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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: March ::
Re: Double Negatives
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0416  Tuesday, 9 March 1999.

[1]     From:   James Marino <
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        Date:   Monday, 08 Mar 1999 13:49:35 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0402 Re: Slip of the Quill

[2]     From:   Ronald Macdonald <
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        Date:   Monday, 8 Mar 1999 17:13:46 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Double Negatives


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Marino <
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Date:           Monday, 08 Mar 1999 13:49:35 -0700
Subject: 10.0402 Re: Slip of the Quill
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0402 Re: Slip of the Quill

Clifford Stetner wrote:

>How interesting.  But what is the rule for double negatives in Germanic
>languages?
>
>How about Old English?

Celia Millward reproduces the following excellent OE example in her
Biography of the English Language:

Ne ure naenig his life ne fadode swa swa he scolde...and nather ne
heoldan ne lare ne manna swa swa we scoldan

which she transliterates as "Not of us none his life not arranges as he
ought to...and neither not (we) observe neither teaching nor law nor of
men as we ought to"

This is not a tour de force but an earnest and emphatic homilist at
work.

James A.G.Marino
Department of English
University of Alberta

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ronald Macdonald <
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Date:           Monday, 8 Mar 1999 17:13:46 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Double Negatives

Clifford Stetner asks (SHK 10.0402) about "rules" for double negatives
in Germanic languages, Old English specifically.  I'm not sure about
rules, but the double (or triple, or quadruple) negative was a common
form of rhetorical emphasis in Old English, Middle English, and, indeed,
in Shakespeare's Early Modern English.  "The Wanderer," 65a-66b, e.g.,
has "Wita sceal gethyldig: / ne sceal no to hatheort," "A wise man must
be patient: neither not too irascible."  Chaucer, by way of emphasizing
the Knight's great courtesy, negates the possibility of his rudeness
four times in the space of one sentence: "He nevere yet no vileynye ne
sayde / In al his lif unto no maner wight" (CT A 70-71).  And Hamlet
advises the players, "Be not too tame neither" (3.2.16).  Forbidding
double negatives because they are logically positives (the second
negative supposedly negating, rather than enforcing, the first) was the
invention of eighteenth-century grammarians like Robert Lowth.  I've
wondered whether strict constructionists, on logical grounds, would
proscribe only even numbers of negatives.  Odd numbers of negatives,
after all, remain negative, logically speaking.

--Ron Macdonald <
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