LINGUIST List 4.874

Mon 25 Oct 1993

Disc: That Will Teach You

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  1. Larry Horn, Re: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You
  2. , Re: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You
  3. Picus Sizhi Ding, Re: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You
  4. , Re: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You

Message 1: Re: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You

Date: Tue, 19 Oct 93 10:49:47 EDRe: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You
From: Larry Horn <LHORNYALEVM.YCC.YALE.EDU>
Subject: Re: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You

This construction is indeed, as recent posts have suggested, related to others
in which an original ironic flavor becomes conventionally associated with an
expression (as with the pleonastic negation of "So don't I" or the missing
negation of "I could care less", both kicked around on the net a while back,
or related expressions, e.g. "A (fat) lot of good THAT'll do, with the same
contrastively stressed THAT that we get in the one under discussion). The
result is that we have one of these surprising ambiguities where two
interpretatations of opposite polarity may be possible, as in other cases NOT
involving irony. One such is the "miss not", where the negation may or may
not be pleonastic. Dale Russell mentions this one, and I discussed it in my
1978 article "Some Aspects of Negation" in the 4th volume of Universals of
Human Language [Greenberg et al, eds., Stanford U. Press], 171ff. These
typically involve incorporated negation (or more generally downward entailing
operators with non-overt negation) whose negative force seems to have to get
buttressed with an overt pleonastic negative; another example is "Don't be
surprised if it doesn't rain", meaning '...if it rains'. Among other
prescriptivists, Fowler waged a campaign against these "illogical"
constructions, in fact specifically citing the 'more than I can help' turn
signalled by John Cowan in his post. But it was Jespersen (1917) who pointed
out that "it would certainly be unidiomatic to say...'more than I can not
help'", and who attributes the 'idiom' to 'the fact that every comparison with
'than' implies a negative idea ('he has more than necessary' implies "it is
not necessary to have more", etc.) and it is on a par with the logic...in the
French use of 'ne' ('plus qu'il ne faut') and in the dialectal 'nor' for
'than'. [Jesperse 1917: 80; see my paper for additional discussion]
 In fact, then, John Cowan's sense that the two negations have 'gotten
mixed' and that the it would be 'pedantically perverse' to say 'more than X can
not help' are both endorsed by Jespersen. The same blend-type analysis is
also traditionally invoked for the negation after verbs of hindering,
prohibiting, denying, fearing, etc., whether it's a full negation (as in older
and dialectal English) or half of an embracing negative (as in modern standard
French). Speaking of French, though, a particularly interesting parallel to
'that'll teach you', although NOT involving irony, is provided by the
possibility of using either 'Prendre garde de tomber' or 'Prendre garde de
ne pas tomber' [note the full embracing negation!] to mean 'Take care not to
fall' (or, if you prefer, 'Take care of falling').

 --Larry Horn (LHORNYALEVM)
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Message 2: Re: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You

Date: Tue, 19 Oct 93 20:43:55 BSRe: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You
From: <alexcompapp.dcu.ie>
Subject: Re: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You

two things. firstly, the indistinguishability of
(1) i really miss X
from
(2) i really miss not X
seems to me to depend on whether different interpretations can reasonably be
constructed. if we replace X with "having a job to go to", it seems to me that
(1) and (2) can lead to quite different inferences about the speaker's current
employment status. if X is "having a phonologist around", of course, the only
possible interpretation is that the lack (rather than the presence) of a
phonologist is being lamented!

secondly, i disagree with mark hilton's claim that the prosody of
(3) that'll teach him to come early
serves to remove the ambiguity in context. it is perfectly possible to have
the main accent on THAT in either case, or on EARLY in either case. for
instance, imagine a context where we have been attempting to teach Mark to
arrive early and have tried alarm calls, hypnosis, corporal punishment, etc.
and we finally call in a punctuality consultant who listens to our tale and
then declares:
(4) get mark a parrot trained to say "time to go to work" continuously as soon
as it wakes up. THAT'll teach him to come early.

alternatively, imagine we are in a meeting discussing how annoying it is that
Mark always arrives in the office at the crack of dawn and consequently has
filled all our desks with officious memos by the time we get in about 10:30.
someone hits on the brilliant idea of scheduling fire-alarm tests for 9am every
day, and announcing that the alarm will sound continuously for 30 minutes at
that time. there are approving murmurs, and a colleague declares:
(4) THAT'll teach him to come early.

 alex.
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Message 3: Re: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You

Date: Wed, 20 Oct 93 18:50:05 PDRe: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You
From: Picus Sizhi Ding <stengsfu.ca>
Subject: Re: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You

Dale Russell gave the following sentences that have an identical
meaning:
 (1) I really miss having a phonologist around the house.
 (2) I really miss not having a phonologist around the house.

But after a slight modification, the new pair no longer share their
meanings. (Well, at least to a non-native speaker like me.)
 (3) I really miss those days having a phonologist around the house.
 (4) I really miss those days not having a phonologist around the house.

For those who agree with me, what's interesting is that when the
object of 'miss' is (explicitly) identical, i.e. 'those days', in the
new pair, they can't have the same meaning because the objects of the
sentences are modified by two phrases with opposite meaning. It seems
to me that the reason (2) and (1) convey a similar meaning is due to
the existence of some kind of gap in (2). Whether a listener can
construe (2) as (1) depends on whether the gap is realized or not.

My 2 devaluated Canadian cents.
--
Picus Ding <stengsfu.ca> Estu songhanto, sed faranto ankau.
Department of Linguistics
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
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Message 4: Re: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You

Date: Thu, 21 Oct 1993 22:56:09 Re: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You
From: <BPEARSONumiami.ir.miami.edu>
Subject: Re: 4.859 Pragmatics: That'll Teach You

Does "I could care less" (which means I couldn't care less) relate to this
discussion?
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