Will an American be indicted next, or not?

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Interviewed by Jake Tapper on Friday about the indictment of 12 Russians by Robert Mueller's investigation, Michael Hayden said

I would not be surprised

if this were not the last indictment we see
that- that doesn't mention
an American

So will there be one or more future filings, and will Americans be indicted in all of them, or in some of them, or in none of them? Jake Tapper immediately tries to clarify:

so in other words there will be another indictment, and you think there'll be Americans in- involved

The headline for the interview reads: "EX-CIA Chief: I suspect Americans will be indicted next".

And CNN tweeted it as

I would not be surprised if this were the last indictment we see "that doesn't mention an American," former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden says about Robert Mueller's investigation

Another CNN story put it this way:

Hayden, who was CIA director under President George W. Bush, added that he "would not be surprised" if future indictments were of Americans […]

Multiple negations? Check.
Modal and/or irrealis clauses? Check.
Possible negative concord? Check.
Confusion? Check.

Definitely one for the Misnegation Files.

[h/t Neal Goldfarb.]



  1. TIC said,

    July 15, 2018 @ 6:35 am

    Wow… I always enjoy these real-life language puzzles… And this is a good 'un… It's little wonder that, by the time he got to the end, he'd lost his way… Two "not"s… Plus a "doesn't"… And, most insidious of all it seems to me, a prediction of being "surprised", which would normally lead to a statement of the opposite of one's expectation… Except that he said he would *not* be surprised, so that instead should lead to . . . . .
    A good 'un, indeed!…

  2. Breffni said,

    July 15, 2018 @ 2:24 pm

    Negative concord is possible in British English in the "I shouldn't/wouldn't be surprised" construction, or at least was until relatively recently. From Google Books:

    1948: "Me brother's in Burma", said the newcomer. "He says it's bloody awful."
    “I shouldn't be surprised if he weren't right”, laughed Michael, and lounged off to the wire.

    1990: It won't surprise you to hear that he's operating in the American zone. I shouldn't be surprised if he weren't behind their present demarche.

    1951: I shouldn't be surprised if he weren't indulging in a little intellectual leg-pulling.

    1967: If father were to retire — which he'll soon have to, the way he's going on — he'll have to hand over to the rest of us. I wouldn't be surprised if he weren't giving us the chance of sorting out our differences right now, just to see how good we'd be at working in harmony.

    1956: Stop crying and listen to me. They're taking good care of your daddy. They've put him to bed and I wouldn't be surprised if he weren't sound asleep by this time.

    Not common in Ireland; what about the US? If that's the way Michael Hayden rolls, then his sentence comes out as intended.

  3. TIC said,

    July 15, 2018 @ 3:56 pm

    To answer your question (as a rank amateur, but with an ear that rarely fails to notice unusual phrasing) I'd say that negative concord is rather uncommon in most standard forms of Am/E except among incautious and idiomatic speakers… But I'm open to being contradicted or corrected by my (many) betters!…

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 16, 2018 @ 12:00 pm

    Breffni's examples seem good evidence of non-stigmatized negative concord, but maybe adding the third negation here (which is doing something different, I think) is what confuses our poor monkey brains here?

  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 16, 2018 @ 8:17 pm

    Separately, one might quibble (as a matter of linguistics, separately from law or politics) about whether the most recent indictment "doesn't mention an American," as Mr. Hayden's statement presupposes it did not. It mentions “a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump,” without a name given or citizenship specified. But widespread speculation (given everything else said about this unnamed person and how it fit with the publicly-known-or-suspected timeline of events etc.) seemed to fairly quickly reach a consensus that the person mentioned was an American and indeed the specific American named Roger Stone, and Stone himself reportedly told a reporter he was "probably" the person referred to. It is federal-prosecutor house style in drafting indictments not to give the specific name of persons or institutions who are not (at least thus far) charged with a crime (and are also not the victim) but instead refer to them via various generic circumlocutions. Sometimes it's easier to figure out the identity of who is being referred to than other times; indeed, sometimes it's trivially easy, raising to my mind a question about what it might mean to "mention" someone via a description that someone knowledgeable about the circumstances can unambiguously decode although the person's actual name is omitted. To give a different example, "the (primary) starting third baseman of the 1971 San Diego Padres" means nothing to me immediately, but almost certainly describes one and only one specific human being and there are probably a few thousand diehards out there who can identify that individual from memory plus a few million or more who could fairly promptly work out the person's identity by googling. Has that person been "mentioned" via the uniquely-identifying description?

