Double Negatives

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Re: Double Negatives

#101  Postby katja z » Dec 23, 2011 9:35 am

nunnington wrote:I woke up thinking about words like 'any', which are kind of negative markers, e.g. 'I don't have any money', except that 'any' can also be used with questions, 'have you any money?'

So 'I don't have any money' could be described as a double negative, but the second one negative marker is 'any', described usually as an indefinite determiner (?), or traditionally as an indefinite article (?).


Indefinites are fun, aren't they :) It's interesting to compare them across languages. French "personne" is technically an indefinite pronoun too, but is more negative than "anyone", and can also function as a free-standing negative. On the other hand, its use in questions is more restricted.

"I haven't seen anyone." "Je n'ai vu personne."
"Have you seen anyone? - No, no one." "As-tu vu quelqu'un? - Non, personne."

Here the choice of the pronoun seems to depend on the degree of un/certainty implied:
"Is there anyone/someone who can help me?" "Y-a-t-il personne/quelqu'un qui puisse m'aider?"
It would be interesting to compare the distributions of the two competing pronouns in French and English.

Of course, the true double negative here is 'I don't have no money'.

One interesting thing here is that I can't say 'I don't have some money', but I can say 'do you have some money?' I don't know if there are dialects where 'I don't have some money' is OK.


"I don't have some money. I have a lot of money." ;)

Again, some semantic negatives seem able to trigger off 'any', as in 'I doubt he has any money', 'I doubt if he'll ever get over it'.


Probably related: "Is this any good?"
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Re: Double Negatives

#102  Postby nunnington » Dec 23, 2011 9:55 am

katja z

It seems very complicated. I notice that for me 'could someone help me?' is much better than 'could anyone help me?', I suppose because the 'someone' is more definite, maybe. I wouldn't say 'could anyone help me?' is ungrammatical, it just sounds odd. On the other hand, 'is there anyone who could help me?' sounds better!

I have heard 'would this be some good to you?', as an alternative to 'would this be any good to you?', but I speak a weird mish-mash of Lancashire and London, so I am never very sure about these things.

I would love to listen to some street slang, and see how they tackle negatives and indefinites, etc., but I'm a bit old to hang out with the lyrical hip-hoppers.
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Re: Double Negatives

#103  Postby katja z » Dec 23, 2011 10:20 am

nunnington wrote:
It seems very complicated. I notice that for me 'could someone help me?' is much better than 'could anyone help me?', I suppose because the 'someone' is more definite, maybe. I wouldn't say 'could anyone help me?' is ungrammatical, it just sounds odd. On the other hand, 'is there anyone who could help me?' sounds better!


It almost seems that the question with "is there ..." implies "does such a person exist?" The implied uncertainty (even if only rhetorical) would trigger the use of "anyone". "Could someone help me", on the other hand, would more likely be interpreted as a request - not dissimilar to "Please someone help me".

I would love to listen to some street slang, and see how they tackle negatives and indefinites, etc., but I'm a bit old to hang out with the lyrical hip-hoppers.


I have been known to ride a bus through a certain area in my town and listen to conversations to study swearing in vivo so my translation would sound more "natural" ... :shifty:
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Re: Double Negatives

#104  Postby nunnington » Dec 23, 2011 10:34 am

I think in the US the study of Ebonics, or 'African American Vernacular English', is probably quite advanced, and should produce some interesting results on double negatives, which are common in that dialect. I don't have any knowledge of this, but street slang in London, (and many major cities) probably has similarities, and there may be a self-conscious kind of imitation that goes on. I iz black, so I sez, I don get none.
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Re: Double Negatives

#105  Postby don't get me started » Dec 23, 2011 10:54 am

I too have been thinking about the some/any/no/none usages.

My take on one aspect of it is as follows;

English seems pretty rigid regarding marking number for countable nouns.

"There is a chair in the corner/ There are 2/3/ a million/ some chairs in the corner."

The only thing you can't do is omit a number reference. "There is chair in the corner."

But we are stuck when it comes to asking a question, because naturally the number of chairs is unknown to the questioner (otherwise s/he wouldn't be asking right?) So how can you mark for number when the number is unknown?
Well, it seems the word 'any' allows questioners do do just that.

"Are there any chairs in the corner?" Will invite an affirmative answer whether chairs exist singularly or in plurality, as long as the number of chairs in the corner isn't zero.

The speaker's intent was to ascertain the existence of chairs in any (!) amount, but s/he had to sidestep the need to mark countable nouns for number.

"Is there a chair in the corner?" could invite a negative answer in the case of there being zero chairs or 3 chairs, (if the responder was being a bit obtuse or pedantic, that is.) Likewise "Are there three chairs in the corner?" could invite a 'no' answer if the number was anything other than 3, (or, indeed, zero.)

'Any' also appears in the negative sense performing a simmilar sleight of hand, that is, giving a generalized sense of zero, without going into numbers.

"There aren't any chairs in the corner" suggests that there ought to be a plurality of chairs, (I talked about the concepts of plural zero and singular zero in another thread here a while back.) but seems to allow the speaker to avoid being too specific about how many chairs there are not.


This is just speculation on my part...I haven't even gone into uncountable nouns.
I don't have any idea, not a clue.

Katja Z

Yes, my students do transfer their L1 pragmatics into English.

Me: Haven't you done your homework?

Student: (shamefaced) Yes!

Japanese loves obliqueness and piling up of 'distancing' multiple negatives (or so it seems to me)
Instead of 'That's right' in agreement, you might get something like; "I wouldn't be able to contradict someone who said that you were not wrong."

