Archive for Negation

Not

Lately I've been seeing greater use of this kind of sentence structure:  "He is an awesome hero — not".  And (mis)negation has always been a favorite topic for discussion on Language Log.  Consequently, I'm calling to your attention two recent publications on "not".

"'Not' in the Brain and Behavior." Cas W. Coopmans, Anna Mai, Andrea E. Martin, PLOS Biology 22, no. 5 (May 31, 2024): e3002656.

Negation is key for cognition but has no physical basis, raising questions about its neural origins. A new study in PLOS Biology on the negation of scalar adjectives shows that negation acts in part by altering the response to the adjective it negates.

https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.3002656.

Language fundamentally abstracts from what is observable in the environment, and it does so often in ways that are difficult to see without careful analysis. Consider a child annoying their sibling by holding their finger very close to the sibling’s arm. If asked what they were doing, the child would likely say, “I’m not touching them.” Here, the distinction between the physical environment and the abstraction of negation is thrown into relief. Although “not touching” is consistent with the situation, “not touching” is not literally what one observes because an absence is definitionally something that is not there. The sibling’s annoyance speaks to the actual situation: A finger is very close to their arm. This kind of scenario illustrates how natural language negation is truly a product of the human brain, abstracting away from physical conditions in the world.

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No(t/n)

That's bù 不, plus = a-, il-, im-, in-, ir-, un-, non- prefixes in English.

It can enter into Mandarin contractions, such as 不 ("not") + yòng 用 ("use") = béng ("needn't), and the two Sinoglyphs used to write the constituent morphosyllables can fuse to become béng 甭 ("needn't).

Here's a whole slew of such fusion words and contraction characters:

Included among them are whimsical items such as one composed of bù 不 ("not") above and lǎo 老 ("old") below (= xiān 仙 ["ageless; immortal; transcendent"]), also another fairly well established one with bù 不 ("not") above and 好 ("good") below (= huài 壞 and other words / glyphs meaning "bad; evil; spoiled", etc.) — see if you can spot them. 

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No paddling

And no dabbling either (see "Selected readings").

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Three negations in one headline

From François-Michel Lang, "I had to read the article to be sure I understood what exactly had happened!"
 
 
The Kentucky measure bans access to gender-transition care for young people, and West Virginia’s governor signed a similar bill on Wednesday. Passage of bans also appears imminent in Idaho and Missouri.
 
By Campbell Robertson and Ernesto Londoño, NYT (March 29, 2023)
 
Override
Veto

Anti

 
Here follow the first five out of seventeen paragraphs in the article:

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kempt and sheveled

From François Lang:

I did not know you'd invented "topolect" and "character amnesia"!
 
Now…since you have a predilection for naming heretofore unnamed things, I am wondering if you could work your linguistic magic to describe words like "unkempt" and "disheveled", which appear far more often than their equivalent without the negative prefix.
 

I hope that pushes some linguistic buttons (assuming, of course, that no such word actually exists!).

The best I've come up with is "arhizomorphic", but I'm sure you and your Language Log groupies can do better!

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can you not

Hidden behind the Keurig in our departmental office, I've been noticing a gawky, ungainly, stray coffee mug with these three words on the side:

can

you

not

No capitalization and no punctuation.

I was mystified.  Whatever could that mean?  I can imagine an arch, haughty, snotty person saying that to someone implying that they don't want the person to whom they're talking to do whatever it is they're doing.  In essence, I suppose it means "You're bothering / bugging / annoying me"; "stop doing that"; "get lost".

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How to say "We don't have any pickled pigs' feet"

I have a terrible hankering for pickled pigs' feet and have been to about a dozen stores in the Philadelphia area looking for a bottle of them.  So far no luck.

But I'm learning a lot about how store personnel tell me they don't have any.

Mostly, of course, they just say, "No(, we don't have any)".

If they're not sure, they usually say (regretfully), "I don't think we have any."

Today, however, I received the same answer four times in one store, "(It's possible) we may / might not have any" — as they walked me around to different parts of the store looking for the pickled pigs' feet.

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