Date: Sun, 16 Nov 1997 22:44:56 EST From: Larry Horn Subject: Re: Double negatives (was one as a pronoun?) Norman Roberts writes, >The double negative making an affirmative is something we >learn in school. It is not unlike other things we learn there: more >honored in the breach etc. etc. When I say "ain't got no" I mean that I >damn well don't have any; logic be hanged. --thereby (in "not unlike other things...") illustrating the fact that 'double negatives' do indeed sometimes yield an affirmative, and always do and did, even in dialects and languages in which other double negatives don't 'cancel out' but instead agree with each other. As Alan Baragona just noted in this thread, both processes are 'logical' or even 'mathematical'. Here is a 2 1/2 century old recognition of this fact (excerpted here from a paper of mine, "Duplex Negatio Affirmat: The Economy of Logical Double Negation", in the Chicago Linguistic Society Parasession on Negation (1991), fn. 3): ------------------------------------------- Even during the golden age of prescriptivism, while the standard line is that of Lowth (whose grammar appeared in 49 editions), parroted by (among dozens of others) Ussher (1793: 48: "Two negatives instead of one are very improper; Ex. I can not eat none, ought to be, I can eat none, or I can not eat any"), it would occasionally be acknowledged that "in very animated speeches, where a man were delivering himself with vehemence and heat," certain double negations, by virtue of their "more forcible sound," "might perhaps be used not with an ill grace[!]" (Baker 1779: 59). Martin (1748: 93) provides a cogent mathematical gloss on the two varieties of double negation: The two negatives as used by the Saxons and French must be understood by way of apposition...which way of speaking is still in use among us; and in this case the two negatives answer to the addition of two negative quantities in Algebra, the sum of which is negative. But our ordinary use of two negatives (in which the force of the first is much more than merely destroyed by the latter) corresponds to the multiplication of two negative quantities..., the product of which is always affirmative. References: Baker, R. (1770) Remarks on the English Language, 2d edition. London: John Bell. Lowth, (Bishop) R. (1762) A Short Introduction to English Grammar. London: J. Hughs. Martin, B. (1748) Institutions of Language. Facsimile reprint: Menston, Eng.: The Scolar Press, 1970. Ussher, G. N. (1793) The Elements of English Grammar, 3d edition improved. Glocester: R. Raikes. ----------------------------------- As to whether multiple negations (in language, as opposed to algebra) really DO strengthen or reinforce each other in the relevant dialects/languages, my sense is that the phenomenon is basically akin to other sorts of concord. We wouldn't expect singular (or plural) agreement on a verb to strengthen or reinforce the singularity (or plurality) of the subject, nor the masculine/feminine/neuter form of an article to reinforce the gender of the head noun with which they agree, and the same is generally true of negative concord. This is not to say that negative sentences may not (!) have other devices to strengthen the negative force; Bolinger has written insightfully on the differences between "not...any" and "no" in the standard dialect (I don't want any of that vs. I want none of that), but this distinction is independent of the negative concord question. Larry (P.S. Incidentally, the postings here on langauge vs. logic seem to assume there's just one monolithic "logic", with which language may or may not agree. But there are as many logics as there languages, and their properties differ from each other in interesting ways. The issue isn't really language vs. logic, but what the mapping rules are between grammar (morphosyntax) and semantics.