Fwd: Overnegation and Nary (Your Language Log Post)

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Tue May 29 17:03:20 UTC 2007

from another LLog reader:

Begin forwarded message:

> I thought you might be interested to know, if you didn't already,
> that Faulkner (through some of his characters) uses "ary" to mean
> "nary" but without the negation.  So Faulkner would have said
> "before ary a punch was thrown" and been correct.  I don't have my
> OED handy but I suspect "ary" may have been a good formal word long
> ago.

anyone have any actual faulkner cites?

in any case, this really should be in the OED.  it looks like the
problem is that it's american, spoken, and dialectal -- three things
that work against it for inclusion in the OED.

it's really a very pretty historical change, with "nary" apparently
analyzed as "n-ary", so that it looks like "ary" 'a single' is
licensed by the negative -- that is, that it's a negative polarity
item.  and so far the examples of "ary" are in negative contexts
("without" and negative "before").

it would certainly be nice to have further examples in other types of
negative contexts.  and i wonder about other NPI-licensing contexts,
in particular yes-no questions and conditionals -- things like:

main clause negation:  I didn't see ary a dog.  'I didn't see a
single dog'
ynq: Did you see ary a dog? 'Did you see a single dog?'
conditional: If you saw ary a dog,... 'If you saw a single dog,...'


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