# Linguist Forum

## Languages => Language-specific analysis => English => Topic started by: Daniel on January 02, 2014, 05:38:29 PM

Title: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: Daniel on January 02, 2014, 05:38:29 PM
I just hear (on TV) someone say something like that, and I've heard it before--
Do you miss not being in school?
Do you miss not having money?
Do you miss not drinking coffee?

That's really odd! Any thoughts? It's a double negative, in a dialect where double negatives aren't usually found.

I suppose this is like some kind of negation attraction effect where "miss not" is close to "miss" semantically so it's just absorbed?
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: Corybobory on January 02, 2014, 05:51:30 PM
Is it really a double negative? I'm confused!
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: Daniel on January 02, 2014, 06:05:03 PM
Oh, let me clarify the semantics:

These are used to mean the same thing as the equivalent sentence without 'not':
Do you miss not being in school => Do you miss being in school?

Imagine you lose your job. Then I might ask: Do you miss not having a job?

It's some kind of odd blend of "Do you miss the previous situation now that you do not have a job?" or "Are you doing any missing, because of not having a job?"

So "miss" is negative, and "not" is negative, and together they form a single negative meaning.
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: freknu on January 02, 2014, 06:11:23 PM
So "do you miss not having a job" does not mean "do you miss being unemployed"?
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: Daniel on January 02, 2014, 06:14:50 PM
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So "do you miss not having a job" does not mean "do you miss being unemployed"?
Sometimes. It's ambiguous. Certainly it could mean that. But it also can mean "Do you miss having a job?"
As I said, I just heard it on TV being used like that, and I think I've noticed this before.
I don't think I would say it myself, but it's easy to understand in context because the opposite would be absurd ("Do you miss not having money?" is clearly not the intended meaning!). If I did say it myself, it would probably be a speech error. But for some, I think it's more common than the average error.
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: freknu on January 02, 2014, 06:23:52 PM
Interesting!

Admittedly, English is a language where since primary school I have been thought that double negatives are a bad thing ;)

"Miss not X" being equal to "miss x" is weird ... and I say that being perfectly alright with quintdratruple negatives in my native tongue :|

Hmm, now that you've peaked (is that the right word) my interest, why exactly are double negatives "bad" in English? And do double negatives only involve "not", or are there other constructs?
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: Daniel on January 02, 2014, 06:37:14 PM
First, what's a quadruple negative!? :)

Second...
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Admittedly, English is a language where since primary school I have been thought that double negatives are a bad thing
Just prescriptively. It varies by dialect.. in Standard English they're "bad" (according to prescriptivists) or "ungrammatical" (according to descriptivists). Certainly they are ungrammatical for me, but I've been exposed to them in other (perhaps sometimes fictionalized) dialects. In Southern American English, they're pretty common. They might even appear emphatically or colloquially elsewhere in some idioms.

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Hmm, now that you've peaked (is that the right word) my interest, why exactly are double negatives "bad" in English? And do double negatives only involve "not", or are there other constructs?
They're not bad. They're just nonstandard. So "y'all" and double negatives are the same kind of thing. Nonstandard, Southern American English (among other varieties) that are socially stigmatized.
They're also "illogical" because they're not found in Latin (although, wait, they are found throughout the Romance languages... I wonder....), and because they're "logically positive"-- -(-1)=1, so it's assumed they should not be used.

But getting to the point, "miss not" is far from a typical double negative in English. I didn't mean to suggest that. I meant quite literally that it seems to have two negatives being used where one would be sufficient, internal to the grammar.

A typical double negative is "not" plus a negative quantifier:
There isn't no one here.
We don't do that never.
etc.
Typically, fictionally, they're portrayed with "ain't":
We ain't got no money!
etc.
Obviously that's a stereotype.

From the little I know about double negatives in English, I think they're found in various dialects (eg, in England) and not just in the Southern part of the US, but they are (for me) known popularly to be found there. It's one of the obvious and imitated characteristics.

Now, interestingly enough, what I believe is that these actually aren't double negatives, at least in some cases. What happens is that in some languages/dialects there's a distinction between the negative word "no" and the negative polarity item (NPI) "any", even though they have identical semantics.
So the word "no" is simply used more widely in languages/dialects that have "double negatives". It's actually the lack of a special NPI that causes this, not some misuse of "no".

Quote
peaked (is that the right word)
It's piqued but it is the right word. (Actually, as a native speaker, I just figured out that spelling a month or two ago-- I remember looking it up.) (Seems like a great one for a folk etymology, though-- "brought my interest to a peak". I think it comes from a French root meaning something about pinching/poking, like Spanish "picar" to bite (eg, mosquitos)... actually, wait... 'pico' means "peak". Weird. So it's the same word, spelled differently, borrowed into English... fun.)
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: freknu on January 02, 2014, 07:08:05 PM
I see, so "I haven't got no money" is simply "I haven't got any money".

