Negative concord of the week

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[h/t Neal Goldfarb]


  1. Cervantes said,

    June 25, 2019 @ 8:56 am

    The slip may have been adding the "dys" rather than the extra "not". Either way it's quite an odd one.

  2. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    June 25, 2019 @ 11:23 am

    I wonder which way this particular linguistic development might "fork". That is, will it: (1) stop happening after a sustained public awareness campaign funded by a shadowy prescriptivist lobby group; (2) continue to pop up from time to time, or (3) return to the days of Middle English, where the motto was: "The less we don't refrain from not negating, the less forceful our negations won't not be." E.g., "Fro paradys to you I have been brought / Ne never moo ne schul they roten be / Ne lesse here soote savor, &c."

  3. Victor Mair said,

    June 25, 2019 @ 11:29 am

    The first "not" and the second "not" cancel each other out. The third "not" cancels out the "dys". Therefore, all governments in the world think that the American leader is mentally and emotionally functional.

  4. maidhc said,

    June 25, 2019 @ 5:30 pm

    How did we go from "Ne never moo ne schul" to "The first 'not' and the second 'not' cancel each other out."?

    I suspect one of those old ink-stained grammarians, although unlike the extra letters in words like falcon and island, this is not based on a Latin model.

  5. Gregory Kusnick said,

    June 25, 2019 @ 6:39 pm

    As I see it, the first two nots don't cancel, nor are they an instance of negative concord. Rather, they're logically entailed by the transformation of the quantifier from

    for all G P(G)
    i.e. every government in the world thinks P


    not (there exists a G such that not P(G))
    i.e. there's not a government that doesn't think P.

    The problematic part is the proposition P, i.e. that Trump is "not dysfunctional", when clearly what's meant is that he is dysfunctional.

    Also, I'm surprised to learn there are people who think "falcon" has extra letters. I don't think I've ever heard it pronounced with one of them elided.

  6. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 25, 2019 @ 8:16 pm

    Gregory Kusnick: I don't think I've heard "falcon" without the /l/ either, but the Oxford Dictionary Online gives the pronunciation as /ˈfɔː(l)k(ə)n/ /ˈfɒlk(ə)n/.

    maidhc: I'm sure somebody knows the answer, but all I know is that it happened by Philip Sidney's time.

    O grammar-rules, O now your virtues show;
    So children still read you with awful eyes,
    As my young dove may, in your precepts wise,
    Her grant to me by her own virtue know;
    For late, with heart most high, with eyes most low,
    I craved the thing which ever she denies;
    She, lightning Love displaying Venus' skies,
    Lest once should not be heard, twice said, No, No!
    Sing then, my muse, now Io Pæan sing;
    Heav'ns envy not at my high triumphing,
    But grammar's force with sweet success confirm;
    For grammar says,—oh this, dear Stella, weigh,—
    For grammar says,—to grammar who says nay?—
    That in one speech two negatives affirm!

  7. Nathan said,

    June 26, 2019 @ 1:24 am

    For me the first vowel of "falcon" is æ, so a silent L makes no sense at all. I failed to figure it out, before I saw the transcriptions with back vowels. Do most Americans use the æ?

    maidhc, a formal negation always can logically negate, so you can't really avoid that interpretation.

  8. R. Fenwick said,

    June 26, 2019 @ 4:16 am

    For me the first vowel of "falcon" is æ, so a silent L makes no sense at all.

    Is there a reason I'm not aware of why the /æ/ should make a difference as to whether a silent L should make sense? For me both falcon and salmon have /æ/ in the first syllable, but the L is entirely silent in the latter: [ˈfælkən], but [ˈsæmən].

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    June 26, 2019 @ 4:42 am

    But interestingly (at least, in my experience) clearly pronounced in "salmonella" (/ˌsælm ə ˈnel ə/). How do those who say /ˈfæ ˌkən/ pronounce "Falconidæ" ? And for that matter, how do they pronounce "salmonella" ?

