LINGUIST List 3.830

Tue 27 Oct 1992

Disc: Pleonastic Ne

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  1. , Re: 3.829 Ne Pleonastique
  2. "Bruce E. Nevin", making sense of pleonastic ne etc.
  3. Bill Bennett, Ne in French

Message 1: Re: 3.829 Ne Pleonastique

Date: Mon, 26 Oct 1992 23:16 estRe: 3.829 Ne Pleonastique
From: <>
Subject: Re: 3.829 Ne Pleonastique

Although my French is very, very limited, it strikes me that the only
 possibility being entertained for this 'ne pleonastique' is negation.
Why not something else, like modality. The sentences cited by Don Webb
("Je crains qu'il ne pleuve" "I fear it may rain" and "Ce 'ne' est
plus difficile a'comprendre que je ne pensais" "This 'ne' is harder to
understand than I thought") both seem to entail a certain amount of
irrealis or uncertainty on the speaker's part (judging from the
translation, however), especially in the former sentence, where the
translation contains a modal expressing uncertainty.
Perhaps the 'ne' no longer functions with respect to negation, but has
nevertheless taken over a modal function (and possibly structure, but
that's another story). Agaido the native speakers think?

Scott Kiesling
Georgetown University
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Message 2: making sense of pleonastic ne etc.

Date: Mon, 26 Oct 92 13:48:12 ESmaking sense of pleonastic ne etc.
From: "Bruce E. Nevin" <>
Subject: making sense of pleonastic ne etc.

It seems to me that in our recent discussion of reinterpretations we
missed the observation that in the process of language acquisition
reinterpretation has to be the rule rather than the exception.

The discussion of pleonastic ne re-evoked this for me. Language
learners do not seem to require that everything make sense according to
the logic of etymology, of derivation (structural consistency), or of
the syllogism. A case in point that springs to mind: for at least some
teenage speakers of the working class American English dialect of
Gloucester, Massachusetts a contraction of the type "would've" is
adamantly derived from "would of" and decidedly not from "would have."
Nothing that a bit more education wouldn't fix of course :-). But
evidently this rather startling (to me) extension of domain for the
preposition "of" needs no more motivation than superficial phonetic
similarity to the reduced form of "have." If there is some hidden
structural basis that I have overlooked, it must be strong enough to
overcome the analogy to "have" constructions without modals (I have
gone: I would of gone).

There are enough frozen expressions in any language, fragments of
archaic structure cut adrift from their etymological moorings, that
language learners must have the means to take them in their stride as
"words" no more arbitrary than the rest of the roster of lexemes. So
it is perhaps with things like negative particles that do not negate.

	Bruce Nevin
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Message 3: Ne in French

Date: Mon, 26 Oct 92 20:37:33 GMNe in French
From: Bill Bennett <>
Subject: Ne in French

Don Webb is quite right, of course, when he points out the difference between
`ne' as the remnant of `ne pas' and the lone `ne' used in certain careful
styles, in clauses dependent on verbs such as -craindre- or introduced by
conjunctions such as -avant que. Without wishing to go into the logic of these
markers, I would like to draw attention to the frequency of overlap between
them and the subjunctive. In its non-lexicalised, optional use the French
subjunctive releases the speaker from commitment to the truth of the dependent
clause as proposition. The `ne' in question is a reminder of the same
implication by the speaker.
 As well as this overlap with the subjunctive, clues to the meaning of `ne'
can be gathered from the final -n- of -than- and the use of this conjunction.
And from the etymology of the English word -lest- (in my SOED). After all, the
speaker's fear may well motivate that speaker to want to hypothesize, to
defactualize, the proposition representing the source of the fear!
 Perhaps, this `ne' has no real place in a discussion of negatives as such.
It should have to wait until the BB gets around to implicatures.

Bill Bennett, Cambridge.
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