Self-defeating syntax

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Nov 11 16:59:07 UTC 2005

At 11:17 AM -0500 11/11/05, sagehen wrote:
>Heard on NPR yesterday:
>"Few here would be surprised if tomorrow wasn't just as bad"( reporting
>from Baghdad on the several bombings).  This kind of construction which
>seems to deny what is really meant is so common that it barely catches the
>attention.  Is there a name for it?  I think it's been discussed here
>A. Murie

"Pleonastic negation" is typically used for the "don't be surprised
if it doesn't rain" or "I miss not seeing you around anymore", in
which the embedded negation reinforces (or redundantly echoes) the
main clause one rather than cancelling it.  The category overlaps
with that of negative concord, which is more often used for
clause-internal multiple negation reflecting a single semantic
negative ("Nobody don't want none of that" = 'Nobody wants any of
that').  Of course both of these are the preferred or only
construction available in other languages, or earlier stages of ours.
Additional examples that still occur in the "standard dialect":

Negative parentheticals:  He isn't, I don't think, going to get here on time.
Related constructions:   Not with my wife, you don't.
                                        The administration won't ban
torture, not even if it costs American lives.

And then there's "so don't I" = 'so do I', "I couldn't care less", etc.

These may seem to reflect a new phenomenon, but there are multiple
examples (as neggers from Jespersen on have shown) from Dickens,
Austen, and others of their ilk.

And yes, we've discussed them before, so the archive will have lots
of examples & commentary.


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