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Old 14 July 2011, 06:20 PM
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Jaded Yeah, yeah

Comment: I recently came across, again, the claim that the following is a
true story:

The eminent linguistic philosopher J. L. Austin of Oxford once gave a
lecture in which he asserted that there are many languages in which a
double negative makes a positive, but none in which a double positive
makes a negative — to which the Columbia philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser,
sitting in the audience, sarcastically replied, “Yeah, yeah.”
( http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com...y-of-my-enemy/ )

The first time I heard it, it was told without names and I took it as a
joke - a funny story that never really happened (like when Heisenberg was
pulled over for speeding and the cop asked him if he knew how fast he was
going). It was also told with the audience member saying "yeah, right."

I have heard it a few more times since then, but this was the only time I
have heard it with names attached. It sounds too perfect to be true, so I
was wondering if you all knew anything about it.
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  #2  
Old 14 July 2011, 06:21 PM
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Ponder

Also mentioned here:

http://msgboard.snopes.com/message/u.../t/000006.html
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  #3  
Old 14 July 2011, 06:57 PM
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It seems a bit unlikely that an actual linguist would make the original assertion about double negatives in the first place.

In most dialects that have double negatives, the overall meaning is still clearly a negative. It's only annoying pedants who say "Aha, a double negative! That means the opposite of what you intended!" It's not a linguistic point, it's an inappropriately-applied point of formal logic. Linguists usually seem to go with how people actually speak, not with a theoretical imposed construction of how somebody else thinks they should speak.
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Old 14 July 2011, 07:44 PM
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The only time I've ever seen this (so long ago, so can't remember where), it was an unnamed professor, and the student replied, "Yeah, right."
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Old 14 July 2011, 07:47 PM
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There are a couple of references on Morganbesser's wiki page which might suggest legitimacy, but it sounds really unlikely. I think it really unlikely that Austin, who was doing some pretty radical things with language theory, would have made such a definitive statement.

Last edited by Chloe; 14 July 2011 at 07:57 PM.
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Old 14 July 2011, 07:57 PM
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I firmly believe that the negative spin on "yeah, right" is from the intonation when it's pronounced, not from the expression itself.

O_Y
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  #7  
Old 14 July 2011, 07:59 PM
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Is there any other language besides English in which double negative can mean a negative?
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Old 14 July 2011, 08:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mad Jay View Post
Is there any other language besides English in which double negative can mean a negative?
Spanish certainly. I think French. I don't know the language well, but I think "ne...pas" would count as a double negative.
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Old 14 July 2011, 08:20 PM
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I thought n'est ce pas literally translated to isn't it?.
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Old 14 July 2011, 08:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mad Jay View Post
I thought n'est ce pas literally translated to isn't it?.
N'est-ce pas = Is it not.

Ne+pas are generally joined together.

i.e. "Ne marchez pas sur la pelouse".

O_Y
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  #11  
Old 14 July 2011, 08:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mad Jay View Post
Is there any other language besides English in which double negative can mean a negative?
Welsh loves double negatives in speech. For example, "Dydy o ddim yn siarad Cymraeg" ("He doesn't speak Welsh") actually has two negative particles in it. The first is the "d" at the start of the sentence (which is a holdover of the negative particle "nid" attached to a form of "to be"). The second is the "ddim" (which literally means "nothing"). Literally, the sentence would translate as something like "He doesn't not speak Welsh". However, it has a normal negative sense.

In formal written Welsh, the tendency is to restore the first negative particle and omit the second (e.g., Nid yw'n siarad Cymraeg"). However, in most informal writing and speech, the double negative pattern is widely used.

Ta ra 'wan,

Ieuan "I ain't not telling you nothing" ab Arthur
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  #12  
Old 14 July 2011, 08:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve View Post
Spanish certainly. I think French. I don't know the language well, but I think "ne...pas" would count as a double negative.
I'm not half annoyed that somebody made this point before me...

I've been reading some Chaucer lately, in the original for the first time, and Chaucer's dialect of Middle English also includes a similar double-negative construction. His was the London dialect which largely developed into the "standard" (at least partly because of Chaucer himself, I think). But the double-negative construction didn't make it into the standard, even though it's still a part of London dialects. People now seem to think it's somehow wrong.
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Old 14 July 2011, 08:54 PM
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Chaucer is ambiguous in places though: what do we make of ""I kan noon harm of no womman divyne"?

Even more fun: "of no wife ne took he no offering."
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  #14  
Old 14 July 2011, 09:19 PM
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I was hoping you weren't going to come up with actual examples, because I'd have to go and look for some of the ones I'd found too...! But it turns out that the very first line of the page my bookmark is in has one:

Quote:
There nas noon other remedie ne reed
*

From context, definitely meaning that there was nothing else that could be done.

Although again, that might be a triple negative...

If there is a vestige in modern "standard" English, it would be the "neither ... nor" construction, "neither fish nor fowl". It's not a fowl either.

I'm sure I've seen him use similar constructions that were closer to the French "ne ... pas" though.

*(Part 1 of the Knight's Tale - my bookmark was at the start of Part 2).
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  #15  
Old 14 July 2011, 11:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve View Post
Spanish certainly. I think French. I don't know the language well, but I think "ne...pas" would count as a double negative.
I don't think that works exactly. ne .. pas are kind of one and the same thing. Some people drop the ne, such as "Je vais pas y aller".

A better example might be "There isn't anyone here anymore"*: "Il n'y a plus personne".

Both the plus and the personne have a negative meaning.

I'm not french though. Maybe someone else can give other examples.

*or "There's no one left"?
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  #16  
Old 15 July 2011, 06:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mad Jay View Post
Is there any other language besides English in which double negative can mean a negative?
Colloquial German has the double negative as well ("Das hat mir keiner nicht gesagt!", lit. "Nobody never told me!"), but it is viewed as a sign of lower education.
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  #17  
Old 15 July 2011, 01:46 PM
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I can't get no satisfaction on this issue!
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  #18  
Old 15 July 2011, 02:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mad Jay View Post
Is there any other language besides English in which double negative can mean a negative?
In Afrikaans a double negative is obligatory to grammatically express a negative in most cases, which is surprising since it isn't that way in Dutch. For example, "He doesn't speak English" translates as "Hy praat nie Engels nie" which word-for-word corresponds to "He speaks not English not".
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  #19  
Old 15 July 2011, 02:28 PM
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Sometimes the use of double negatives bothers me.

Like that song, I don't know who sings it.


"I ain't never gonna be.... a slave to love"

So are you saying you WILL be?
or you won't?


[Lewis Black Voice] It's just not clear to me [/Lewis Black Voice]

ETA: Her name is Stef Lang and the lyrics actually are as I've heard them
Quote:
I ain't never gonna be, never gonna be
A slave to love.

Last edited by Alarm; 15 July 2011 at 02:36 PM.
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  #20  
Old 15 July 2011, 02:54 PM
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There are dialects in the U.S. where double and even triple negatives are the norm for expressing a negative - the additional negatives are simply treated as emphasis rather than as part of a mathematical formula which dictates that an even number of negatives cancels each other out while an odd number lets the negative stand.
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