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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: March ::
Re: Double Negatives
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0430  Wednesday, 10 March 1999.

[1]     From:   Peter Groves <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Mar 1999 15:05:00 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0402 Re: Double Negatives

[2]     From:   John E. Perry <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 09 Mar 1999 23:33:16 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0416 Re: Double Negatives


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Groves <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 Mar 1999 15:05:00 +1100
Subject: 10.0402 Re: Double Negatives
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0402 Re: Double Negatives

>>The double negative was (like the split infinitive) a perfectly
>>acceptable grammatical form, operating (as in Greek) as an intensifier.
>>The Infant Grammarians, however, chose Latin rather than Greek as their
>>model to 'describe' English, and so deemed it illicit.  For once they
>>won, against common accepted usage.
>
>How interesting.  But what is the rule for double negatives in Germanic
>languages?

The original (and very simple) rule was: mark everything that can be
marked as negative: "He nevere yet no vileynie ne sayde / In al hys lyf,
unto no maner wight" (He didn't never say nothing rude to nobody).  The
"logical" rule is unnatural; what, for example, is the intent of "This
is not a film I would fail to avoid attempting to dissuade you from not
seeing."?  Am I saying "go", or "don't go"?

Peter Groves,
Department of English,
Monash University

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John E. Perry <
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Date:           Tuesday, 09 Mar 1999 23:33:16 -0500
Subject: 10.0416 Re: Double Negatives
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0416 Re: Double Negatives

Several have said that doubling the negative was previously a form of
emphasis, and I believe someone mentioned the Romance languages (or
maybe Latin?) as a source of the idea of the second negative cancelling
the first.

Italian uses the double negative freely: "Qui non c'e niente" translates
literally as "Here there's not nothing,"  and no Italian would imagine
saying it any other way.  Emphasis is not involved at all: it's normal
speech.

My French is not as good as my Italian, but the only example I can think
of, "Ici il n'y a rien," is similar.  Ron Mcdononald's comment certainly
rings true to me:

>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.

And I would add that it seems restricted to English-language
grammarians.

John Perry

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