Date: Sun, 16 Nov 1997 18:14:30 -0500 From: Alan Baragona Subject: Re: Not a comment not about multiple negation in English Dennis R. Preston wrote: > > Beverly, > > 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, > > e.g., > > Didn't NObody never... > > or > > 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.