LINGUIST List 3.818

Sat 24 Oct 1992

Disc: Negatives

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. bert peeters, 3.806 Negatives - Je crains qu'il ne pleuve
  2. "Warren A. Brewer ", I could care less, Henry.
  3. Michael Kac, Re: 3.806 Negatives
  4. , Re: 3.804 Paradox, Negatives
  5. Larry Horn, Re: 3.806 Negatives
  6. Michael Kac, Re: 3.804 Paradox, Negatives
  7. Larry Horn, Reneging

Message 1: 3.806 Negatives - Je crains qu'il ne pleuve

Date: Thu, 22 Oct 92 9:39:12 EST3.806 Negatives - Je crains qu'il ne pleuve
From: bert peeters <>
Subject: 3.806 Negatives - Je crains qu'il ne pleuve

> Date: 21 Oct 1992 11:52:51 -0300
> 	There is in French something called "expressive negation" which
> is a comparable phenomenon. It is a use of "ne" without the "pas"
> which normally completes a true negative but also without any negative
> force. Standard historical grammars such as Brunot and Bruneau give a
> dozen or more syntactic patterns or lexically determined contexts in
> which the "ne expressif" occurs. The explanation usually given is that
> of contamination or carry-over effect. Thus two related sentences such
> as "Je desire qu'il ne pleuve pas" and "Je crains qu'il pleuve" give
> rise to "Je crains qu'il ne pleuve". In the latter, "pas" is lost, but
> so is the negative meaning.
> --Terry Gordon (WTGORDONAC.DAL.CA)

The hypothesis of a contamination or carry-over effect does not sound very
convincing in view of the fact that the real negative marker in Modern
Spoken French is *pas*, with *ne* often disappearing (e.g. "Je sais pas",
"Je dis pas que c'est pas possible"). How could a particle that tends to
disappear be carried over to another construction, whereas the one that
remains strongly present disappears in the process?

I think we ought to distinguish here between a diachronic and a synchronic
explanation/account. I won't go into the diachronics; for a synchronic
account (one of many) I refer to an article to appear in one of next year's
issues of the French journal *Langue francaise* devoted to semantic primit-
ives. The reference is as follows:

Marie-Eve RITZ, "La semantique de la negation en francais moderne", Langue
francaise, numero sur les primitifs semantiques (B. Peeters, ed), 1993.

Further details are as yet unknown.
Dr Bert Peeters Tel: +61 02 202344
Department of Modern Languages 002 202344
University of Tasmania at Hobart Fax: 002 207813
GPO Box 252C
Hobart TAS 7001
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: I could care less, Henry.

Date: Thu, 22 Oct 92 12:55:22 ESI could care less, Henry.
From: "Warren A. Brewer " <NCUT054TWNMOE10.bitnet>
Subject: I could care less, Henry.

RE: Henry Kucera's query about "could (not) care less".
 I have two statements to make: (1) regarding my Sprachgefuehl;
 (2) notice of Partridge's historical facts.

(1) In my idiolect, there is subsumed the primacy of the non-negative
form: {I could care less.} meaning "I really don't care, am totally
unsympathetic to the topic under discussion." About a decade ago,
a classmate at UCLA pointed out what she regarded as an ellipsis:
{I could care.}, emphasis on "care"; San Fernando Valley (So.Calif.),
teen sociolect.
 Actually, I had never analyzed {I could care less.} as being
ironic, which it is after I'd thought about it; it simply had an
idiomatic meaning. Clearly sarcastic, as Benji Wald noted.
 On first reflection, I thought that {could care less} originated
in the Folksprache, and had undergone subsequent linguistic cleansing
under puristic pressure of hyperlogical pedants: It is not logical
to say {could care less}, say {could NOT care less}. My idiolect
rejects {could not care less} or {couldn't care less} as awkwardly
unrhythmic and pedantically contrived gentrification.
 That the {not} is not there in the folkmenschian deep structure
seemed clear to me from less delicate paraphrases:

 (A) {I could give a shit (less).} = {I don't give a shit.}
 (B) {I could give a flying fuck.} = {I don't give a f.f.}

To insert a negative in (A) or (B) is impossible for me. Q.E.D.

(2) However, what do I do with embarrassing facts contradicting
this lovely theory? Eric Partridge (1977), A Dictionary of
Catch Phrases, s.v. _couldn't_care_less_, dates it from circa
1940, originally upper-middle class; prompted by (and perhaps
as a sarcastic riposte to) _I_couldn't_agree_(with_you)_more_,
from 1937. Implication being it spread to the States therefrom.
No mention of {could care less}, however; an Americanism?

 Warren A. Brewer
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Re: 3.806 Negatives

Date: Thu, 22 Oct 92 08:10:07 CDRe: 3.806 Negatives
From: Michael Kac <>
Subject: Re: 3.806 Negatives

Another speculative hypothesis about *I could care less*: might it not be
a hypercorrection, given that *I couldn't care less* is a case of the dread
Double Negative (even if a prescriptively permissible one)? Also, the pre-
sumptive double negative source IS hard to process. But I dunno.

Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 4: Re: 3.804 Paradox, Negatives

Date: 21 Oct 1992 14:48:46 -0500Re: 3.804 Paradox, Negatives
From: <ARS7950TNTECH.bitnet>
Subject: Re: 3.804 Paradox, Negatives

One of the quirkier negative/positive dialect features around my area of
Middle Tennessee (Cookeville and environs) is the use of "I don't care to"
as a positive response. When I was first building my home, I asked a mason
to build my fireplace. When he responded "I don't care to," I simply asked
someone else. Was I surprised when they both showed up. This is one of
those things we have to warn all new "outlander" faculty about.

Alan Slotkin
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 5: Re: 3.806 Negatives

Date: Thu, 22 Oct 92 10:21:24 EDRe: 3.806 Negatives
From: Larry Horn <LHORNYaleVM.YCC.Yale.Edu>
Subject: Re: 3.806 Negatives

Let me join John Lawler, author of the classic "Ample Negatives", in blowing
my own...well, anyway, this IS a topic (or set of interrelated topics) on
which I've spent some time and ink, not that I have the last word on it. In
some papers I published in 1978 and thereabouts, I mentioned the "I could(n't)
care less", "miss (not)", "so don't I", and related turns, trying to relate
them to the pleonastic negatives in Romance and the concordial negations in
various languages (including English, of course). One of my citations was a
Boston Globe headline reading


where the (then-)Baltimore Colts and New England Patriots were two pro
football teams preparing for a big game. (Those were the days...) This I took
to illustrate that the "so don't (can't/won't/...) NP" construction, which I
regarded as indeed sarcastic in some sense, is familiar enough in New England
to allow the assumption of widespread comprehension. I don't know the range
except that informants from southern Maine to Greenwich, Conn. are at least
passively quite familiar with it. I don't know if it's attested outside New
England. To John Lawler's "not with my spouse, you don't" type example,
interested explorers might want to think about the negative parenthetical
("Perot isn't, I (don't) think, actually going to carry any states"), which I
also spent some time ruminating over in those papers (appearing in Syntax and
Semantics 9 and in volume 4 of Universals of Human Language, Stanford U.
Press). Another example of anti-pleonastic "not" in English is the one in
"That'll teach you (not) to..."; like the "I could care less", it relies on
the standard turn to induce the now-conventionalized sarcastic understanding.
The pleonastic negations are of course much more widespread, i.e. those in "I
wouldn't be surprised if it didN'T rain" or "I miss not seeing you around".
I've collected a bunch of those in my 1990 CLS paper (inexplicably not yet
published), "Duplex negatio affirmat: The economy of double negation". If
anyone really wants it, I can send them a copy. Finally, on the surprising
tolerance of diametrically opposed readings resulting from the coming and
going of these negatives (mentioned by Jane Edwards in her posting), there's a
nice paper on a Chinese exemplar of this phenomenon involving the construction
"chadianr" (lit., 'miss-a-little', i.e. almost): as noted by Charles Li ("A
functional explanation for an unexpected ambiguity (S or -S)", in Linguistic
Studies Offered to Joseph Greenberg, Saratoga, CA: Anma Libri, 1976), the
sequence "chadianr mei" ('miss-a-little not') may signal 'almost' or 'just
barely'. A follow-up paper was written recently by Yung-O Biq:
"Metalinguistic Negation in Mandarin", Journal of Chinese Linguistics 17
(1989): 75-95. She's at San Francisco State U. if anyone wants to contact her
directly. --Larry Horn
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 6: Re: 3.804 Paradox, Negatives

Date: Thu, 22 Oct 92 08:03:31 CDRe: 3.804 Paradox, Negatives
From: Michael Kac <>
Subject: Re: 3.804 Paradox, Negatives

In response to the query about the distribution of 'So don't I': i grew up
with it, in Ithaca, New York.

Michael Kac
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 7: Reneging

Date: Fri, 23 Oct 92 10:36:52 EDReneging
From: Larry Horn <LHORNYALEVM.bitnet>
Subject: Reneging

Another couple of bibliographical notes. On redundant negation, both
redundant un-verbs ('unthaw', 'unloose(n)', etc.) and various redundant
negative adjectives, including the current 'irregardless' (mentioned in one of
the earlier postings) and its widely attested 17th century precursors
('unboundless', 'undauntless', 'unmatchless', etc., all with redundant--i.e.
singly-neg--meanings), are discussed in an ESCOL 1988 paper of mine. Benjy
Wald's query about retro-NOT (he apparently missed the lengthy exchange on the
List on the construction last winter) prompts me to mention that I discussed
this usage in a paper given last May at Columbus at SALT 2 (2d Conference on
Semantics and Linguistics Theory) and since published (available from Dept. of
Linguistics, Ohio State U.). I was careful (I hope) to lavish acknowledgments
for contributed ...NOTs, and those classic 1910 and 1955 citations
I mentioned on the net are included, so the William Safires of the world (all
of whom we can confidently expect to read semantics conference proceedings) now
have no excuse for claiming that ...NOT was invented by Wayne's World.
 (I can send anyone interested copies of either of those papers, although
any listees from Ohio State will correctly point out that both volumes are
worth owning on independent grounds.)
 --Larry Horn (LHORNYALEVM.bitnet)
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue