Negative inversion

William Salmon william.salmon at YALE.EDU
Wed Jan 21 00:05:22 UTC 2009

My grandmother in Texas would probably say that. And here's Mark Twain
in "A Horse's Tale":

"Why, of course, of course - I knew you'd spoil the child."

She brushed away her tears, and said with dignity:

"Spoil the child? spoil THAT child, Marse Tom? There can't ANYBODY
spoil her. She's the king bee of this post, and everybody pets her
and is her slave, and yet, as you know, your own self, she ain't
the least little bit spoiled."

> And the reply is: "Cant anybody catch that fish."
> There appears to be negative inversion without negative concord/multiple
> negation. I would have expected "Cant nobody catch that fish" = Std. "Nobody
> can catch that fish." Elsewhere some of the boy's companions use mult.
> negation (e.g. "We wont catch none nowhere if we dont go on"), and in an
> earlier part of the book there's a negative inversion with multiple negation
> ("Cant nobody see down here from the house, noways").
> Has anyone encountered something like this (cant anybody) in the wild? I
> wondering whether this is just a Faulknerian creation.
> I suppose it's possible that I've got the wrong interpretation of the
> meaning. Perhaps it's "That fish can't be caught by just anyone". It's not
> clear from the context.
> -Matt Gordon
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

~Will Salmon

The American Dialect Society -

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