The prescriptivist viewpoint is also something that I can understand, though I always thought there was more to it than just "no dangling particles!". From all the years I've studied English in school, the double negative is far ahead of any other topic on the list, even dangling particles or "your" versus "you're".

Logically I can understand -(-1), but at the same time I wonder why language would have to be perfectly logical? (I just noticed your post on this as well!)

First, what's a quadruple negative!? :)

Well, I haven't actually studied it any closer and cannot give a definite count, thus quintuple + quadruple + triple + double > quintdratruple ;)

To the statement "You've destroyed my computer!" I could answer:

(1) Int haf ja ju1 hit ná2 int!
[not have I not that not-any not]
I have not!

(2) Int haf ja int hit né int!
[not have I not that no not]

1 emphatic particle, effectively the same as using "not" twice: "int haf ja int"
2 equivalent to english "any", but like the emphatic particle it can emphasise the negative aspect, effectively the same as using "no": "hit né int"

Thus from a very basic analysis, it kinda-sorta-maybe has 4 negatives where 1 would suffice ("ja haf int" — I have not).

Quote
peaked (is that the right word)
It's piqued but it is the right word. (Actually, as a native speaker, I just figured out that spelling a month or two ago-- I remember looking it up.) (Seems like a great one for a folk etymology, though-- "brought my interest to a peak". I think it comes from a French root meaning something about pinching/poking, like Spanish "picar" to bite (eg, mosquitos)... actually, wait... 'pico' means "peak". Weird. So it's the same word, spelled differently, borrowed into English... fun.)

Ahaa! If I didn't have any context I probably would have guess it was some kind of nut, for some reason. "bring one's intereset to a peak" is certainly intuitive, and probably wouldn't cause any misunderstanding.
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: Daniel on January 02, 2014, 07:20:03 PM
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I see, so "I haven't got no money" is simply "I haven't got any money".
Yes. The name might also be debatable-- it's not really a semantically double negative, after all. It might imply it should be double due to the form.

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The prescriptivist viewpoint is also something that I can understand, though I always thought there was more to it than just "no dangling particles!". From all the years I've studied English in school, the double negative is far ahead of any other topic on the list, even dangling particles or "your" versus "you're".
Really? Your vs you're bugs me. Haha.
But yes, it's one of the big bad errors, if you ask a prescriptivist. Still sort of silly, though, because it's specifically correct in other languages like Spanish and Arabic, and, well, many many others.

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Logically I can understand -(-1), but at the same time I wonder why language would have to be perfectly logical? (I just noticed your post on this as well!)
Yes. And the real mistake is assuming that those words 1) function like mathematical operators, and 2) mean exactly what we think they do. In a system where there's something along the lines of negative agreement going on, or perhaps just no negative entailment of an apparently negative quantifier, there's no contradiction. And that's what really happens.
Arguably it's illogical in standard English because it should actually be a double negation-- "I'm not sad. I'm not not happy!" But... who talks like that anyway? :P

Quote
Well, I haven't actually studied it any closer and cannot give a definite count, thus quintuple + quadruple + triple + double > quintdratruple ;)

To the statement "You've destroyed my computer!" I could answer:

(1) Int haf ja ju1 hit ná2 int!
[not have I not that not-any not]
I have not!

(2) Int haf ja int hit né int!
[not have I not that no not]

1 emphatic particle, effectively the same as using "not" twice: "int haf ja int"
2 equivalent to english "any", but like the emphatic particle it can emphasise the negative aspect, effectively the same as using "no": "hit né int"

Thus from a very basic analysis, it kinda-sorta-maybe has 4 negatives where 1 would suffice ("ja haf int" — I have not).
Very interesting. A good example.

And it looks like exactly the same situation as in English.

It might not be exactly the same, though-- there might be a scope difference. In English it's perfectly normal to say:
"No, I didn't."
That's because "no" doesn't take scope over the rest of the sentence. So in your case, the emphatic particle and beginning and ending "int" might not be taking scope but rather just adding an extra representation of the same negation.
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: freknu on January 02, 2014, 07:33:58 PM
Really? Your vs you're bugs me. Haha.

It bugs me too :) but it never was that much of a problem in school, perhaps it was assume to be so basic and intuitive that it did not need as much attention.

Quote
Logically I can understand -(-1), but at the same time I wonder why language would have to be perfectly logical? (I just noticed your post on this as well!)

