Negative inversion

Matthew Gordon gordonmj at MISSOURI.EDU
Thu Jan 22 19:52:28 UTC 2009

Thanks to Will, Wilson, and Charlie for their responses to my question.

The Twain example that Will provided sounds even weirder ("There can't
ANYBODY spoil her"). Is that "there" the existential dummy pronoun or just
an adverb? Is the former interpretation grammatical for any real variety of

On 1/20/09 6:05 PM, "William Salmon" <william.salmon at YALE.EDU> wrote:

> 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 -

The American Dialect Society -

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