LINGUIST List 7.932

Tue Jun 25 1996

Disc: Not really

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Charles Rowe, re:not really (7.909)
  2., Re: 7.909, Disc: "not really"

Message 1: re:not really (7.909)

Date: Wed, 19 Jun 1996 15:17:12 EDT
From: Charles Rowe <>
Subject: re:not really (7.909)

re: D.Ganelin's remarks:

I do indeed agree that the insertion of "just" does, as D.Ganelin put
it, "reverse the sign" in the phrase *not really*. My interpretation
of the phrase I offered ('not just REAL sick') turns on the
focus/emphasis on REAL; D.Ganelin's interpretation, by contrast, may
rely on a prosodic emphasis on *just*. The *just* in my example is a
particle word, thus, [-stress].

Either way, I believe that 'just' acts as a restrictor in both examples,
and as such, restores the original/compositional meaning of the phrase:
ie, to:

'He's not extremely sick'.

It is probable that the high-frequency *really* (and *very* as well, in
English) has been de-emphasized in speech to particle status.
Stripped of its meaning, it can no longer convey in this context the
semantics of *real(ly)*. Thus a synonymous adverb that is as yet
[-particle] must be invoked to convey this meaning.

The same process has affected the German adverb *ganz* and the
Dutch adverb *heel* ('completely', in each instance), such
that *ganz gut* and *heel goed* are actually "less good" than *sehr gut*
and *zehr goed* ('very good'). (I believe *zehr* is still active in Dutch?).

Charlie Rowe
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Message 2: Re: 7.909, Disc: "not really"

Date: Thu, 20 Jun 1996 21:40:41 +1100
From: <>
Subject: Re: 7.909, Disc: "not really"

>Having missed the beginnings of this string, perhaps my comments are not
>to the point, but here goes...
>To me, the sentence "He's not just real (really) sick." definitely does
>NOT imply that the person is NOT extremely sick, but the exact opposite;
>i.e., that he is, in fact, deathly ill. It is exactly the insertion of
>'just' that reverses the 'sign' of this sentence; without it, the speaker
>would be saying that the person is either a little under the weather or
>perhaps even faking.
>It seems that our very different interpretations (see Charles Rowe's
>posting in 7.866) of this sentence may be regional. I'd be interested in
>discovering which regions understand it which way.

In south-east Australia (and I'm pretty sure it's the same in other parts)
this means the person is at death's door ..... though many people would
find the structure very confusing and request clarification.


Mex Butler
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