"so Auxn't NP" (was: Re: "until" vs "before" or "to")

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Jul 18 23:25:34 UTC 2007

At 5:48 PM -0400 7/18/07, Beverly Flanigan wrote:
>The distribution has been generally established, AFAIK (probably by
>Virginia McDavid? I'll check my sources when I have time), with reference
>to the major dialect areas:  the North uses "to" and maybe "of" (I'm less
>sure of this); the Midland (or at least South Midland) and South use "till
>(not spelled "til," as Arnold has noted).  Midland extends west of the
>Mississippi and tends to fan out, so it's not surprising that Colorado and
>Washington State would use "till."  My western students (at least as far
>west as Colorado and Kansas) use it, as they do "needs washed" and positive
>"anymore," other Midland forms.  Lamont Antieau in Colorado is mapping this
>Atlas region right now and should help to flesh out the mapping Arnold
>asked about.
>BTW, our new local nsp publisher has written twice (mockingly, of course)
>about the locals' use of "needs washed/done" and exhorted his writers NOT
>to use it.  Gotta write to him one of these days.
Speaking of mapping and atlases, but not I think of South
Midland--does anyone (Joan H. H., for example) know of any reliable
isoglosses for "So Auxn't NP"?  This is the (in)famous [hey, try
pronouncing that!] pleonastic--or, to adopt John Lawler's
label--spurious) negative construction that canonically involves
responses like B's below (to a positive declaration):

A:  I can do that.
B:  So can't I.

--where the response indicates that B is capable (rather than
incapable) of doing that.  This has been touched on in the literature
from time to time and is often (e.g. on the web in various blogs)
regarded as a shibboleth of New England*, but others have attested it
in New York State and as far west as DeKalb County, Illinois (as in
Lawler's 1974 paper in CLS 10) or even Hawa(')ii.  Others, of course,
claim that it couldn't possibly exist with that meaning, or that it's
a sign of mental defect, but that's not unusual (cf. the outrage
provoked by positive "anymore").  One issue is whether it means
exactly what "So Aux NP" would mean in the same context, another is
whether its use or diachrony involves irony/sarcasm (native speakers
typically insist it doesn't, at least synchronically), and a
third--the one I'm focusing on here--is just who uses the
construction and where.  I'd check DARE, but I'm assuming the head
word for the entry would be "so", in which case the relevant volume
won't be appearing for another two years.   Anyone?


*My favorite instance of this construction is a headline in the
sports pages of a Boston paper in the fall of 1971:


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