tlhIngan-Hol Archive: Mon Nov 30 11:33:25 2009

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Re: Double negatives

Christopher Doty (

On Mon, Nov 30, 2009 at 11:19, Mark J. Reed <> wrote:
> ghunchu'wI' was explicitly referring to "Standard English", which I
> take to mean the admittedly artificial formal written standard. Of
> course many, perhaps most, natural varieties of English have examples
> of negative concord, but most also have examples of two negatives
> making a positive, e.g:
> "Did you tell him?"
> "I didn't not tell him..."

This is a rather exceptional case, though, and carries pronounced
intonation ("I didn't NOT tell him").  What's more, this is used in a
specific pragmatic context, and doesn't mean the same thing as "I did
tell him."

> True, language isn't math - or, more appropriately, logic - but
> applying logic to it's analysis is not "stupid"; I would instead call
> it "linguistics".

I certainly wouldn't call it linguistics.  If we're using (I assume
you mean formal logic), then two negatives equal a positive, and lots
of languages do it wrong.  I don't think this is the right way to go
about things.

> Yes, silly prescriptivists have used the analogy
> to justify an otherwise baseless prohibition, but their error lies
> only in overgeneralization. The fact is that the analogy holds in some
> cases.

In some, perhaps, but lots of analogies hold in some cases; that
doesn't mean we should use them as the lens through which we view

>  And using loaded terms like "stupid" isn't going to win you any
> hearts and minds in your ongoing battle with ghunchu'wI'.  I know he's
> not innocent of arguing ad hominem either, but continuing in that vein
> will at best grow merely tiresome.

It might not win me hearts or minds, but the argument is stupid
nonetheless.  I seriously considered using another word, but the
argument IS stupid.  This doesn't have much to do with any ongoing
battle, though. ghunchu'wI' didn't originate this argument; it's used
by English teachers and casual observers of language all the time.
But it *is* stupid.

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