Yes. And the real mistake is assuming that those words 1) function like mathematical operators, and 2) mean exactly what we think they do. In a system where there's something along the lines of negative agreement going on, or perhaps just no negative entailment of an apparently negative quantifier, there's no contradiction. And that's what really happens.

The first point is something that I would like to emphasise! It really would be strange to expect language to behave in simple mathematics, as if the way we talk is inherently boolean logic :/

Very interesting. A good example.

And it looks like exactly the same situation as in English.

It might not be exactly the same, though-- there might be a scope difference. In English it's perfectly normal to say:
"No, I didn't."

That's because "no" doesn't take scope over the rest of the sentence. So in your case, the emphatic particle and beginning and ending "int" might not be taking scope but rather just adding an extra representation of the same negation.

It can also be positive:

(1) nó haf ja ju hit (ná) nó
(2) nó haf ja ju hit (ju) nó
(3) nó haf ja ju hit (no) nó

I don't think there's anything wrong with an emphatic particle before the final "nó", but it might often be omitted. So the positive is usually a little shorter than the negative.

If you put "né" or "já /jɒː/" in front of the sentence it becomes the same as English "No, ..." and "Yes, ...":

Né, int haf ja ju hit ná int!
Já, nó haf ja ju hit ná nó!

;so I doubt it's about scope, but more about emphasis. The additional negative and emphatic particles just intensify the negative aspect.
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: Daniel on January 02, 2014, 08:24:19 PM
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It bugs me too :) but it never was that much of a problem in school, perhaps it was assume to be so basic and intuitive that it did not need as much attention.
Haha. I remember several days spent on this in high school. Apparently it didn't work because when I receive essays from students it's fairly often a problem.
(I have to admit that I sometimes make the mistake as a typo, but I catch it right away 99% of the time.)

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The first point is something that I would like to emphasise! It really would be strange to expect language to behave in simple mathematics, as if the way we talk is inherently boolean logic :/
Yet that's the whole enterprise of Formal Semantics, although there are of course ways to assume something isn't a logical operator even if it looks like one-- the assumption is just that some things are boolean, not that all are.

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It can also be positive:

(1) nó haf ja ju hit (ná) nó
(2) nó haf ja ju hit (ju) nó
(3) nó haf ja ju hit (no) nó

I don't think there's anything wrong with an emphatic particle before the final "nó", but it might often be omitted. So the positive is usually a little shorter than the negative.

If you put "né" or "já /jɒː/" in front of the sentence it becomes the same as English "No, ..." and "Yes, ...":

Né, int haf ja ju hit ná int!
Já, nó haf ja ju hit ná nó!

;so I doubt it's about scope, but more about emphasis. The additional negative and emphatic particles just intensify the negative aspect.
Seems something like English "at all". Note that in English this is an NPI, while it doesn't appear to be in your examples-- both positive and negative. So it might be a canonical example of "double negation" in that there's no special form under negation. (As I said, it's somewhat illogical to assume that's weird anyway. Why should NPIs exist?) But if it's not scoping, it's a little less "illogical" anyway, since it might just be emphatic.
In the end, the proper analysis is actually that it doesn't have a negative meaning. It's just emphatic. That solves all the problems. But somehow that's not really the standard for these. I don't think many analyses of "double negation" exist where "no"="zero", but that's really what it seems to be.
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: lx on January 03, 2014, 05:42:07 AM
This reminds me of a quirk that exists in Italian. Along with the expression a meno che (unless) you need to put negation after the statement, even if it's completely illogical and seemingly contradictory to what it otherwise might seem. For example, I'll think of a random sentence:

* I won't talk to you unless you give me money

To translate that, you'd say: "Non ti parlo a meno che (tu) non mi dia dei soldi." That basically is unless you don't give me money (grammatically) but logically has the opposite effect. It puzzles natives and it completely dumbfounds learners, but you reminded me of this with this negation quirk that doesn't seem to effect the meaning.

When I was reflecting on the original example last night, oh my, how I confused myself trying to think of different situations where I'd use it and how I would interpret it. I don't even think I came up with a convincing answer for myself.
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: Corybobory on January 03, 2014, 05:56:20 AM
When I first read the sentences, I thought that the "miss not" and "miss" were the same meanings - but then I became confused, and thought, no, they do mean different things!

I might ask someone "Do you miss not having kids?" which is referring to the time before they had kids, and is different from the question "do you miss having kids?" which is a bit sadder!

So in the above questions... are they interpreted as semantically the same as without a "not"?
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: jkpate on January 03, 2014, 06:17:53 AM
Logically I can understand -(-1), but at the same time I wonder why language would have to be perfectly logical? (I just noticed your post on this as well!)

I don't want to derail the thread into the philosophy of logic/mathematics, but it's worth remembering that, formally speaking, there is no monolithic notion of "logical." A logic is just a mathematical object, and statements that may be a theorem of one logic will not be of another. In particular, not( not( P ) ) does not entail P in Intuitionist logic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intuitionist_logic). So blanket statements that "X is logical" or "X is not logical" are meaningless; you have to define the logic you are using. Maybe language really is logical, once we get the right system of logic.

Of course, if we know our logic by mathematical definitions, then how do we know the math is right? By logic, of course!
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: Daniel on January 03, 2014, 09:13:47 AM
jkpate, that's true, but there are two ways languages could be logical:
1. They could follow some arbitrary logic like math. Usually we mean that when we say "logical", although you make a good point.
2. They could follow (any) internal logic. See my points here:
http://linguistforum.com/wild-ideas/is-language-really-rule-based-%28details-inside%29/

In the end, I don't think any of us are suggesting languages should follow mathematical logic, but rather that such an assumption is made by prescriptivists and was a major source of prescriptive rules in the past such as why "double negation" is "wrong". So freknu's point of wondering why we would assume languages are "perfectly logical" is a negation anyway, regardless of what that would mean exactly.
I will check out the link to Intuitionist Logic. Thanks.

lx, that's a very interesting example. The only difference is that it's clearly conventionalized while "miss not" isn't there yet, maybe just speech errors still. But it certainly could get there. That's what the usage suggests.

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When I was reflecting on the original example last night, oh my, how I confused myself trying to think of different situations where I'd use it and how I would interpret it. I don't even think I came up with a convincing answer for myself.
It's really simple actually. The context makes it extremely clear. Imagine someone quits their job and a week later a friend asks "Do you miss not having a job?" It's ambiguous otherwise, but in many contexts it would be absurd to ask some kind of odd counterfactual like that-- it's clearly intended as "are you sad because you don't have a job."

Quote from: Cory
When I first read the sentences, I thought that the "miss not" and "miss" were the same meanings - but then I became confused, and thought, no, they do mean different things!

I might ask someone "Do you miss not having kids?" which is referring to the time before they had kids, and is different from the question "do you miss having kids?" which is a bit sadder!

So in the above questions... are they interpreted as semantically the same as without a "not"?
They're ambiguous, so that's normal enough. But I'm just focusing on the weird meaning. "Do you miss not having responsibilies" is just fine under a normal reading. But "Do you miss not having free time" (contextually) suggests the weird reading. You'd need a context for any of these to be sure, but just assume the contexts hints at that reading.
I'd guess that this usage isn't found the majority of the time (although negation in embedded clauses is relatively rare in the first place), so I'm just noting that it can be used and it's either grammaticalizing or clear enough from context that we interpret it flexibly.
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: jkpate on January 03, 2014, 05:42:47 PM
One possibility is that "double negation" represents a different logic in the semantics. Another possibility is that "double negation" represents a different mapping from syntax to semantics. That is, two different language varieties might have the same logic in the semantics, but one variety has a syntax-semantics interface that maps "I didn't see no birds" to something like $\neg\mbox{see}(\mbox{I},\mbox{birds})$, and a different variety has a syntax-semantics interface that maps it to $\mbox{see}(\mbox{I},\mbox{birds})$. Since we know that languages vary in their syntax-semantics mapping anyway, the second possibility might be more parsimonious.
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: Daniel on January 03, 2014, 06:22:30 PM
I think that's definitely true, although that presupposes that a formal semantics representation exists, which is probably true at least in some sense.
But I don't know whether we need special mappings-- the combinatorial possibilities work out if you assume that "no" can have different meanings in different varieties.

But for the original data in question, I still don't get it. Why does that sentence (more or less) work? Critically, it's ambiguous within the same dialects.
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: freknu on February 05, 2014, 04:54:53 PM
I just had an idea in the shower (a Eureka, you could say)

a.
• I haven't got any money
• I haven't got no money

b.
• we won't have any of that
• we won't have none of that

So continuing djr's idea —I can't remember the thread where we discussed it — it would indeed seem that "any" and "no" are related.
Title: Re: "Do you miss not having a job?"
Post by: Daniel on February 05, 2014, 05:00:38 PM
Negative Polarity Items (like any) are triggered under Negative Polarity contexts (such as negation) and substitute for negative forms (like no). There's been a lot of research on this, although a number of questions remain (such as whether the two forms are exactly semantically equivalent, why other uses (eg, free-choice any "Have anything at all that you want!") are related, and exactly what defines Negative Polarity environments).