Another case of negative = positive?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Jan 24 05:37:24 UTC 2008

At 10:13 PM -0500 1/23/08, Wilson Gray wrote:
>I was chatting with a Texas relative and mentioned to him that he
>might want to read a particular book. He replied:
>a) "I'll see whether I _can't_ [keint] find it down here."
>Of course, he meant:
>b) "I'll see whether I _can_ [kin] find it down here."
>Except that that's not how people say it Down Home.
Leaving aside the phonology, the negative here isn't all that exotic.
Jespersen (1917: 98) notes the use of "weakened negatives" in

How often have we not seen him? = 'We have often seen him'
What have we not suffered? = 'We have suffered everything'

--and exclamations--

How often have I not watched him!
Through what strange vicissitudes of life had they not followed me!

"In these sentences", Jespersen observes, "the import of the negation
is also weakened, so that it really matters very little whether a not
is added or not".  And so too within the scope of your relative's
"whether", as above.


The American Dialect Society -

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