Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2007 June 8

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June 8[edit]

negative words[edit]

Why can the English verb "to be" be made negative? For example, I can say, "I am", and the negative form would be "I am not." I can also say "I can" and "I cannot". I can also say "I will" and "I will not". Sometimes, I hear people say "she needs" and "she needs not". Why can't this rule be applied to "see", "eat", and "fly" and some other words? 00:16, 8 June 2007 (UTC)

I think I have seen "I see not"; "I eat not" sounds like something you'd stick in a poem rather than speech and so does "I fly not", just a little addition. x42bn6 Talk Mess 01:00, 8 June 2007 (UTC)
yes, people did say "I eat not" some hundred years ago (as the German still does today). So when and why later people changed it to "I do not eat"? I'd guess numerous papers have already been written about that. But do we have an article concerning this problem?--K.C. Tang 01:35, 8 June 2007 (UTC)

In English, we ordinarily use the "emphatic form" for negatives and questions. So you can say "I live in a house," or use the emphatic form "I do live in a house," but the question and negative forms are "Do you live in a house?" and "I don't live in a house." The emphatic is formed with the auxiliary verb "to do," which is made interrogative or negative. I think the reason some verbs don't follow this pattern is that some very basic, common verbs aren't used in an emphatic form. You never say "I do be a Wikipedia editor," or "I do can edit the article." The future tense is different, because it's always formed with an auxiliary "will," so there's no distinction between emphatic and simple forms. --Reuben 02:02, 8 June 2007 (UTC)

The general rule is that in English only auxiliary verbs take negation (It is!It is not!) and inversion (It is!Is it?) directly. For other verbs ("principal verbs"), the auxiliary-cum-pro-verb do is summoned to fulfill a "negatable" or invertible role. Like to do, the verb to need does double duty as a principal verb and as an auxiliary; hence it can be negated and inverted: Slackers need not apply!; Need I say more? As always with languages (and many other things), why things are with languages as they are is often hard to answer. Old English had a grammar with all the standard patterns of Germanic languages, including several different word orders serving different grammatical purposes. This language somehow evolved into Middle English with a much simplified grammar, including an almost standard word order without inversions (with vestiges of the old patterns such as inversion for auxiliaries, as well as literary, poetic, and some petrified uses). Unfortunately, the record is very spotty right in the extended period in which these big changes took place. The process of simplification went so far that some linguists developed the Middle English creole hypothesis.  --LambiamTalk 07:51, 8 June 2007 (UTC)
Wow, that's really cool!! Anchoress 08:12, 8 June 2007 (UTC)
indeed some scholars suggest that this type of "do" usage was caused by English's contact with the Celtic languages. Search "periphrastic do" on Google and you may get some useful information. Cheers.--K.C. Tang 09:04, 8 June 2007 (UTC)
As a little point of intrigue, I should point out that the vast majority of the few verbs that do take the 'x not' structure in Modern English were formed rather differently in Early Middle English. The negative in those days was put in front of the affected verb, and was often pre-contracted: thus, would not, were not, am not, was not, and even is not were 'nolde,' 'nere,' 'nam,' 'nas,' and 'nis' (or 'nys,' both are attested.) 'Don't know' was the rather pleasing 'noot' (ne woot.) --It's-is-not-a-genitive 11:05, 9 June 2007 (UTC)
To add to the intrigue, the same development as seen in English was parallelled in neighbouring Germanic languages like German, Dutch . Ic ne wit ("I not know") was "strengthened" to Ic wit na wiht or Ic wit no wiht ("I know no thing", literally "no living creature"). Na/no wiht was contracted to naught/nought, and from there shortened to not.
  • That is intriguing! Thank you for the explanation; it is certainly one to note down. I always wondered how preceding -ne- evolved into not. --It's-is-not-a-genitive 12:14, 10 June 2007 (UTC)
Back to auxiliary verbs: 'have' is another which can be used both as an auxiliary and as a principal verb; but like 'be' and no other such verbs, it can take negation and inversion even when it is principal, eg 'We haven't any'. I believe that this construction is much more common in the UK than North America, but is losing ground. (Forty years ago, I don't believe one ever heard 'do you have' in the UK, unless in a habitual sense: the normal idiom was 'have you got', more elegantly 'have you'.) --ColinFine 23:26, 12 June 2007 (UTC)

"Try and"[edit]

Where did this bizarre piece of syntax come from, as in "Just try and stop me, Bond!"? I can understand it being used in the past tense ("I tried and succeeded"), but the way it is normally used in speech doesn't make any sense (especially when "try to" would fit in perfectly there). Laïka 10:50, 8 June 2007 (UTC) -- AnonMoos 13:45, 8 June 2007 (UTC)
This is an instance of what is called a hendiadys: two words, one of which is in a subordinate role, put on an equal footing. Next to being a stylistic figure of speech, verbal hendiadys is also a feature of some creole languages, or languages that underwent partial creolization (see my answer to the preceding question). An example is Afrikaans: Hy loop en sing, literally "He walks and sings", for "He is singing while walking [along]", or Hy staan en gluur my aan, literally "He stands and stares at me", for "He is staring at me while standing [there]". The Danish verbal hendiadys mentioned in the Linguist List item referenced above appears to be quite similar. What is interesting about this English one is that (also with other verbs than try) it appears to be often used in commands or other constructions indicating a not yet realized goal (as in Come and get me!), and thus is well suited for taunting.  --LambiamTalk 14:51, 8 June 2007 (UTC)

Translation from German[edit]

In WikiProject Plants we need someone to help us translating the very-high-importance-rated article about inflorescences. I'm trying to do it, but my German is at very basic level and I'm not even an English native speaker! Who we need is only somebody who knows German, we can provide the adequate botanical knowledge ourselves. Where/who should I ask? Thx Aelwyn 11:46, 8 June 2007 (UTC)

Wikipedia:Translation/*/Lang/de. Skarioffszky 12:08, 8 June 2007 (UTC)
Since the German Wikipedia article de:Blütenstand is completely devoid of references, it can't be treated as a reliable source. You'd be better off writing the English article from scratch than translating a German article of questionable accuracy. —Angr 17:21, 8 June 2007 (UTC)


From where is the term, "Lambiam," derived? 16:09, 8 June 2007 (UTC)

I’m Pam the Lamb, I am? ---Sluzzelin talk 17:03, 8 June 2007 (UTC)
Maybe Lambiam should answer this. — Michael J 20:08, 8 June 2007 (UTC)
Presumably, that was the point of this question. Note that in Portuguese it means they licked :-) ---Sluzzelin talk 20:25, 8 June 2007 (UTC)
Lamb I Am BBQ Backstraps - Winner 2006 Triple R Best Char Grill Recipe? —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Lambiam (talkcontribs).
I will not eat them, Lamb I Am, I will not eat Green Legs and Spam. —Angr 22:50, 8 June 2007 (UTC)

IPA n[edit]

Is there a difference between n as in navy/nuke and the n as in end/grant in the International Phonetic Alphabet? To me, the n-sound preceding vowels sounds "harder" than the n preceding vowels. SalaSkan 20:18, 8 June 2007 (UTC)

The IPA only has one symbol for all those n sounds, but depending on what precisely you mean by "harder" you could probably modify the symbol in various ways to reflect the difference. For example, if the first kind of n is longer in duration than the second kind, you could distinguish them as [nː] vs. [n]. On the other hand, for many people, "grant" at least (not sure about "end") doesn't have an n-sound in it at all; just a nasalized vowel followed directly by the t. In that case, you would transcribe "grant" as [gɹæ̃t]. —Angr 20:40, 8 June 2007 (UTC)
Cheers, I didn't know that a ː (colon) was also possible after consonants. SalaSkan 21:21, 8 June 2007 (UTC)
Although initial "extra long" (geminate) consonants are not unheard (of) – for example Sranang Tongo has words like [ˈfːuru] and [ˈwːiri] – I don't think the /n/ in navy or nuke is lengthened; if anything it is actually shorter than when following a vowel in a syllable. This can be denoted in IPA as well, with a breve above the character, as in [ˈn̆̆eɪvi]. What I wouldn't know is if this is a reasonable thing to do. Do phoneticians have some criterion (if only a rule of thumb) for deciding when a perceived difference in length, not being a significant contrast as in a minimal pair, rises to the level that it becomes reasonable to denote it?  --LambiamTalk 23:48, 8 June 2007 (UTC)
I suppose any measurable subphonemic difference is worth denoting if it's the topic of discussion. In most cases, [n] alone would be sufficient to transcribe all the n-sounds of English, but if the phonetician is examining the duration of /n/ in different environments, and finds that there are four different discernible durations of /n/ in different environments, he may well transcribe the shortest as [n̆], the second-shortest as [n], the second-longest as [nˑ] and the longest as [nː], in spite of the fact that the longest English /n/ sound is still shorter than a true geminate /n/ in a language like Finnish or Italian is (ignoring compounds like pen-knife, in which the /n/ is as long as a true geminate). —Angr 07:59, 9 June 2007 (UTC)