tlhIngan-Hol Archive: Mon Nov 30 12:48:52 2009

Back to archive top level

To this year's listing

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next]

Re: Double negatives

Christopher Doty (

Certainly in some places, but any can also have a non-negative
meaning: "Any kind of pie is fine."

(Also, how did we get on pie?  I want some now...)


On Mon, Nov 30, 2009 at 12:43, Tracy Canfield <> wrote:
> 2009/11/30 ghunchu'wI' 'utlh <>:
>> Did I err in using the name "Standard English" to refer to the strict
>> grammatical rules taught in school?  Or did my English teachers err in
>> telling me that double negatives essentially cancel?
> Your English teachers erred, and they erred in two different ways.
> One is the "double negatives cancel", which others have gotten into,
> so I won't rehash.
> The other is the idea that the negative only occurs once in an English
> sentence.  Something more subtle seems to be going on here.  Compare
> SE:  I don't want any pie.
> Other Englishes:  I don't want no pie.
> An English teacher might say that the first sentence contains one
> negative element, and the second contains two.  But consider this
> disallowed SE sentence:
> SE:  *I want any pie.
> SE:  I want some pie.
> (the * is a standard linguistic shorthand for a sentence that native
> speakers would consider impermissible)
> The rule doesn't seem to be "Some varieties use double negatives, and
> some don't."  The rule is more along the lines of "SE uses 'some' with
> non-negative constructions of this sort, and 'any' with negative
> constructions; some other spoken varieties use 'some' with
> non-negative constructions and 'no' with negative constructions."  I
> don't have _The Language Instinct_ nearby, but Pinker argues (citing
> someone else, I think) that when you compare the distribution of "any"
> and "no" in these sorts of construction, they have the same rules.  In
> other words, if "no" is a negative above, "any" is too.

Back to archive top level