tlhIngan-Hol Archive: Mon Nov 30 11:39:11 2009

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Re: Double negatives

Christopher Doty (

On Mon, Nov 30, 2009 at 11:21, Steven Boozer <> wrote:
> ghunchu'wI' should have said "in *formal* Standard English".  Surely I'm not the only one who remembers being taught never to use double negatives by prescriptivist English teachers.
> OTOH Chris is right in that double negatives are, in fact, a feature of *informal* or colloquial Standard English.  Every native speaker will correctly understand utterances like:
>  "Don't give me none of your lip, boy!"
>  "Rules?  We don't need no stinkin' rules!"

Exactly! You would know that these sentences are negative.  They don't
mean "give me some of your lip" and "we need rules," respectively.
This is why I don't like the post hoc analysis so often advanced that
two negatives make a positive: they don't, and no native English
speaker would use either of those sentences with an affirmative
meaning (except, perhaps, sarcastically), nor would a native English
speaker interpret them as such.

> even if he would never dare use them himself.

> In linguistics does "standard" always mean the formal, educated, written variety of a language?

Pretty much, yes.  This is most often based on the most prestigious
dialect of the language, although other cases exist (as in Finnish,
where the standard variety isn't anyone's dialect, but rather an
intentional amalgam of features from different Finnish dialects).
With Arabic, for example, a newspaper in Morocco is written in
essentially the same style as the one in Saudi Arabia, even though
speakers from those two countries might have trouble understanding
each other.

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