  10. ===Dan said,

    June 26, 2019 @ 7:45 am

    This last part made me think of the name De Kalb. The L is silent in Georgia, and pronounced in Illinois and in Brooklyn. (The e varies too.) (Baron de Kalb apparently was Franconian.)

  11. Andrew Usher said,

    June 26, 2019 @ 7:51 am

    Gregory Kusnick is right on the sentence: the first two instances of 'not' are logically necessary. It is the third that is wrong here and seemingly negative concord, presumably unconsciously triggered by the first two (that's what negative concord does). Removing that gives exactly what was meant. Also as I recall the grammarians' prohibition on 'double negatives' _was_ partly based on Latin. Our language is not the poorer for using negation logically, in any case.

    The reason for saying that 'falcon' has an extra letter is spelling, not pronunciation: people once wrote 'fawcon' or similar l-less spellings. So the L was inserted, and now people have adopted it in pronunciation, too. I say the first syllable like 'fall', and would have thought that the standard. But /æ/ does seem to be more heard today, and surely everyone that has /æ/ also pronounces the L (even if it's vocalised for some). 'Salmonella' is only /ˌsælməˈnɛlə/ – unrelated to 'salmon', I've heard – and 'Falconidae' could only be /fælˈcɒnədi/ (first vowel maybe variable) to one that knows his nomenclature.

    In this regard I have to mention a pronunciation not usually recorded but very common (there are many such in American English): that is rhyming 'falcon' (and 'Balkan') with 'Vulcan'. In other words, many people neutralise THOUGHT and STRUT to what sounds like the latter before L + another consonant. I even hear 'calm' like the first syllable of 'culminate'.

    k_over_hbarc at

  12. Don P. said,

    June 26, 2019 @ 11:46 am

    I wonder if "people" have noticed this common high-level misnegation: a twitter pattern that goes, for instance:

    No one:

    Absolutely no one:

    9 year old me during the 2008 recession: Why can't they just print more money?

    The idea being that the statement came in response to no relevant prompting whatsoever (wow I sound like a robot explaining this) — but the actual form has "Nobody" saying :"[nothing]", which is some kind of overnegation, right?

    (It may be derived from an earlier joke form, a statement attributed to "– nobody, ever". See .)

  13. Ellen K. said,

    June 26, 2019 @ 1:45 pm

    @Andrew Usher

    I disagree that the first two instances of "not" aren't logically necessary. The sentence as it stands says that all governments think what follows. Remove the first two instances of "not" and it says there's at least one government that thinks what follows.

    To use a different example, there's a difference in meaning between these two statements:

    There's not a person who doesn't think I'm smart.
    There's a person who does think I'm smart.

  14. Gregory Kusnick said,

    June 26, 2019 @ 4:36 pm

    Ellen, I believe you've misread Andrew's comment and you're actually in agreement with Andrew and myself. Removing the first two nots does not by itself preserve the meaning of the sentence; you must also change the sense of the quantifier from "a person" to "every person".

  15. Ellen K. said,

    June 26, 2019 @ 4:52 pm

    Yes, I did misread. I, ironically, read an extra "not" into it.

  16. ktschwarz said,

    June 27, 2019 @ 1:09 am

    Benjamin E. Orsatti: I wonder which way this particular linguistic development might "fork".

    I would guess that misnegation isn't a development, it's always been there. The time is ripe for a corpus study of misnegation frequency vs. time in different media. Language Log has previously shown that "fills a much-needed gap" goes back at least to the 19th century, and so do many other misnegations.

  17. Dee said,

    June 29, 2019 @ 2:10 am

    Salmonella doesn't have anything to do with the fish: it is named after Daniel E. Salmon (1850–1914), American veterinary surgeon. It is originally a British Isles surname. In Ireland, we usually pronounce the surname "Sammen" but I don't know how it would be pronounced in America.

  18. Rodger C said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 9:18 am

    The name Salmons (sic) is common in my corner of America and is indeed pronounced "Sammons."

    Maybe we could have a post on the tendency to tack a final s onto surnames beginning with S, and whether it's restricted to any region.

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