George Orwell's

protestations) and is a subtlety of language that would be lost by

strict Lowthian principles.

Alan B.