Nobody Does It Like Sara Lee?

James C Stalker stalker at MSU.EDU
Fri Apr 22 03:52:25 UTC 2005

My apologies.  I’m just picking up this thread.  Wolfram claimed in his
early analysis of Shuy’s Detroit data that structures such as “nobody
neg V” was a case of double negatives being positive.  In this case,
“nobody doesn’t like” = “everybody likes.”  Larry’s example of
“Everybody doesn't like something" as a syntactic precursor raises
interesting questions about negation and scope (everybody DOESN’T like
something, BUT NOBODY DOESN’T like Sara Lee).  In this case do four
negatives make a positive?
        However.  I’ve seen/heard both versions, with and without the first
clause, and never had a problem hearing it.  Still, I  thought the negative
structure in the second clause, the one we mostly hear or see, was outside
of the dialect expectations of most listeners here in mid-Michigan where I
live, and maybe elsewhere.  I would not be surprised if my students had
heard “Nobody does it like Sara Lee.”  I am surprised that TN students
did not hear the “nobody doesn’t” structure.  I mean, after all, I
coulda bought a t-shirt in Pigeon Forge that said “When momma ain’t
happy, ain’t nobody happy,” another of Wolfram’s AAVE specific double
negatives, but obviously being sold as “mountain dialect.”
        Do we have some dialect denial working here?


James C. Stalker
Department of English
Michigan State University

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