A Remark on English Double Negatives

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This article claims that there are two partially distinct analyses for English <i>no</i> forms like <i>no dog, nothing, no one, no philosopher</i>. Each analysis involves recognition of a syntactic negative + a determiner some as a representation of <i>no</i>; but one analysis involves a second syntactic negative as well. It is suggested that a factually viable version of the traditional English prescriptive rule banning two or more instances of <i>no</i> forms in a single clause must distinguish the two distinct analyses. For while e.g. <i>No gorilla wrote no symphony</i> is indeed ungrammatical on a reading with weak stress on the second <i>no</i>, where it means <i>No gorilla wrote any symphony</i>, it is grammatical on a reading with strong stress ont the second <i>no</i>. This reading is equivalent to <i>Every gorilla wrote some symphony</i>, taken here to instantiate the double negative (hence logically positive) reading of the second <i>no</i>. A variety of arguments are presented to support the view that the grammatical status of the two <i>no</i> forms of the grammatical reading have distinct structures and various implications and problems arising from this conclusion are briefly considered.


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