(OK I made that part up, :grin: but that is what Japanese sounds like to me sometimes!)
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Re: Double Negatives

#106  Postby nunnington » Dec 23, 2011 11:21 am

dont get me started

Yes, questions with 'any' and 'a' become very complicated. In my dialect, 'is there a tall blond in that room?' is OK, but not 'is there any tall blond in that room?', but 'are there any tall blonds in that room?' is OK, but so is 'are there some tall blonds in that room?'

So here, 'any' correlates with the plural and with indefiniteness. Thus 'do you have any dog?' is ungrammatical (I think). But possibly 'is there any tall blond in that room who has lost her shoe?' sounds better (?).

Sorry, I am repeating you. Something to do with existential quantifiers, I suspect.

It's interesting how some of these differences are not really about syntax, but semantics and pragmatics. Thus 'Tall blonds are in that room' is grammatical (I think), but sounds very odd, probably because it's just odd not to say 'there are some tall blonds ...' (using a kind of existential quantifier). But, with some intonation and emphasis, it becomes OK: 'tall blonds are in that room, and short ones should go in the library'.
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Re: Double Negatives

#107  Postby katja z » Dec 23, 2011 11:42 am

nunnington wrote:
It's interesting how some of these differences are not really about syntax, but semantics and pragmatics. Thus 'Tall blonds are in that room' is grammatical (I think), but sounds very odd, probably because it's just odd not to say 'there are some tall blonds ...' (using a kind of existential quantifier).


This seems to depend on preferences about information structure: "Tall blondes (indefinite referent) are in the room" is odd, but "The tall blondes (definite referent) are in the room" is ok.

@ don't get me started: great examples! :grin:
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Re: Double Negatives

#108  Postby nunnington » Dec 23, 2011 11:54 am

katja z wrote:
nunnington wrote:
It's interesting how some of these differences are not really about syntax, but semantics and pragmatics. Thus 'Tall blonds are in that room' is grammatical (I think), but sounds very odd, probably because it's just odd not to say 'there are some tall blonds ...' (using a kind of existential quantifier).


This seems to depend on preferences about information structure: "Tall blondes (indefinite referent) are in the room" is odd, but "The tall blondes (definite referent) are in the room" is ok.

@ don't get me started: great examples! :grin:


I start feeling dizzy actually. You end up staring at a sentence like 'are there any tall blonds not in that library?', and you think, what?? Who would ever say that? But, probably somebody has, and one day, they will! It reminds me of the Chomskyan guys who would come up with more and more odd sentences, so in the end, you hadn't a clue if it was grammatical or not. 'Does it strike me as if no-one might say that?' I feel sick.
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Re: Double Negatives

#109  Postby katja z » Dec 23, 2011 12:00 pm

nunnington wrote:
I start feeling dizzy actually. You end up staring at a sentence like 'are there any tall blonds not in that library?', and you think, what?? Who would ever say that? But, probably somebody has, and one day, they will! It reminds me of the Chomskyan guys who would come up with more and more odd sentences, so in the end, you hadn't a clue if it was grammatical or not. 'Does it strike me as if no-one might say that?' I feel sick.


I can't say I that don't know what you mean ... :grin:
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Re: Double Negatives

#110  Postby Regina » Dec 23, 2011 1:46 pm

Hm, the eternal some/any problem...
I was taught that the use of "some" implies that you expect an affirmative answer: Can someone help me, please?
(There's a bunch of people around you, and in all likelihood, someone will help you).
Is there anyone who could help me?: Is there anyone (on this planet, please) who could possibly help me...Sounds a lot more desperate.
Have you got some money left? (You are on a shoppping spree and are taking stock of what's left.)
Have you got any money at all ? (Someone is in really desperate circumstances)
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Re: Double Negatives

#111  Postby don't get me started » Dec 23, 2011 2:15 pm

Yeah, that makes sense.
"Can someone help me?" Seems to indicate the presence of a number of people from whom the potential assistor is being solicited.
"Can anyone help me?" Seems to leave the group from which the potential assistor is being solicited open-ended, even to the extent of all humans on the planet. Kind of supports my idea of a way of avoiding saying a number.

Thinking about this with imperatives.
"Just pull over somewhere." (I want you to stop driving)
"Just pull over anywhere". ( I don't care where you park.)
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Re: Double Negatives

#112  Postby nunnington » Dec 23, 2011 2:28 pm

Regina wrote:Hm, the eternal some/any problem...
I was taught that the use of "some" implies that you expect an affirmative answer: Can someone help me, please?
(There's a bunch of people around you, and in all likelihood, someone will help you).
Is there anyone who could help me?: Is there anyone (on this planet, please) who could possibly help me...Sounds a lot more desperate.
Have you got some money left? (You are on a shoppping spree and are taking stock of what's left.)
Have you got any money at all ? (Someone is in really desperate circumstances)


I don't agree with that. You are distorting it with your little additions, e.g. 'at all'.

Certainly, in my dialect, the question, 'have you any loose bananas?' is not desperate!

See also, 'Is there anyone here by the name of Williams?' Again, not desperate. I agree that it is more indefinite, so, 'is there someone here by the name of Williams?' suggests to me that the speaker does think there is.
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Re: Double Negatives

#113  Postby Regina » Dec 23, 2011 2:35 pm

You misunderstand. I used "desperate" to emphasize the difference, not to claim that any (!) use of any is desperate.
Have you got any bananas? implies (to me) that there mightn't be any left.
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