LINGUIST List 3.836

Tue 27 Oct 1992

Disc: Ne Pleonastique and Polarity Items

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  1. , ne in French - a reference
  2. "Ellen F. Prince", Re: 3.830 Pleonastic Ne
  3. , Poets' Corner

Message 1: ne in French - a reference

Date: Tue, 27 Oct 92 17:29 MET
From: <>
Subject: ne in French - a reference

Most of the observations and questions asked in connection with the French
element "ne" (it is not negative; it might be modal; etc.) are discussed
in a very interesting paper written in 1929. Full referencce:

Damourette & Pichon (1929). 'Sur la signification psychologique de la ne'gation
en franc,ais.' In: Journal de Psychologie 3, 228-254.

Peter Kahrel
University of Amsterdam
The Netherlands
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Message 2: Re: 3.830 Pleonastic Ne

Date: Tue, 27 Oct 92 14:14:36 ESRe: 3.830 Pleonastic Ne
From: "Ellen F. Prince" <>
Subject: Re: 3.830 Pleonastic Ne

just in case people think that pleonastic negation is limited to french and
possibly english, i'd like to point out that it certainly occurs in yiddish,
and definitely not only in 'careful' speech. it always occurs in a construction
which would be translated in english by a 'wh-ever' phrase, e.g.

es iz mir gut vu ikh zol nit zayn
it is me good where i shall not be
'i'm fine wherever i am'

vi groys a mentsh zol nit zayn...
how big a person shall not be...
'however great a person may be...'

vi er zol nit gehat laydn fun ir...
how he shall not had sufferings from her...
'however much he suffered because of her...'

also, pleonastic negation often occurs in the complement of 'fear', as in

"hot dokh der vaybls mame moyre gehat, az imitser fun di shkhoynim zol NIT gebn
dem kind KEYN aynore." (RP:5)
has PRT the woman's mama fear had, that someone of the neighbors shall NOT give
the child NO evil-eye
'so the woman's mother was afraid that one of the neighbors might give the
child an evil eye'

note that there is a difference between yiddish and french here, however.
yiddish, like french, has negative concord; unlike french, both 'parts' of
the negation must occur in the complement of 'fear', if either does.

as for the note about modality, all the examples of pleonastic negation in
my yiddish corpus have _zoln_ 'shall' as the inflected verb, which is the verb
that does the work of the subjunctive mood in yiddish. some of the cases,
however, do not seem to me to be irrealis in any obvious way, e.g. 'however
much he suffered from her...'--in the context, he DID suffer a great deal--
the text goes on to say that, however much he suffered from her, he still
missed her when she died. of course english could use _may_ here--however much
he may have suffered from her--so perhaps there is something irrealis going on.
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Message 3: Poets' Corner

Date: Tue, 27 Oct 92 10:25:00 ESPoets' Corner
From: <>
Subject: Poets' Corner

 Well, folks, if we're going to be discussing negation, let's make sure
 we're all playing with something like the same deck. Herewith my list
 of English NPI's (Negative Polarity Items). Some of these are no doubt
 idiosyncratic, others are well-worn classics; and it is no doubt also
 incomplete. But it's a start. I'm sure most of you have your own; let's
 merge them.

 Following that is a list of English negative lexical items, idioms, and
 constructions, i.e, things that license the occurrence of NPI's, for
 which I use the cover term "Negative Trigger". These are lightly
 classified for my own convenience; feel free to reclassify them for

 Negative Polarity Items
 ever [Suppletes w/ any]
 any more
 much, many
 at all
 last long, take long, be long [But NOT: a long time]
 in weeks, in ages, in a coon's age, in donkey's years,
 in the longest time
 until [With Punctual Predicates]
 need / dare [As Modals]
 bother [+ V-ing]
 can seem to [+ V-inf]
 care to [+ V-inf]
 mind [+ V-ing]
 can help (X-self) [+ V-ing]
 the hell, the fuck, in the world
 too [= very]
 (be) all that [+ Adj/Adv]
 ...but that/but what [+ S] speak of
 a red cent
 do a thing, bat an eye, lift a finger, drink a drop, give/be worth
 (a) shit/damn, ... [Open Class: V + Minimal DO Idioms]

 Negative "Triggers"
 a) Negatives Proper
 not [Immediately Commanding Clausemate NPI]
 [Immediately Commanding Non-Clausemate NPI]
 [Non-Immediately Commanding NPI]
 [Transported Non-Incorporated]
 Transported Incorporated: doubt, improbable, unlikely
 Incorporated In Vb/Adj: dislike, dissatisfied, prevent, dissuade
 Neg Frequency Adverbs: seldom, rarely
 Neg Degree Adverbs: hardly, barely, scarcely
 keep [+ from]
 few [But NOT: a few]
 not many
 b) Interrogatives:
 Yes/No Questions
 Negative Questions
 Wh- Questions
 Tag Questions
 Embedded Questions [whether = if]
 the question of
 c) Hypotheticals:
 Embedded Whether-Questions
 Wh-X-Ever Clauses
 d) Comparison:
 at least as ... as [Note: Different Potentialities]
 exactly as ... as [ For Triggering NPI's]
 Comparatives: [In Than-Clauses Only]
 Lexical Comparative: prefer
 Idiomatic Comparative: would rather
 no more/not any more ... than
 not much ... -er
 Superlatives [In Of-Phrases Only]
 Lexical Superlatives: first, last, ultimate
 e) Others
 before, by the time [Counterfactually]
 odd, strange
 hard, tough, difficult, a bitch
 unless, except(ing)
 lack, (be) missing, (be) without
 (the) chances (be) 1 in 100 / 100 to 1 (/ *even) that ...


 These are, to put it mildly, a mixed lot. You find some of the oldest
 (e.g, need/dare as modals) and youngest (e.g, ...NOT!) phenomena in the
 language as negatives, and there's irregularity enough to frustrate any
 searcher for order.

 The single most relevant remark on negation that I've encountered in 20
 years of studying it was made by Fred Lupke. He characterized negation
 in English as a strange place where the boundaries are thin; the last
 stronghold of ancient parts of the language, and the first place where
 young, headstrong constructions crop up, creep in, and strut around
 irritating people.

 In his phrase, a "Poets' Corner". I've always found that incredibly apt.

-John Lawler
 University of Michigan
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