  6. Bob Ladd said,

    July 17, 2018 @ 5:27 am

    A different linguistic quibble from the one raised by J W Brewer: he and Breffni seem to agree on the existence of "non-stigmatized negative concord". But I wonder if this isn't a different kind of thing, namely "pleonastic negation". In the Romance languages this is commonly found in subordinate clauses introduced by (some) verbs and (some) conjunctions, like French Je crains qu'il ne vienne 'I am afraid he will [NEG] come' or Italian finchè non si raffreddi 'until it has [NEG] cooled'. These "modal and/or irrealis clauses", to use MYL's wording in the OP, somehow seem to want (or at least tolerate) an explicit negative element, in ways that lead to potential confusion. To me this seems like a separate phenomenon from negative concord (which is stigmatized in English but not in e.g. Italian).

  7. Breffni said,

    July 18, 2018 @ 4:47 am

    Bob: you're right; the "wouldn't be surprised if" construction is more like the Romance cases than like typical negative concord, where both negatives occur inside the same clause. It never occurred to me to make the distinction. I've heard native speakers of Romance languages say things in English like "keep the heat on high until the water doesn't boil".

  8. TIC said,

    July 18, 2018 @ 5:54 am

    It probably goes without saying that all of the features mentioned by the three most recent commenters seem to result from a botched effort to make what sounds like a bold prediction — but with adequate hedging so as to avoid being proven wrong… It's amazing to me how the brain concocts such constructions, on the fly, with little if any conscious awareness of all the elements… And, therefore, it's little surprise when one stumbles in the process… All of this is supposition on my part, of course, but it seems that Hayden wanted to say something along the lines of, "I predict that the process has reached the point where those indicted next will be Americans"… But that's a bit too direct, possibly a bit premature, and ultimately too falsifiable for a cautious speaker… So, "predict" (or "prediction") quickly gets nixed… And rather than "Americans", it's safer to say (at least one) "American"… And rather than say that an American will be "indicted" (or even "named") next, it's safer to just go with "mention(ed)"… And using the "I'd be surprised" phrasing provides a bit of wiggle room — "I didn't say it *wouldn't* happen, I just said I'd be *surprised* if it did!" — but using the "I wouldn't be surprised" phrasing allows even more wiggle room in the event that one's (non)prediction proves false… That's a lot of machination going on in the ad-hoc assembly of a single sentence… And it's little surprise that a breakdown occurred…

  9. Breffni said,

    July 18, 2018 @ 6:30 am

    TIC, I think it's likely that Hayden's utterance was indeed botched. But the phenomenon that Bob Ladd is talking about, with the negative element in the subordinate clauses, is grammatically obligatory in Romance languages, certainly in standard French, and I think also in Spanish. And I suspect that, if not obligatory, it's at least grammatically optional in the English of the writers I quoted. That is, I think they might consider those "wouldn't be surprised" sentences grammatically fine, even upon later reflection.

  10. TIC said,

    July 18, 2018 @ 2:55 pm

    Thanks, Breffni, for that patient and tolerant explanation to this semi-educated layman… I get it (I think? )… But I'd still say, perhaps wrongly, that such constructions — whether one labels them "negative concord" or "pleonastic negation" — aren't at all common in standard AmE… The examples you cited — which Bob Ladd referred to as "non-stigmatized negative concord" — seem to me to be what I think of, perhaps wrongly, as idiomatic speech/writing in that they're technically shaky, if not outright improper, but they're accepted with little or no stigma (in BrE) either because they're somewhat common/familiar or because the "illogic" can easily pass by unnoticed… Kind of like (always-grating-to-my-ears!) AmE phrasings along the lines of "X is twice as close as Y" and "A is three times lower than B"… Thanks again, Breffni, for the explanation — even though my grasp of "pleonastic negation" remains several times weaker than my bare grasp of "negative concord"!…
    To (sort of) attempt an answer to the (perhaps rhetorical?) question at the end of J. W. Brewer's second comment, I'd say that said individual, although clearly not having been 'named', has surely been 'alluded to' and/or 'referred to'… Whether or not he has been "mentioned" is, of course, a bit dicier… Certainly, "an individual who can hardly be anyone other than RS" was 'mentioned'… But I'd say that, in my usage, RS was not in fact 'mentioned'… (And, if I weren't loathe to distract him from his far more momentous work at hand, I'd seek Neal Goldfarb's insight into how such a somewhat oblique reference might play in a slander/libel case!)…

  11. TIC said,

    July 18, 2018 @ 2:59 pm

    Gawdammit!… I *knew* I shoulda checked loathe-vs-loathe before hitting Submit!… Aaarrrggghhh!!!…

  12. TIC said,

    July 18, 2018 @ 3:03 pm

    Oh forget it!… I'll just hafta blame that muscle-memory-or-something-else thing for my apparent inability to type it without an 'e'!…

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