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).
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
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.