normative grammarians obsessed with multiple negation

Why would normative grammarians be so obsessed with multiple negation? This is a question that has been bothering me for some time now. Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg (2003) have shown that multiple negation was already stigmatised at the end of the seventeenth century, so why do grammarians from the eighteenth century onwards continue to include strictures against multiple negation in their grammars?

I have just read an article by Gerhard Leitner, called "English grammars – past, present and future" (1986), in which he discusses the Englische Grammatik  of 1860-1965 (can this date be correct?) by E. Mätzner. Mätzner attributes the rule by which two negatives cancel each other out to Latin influence, while he considers the reinforcement of negation by two or more negatives as normal because it is well-entrenched in Germanic languages. Mätzner, according to Leitner, was "aware of social, geographical and stylistic variation" (1986:417). What kind of variety was he focussing on when observing that multiple negation was normal practice or, in other words, acceptable usage?

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  1. You’re right about the dates, t must be “1865”. as to the other question about multiple negation, he was referring to educated usage, when he criticizes the negative attitudes against it. But he doesn’t take a stance himself, just commenting on the logic of the argument.
    Gerhard Leitner (the author of that article)
    PS: You might like to look at an edited book of mine:

    “English traditional grammars. An international perspective”, 1991, Benjamins Publ., Amsterdam

  2. Victorina

    I am not sure this will provide an aswer to your question, but I wonder whether Matzner’s (sorry about the umlaut!) acceptance of double negation could be in some way related to the 19th c. Romantic idea that the non-standard linguistic varieties (i.e. dialects) were ‘purer’ linguistic forms than the Standard because they were not affected by extra-linguistic factors such as education (see, in this connection, Crowley 1989, Bailey 1991). I haven’t done any research on this but… I would be very surprised if double negation was not one of the characteristic features of any/some of the dialectal varieties spoken across Britain.

    Crowley, T. (1989) _The politics of discourse: the standard language question in British cultural debates_, Basingstoke: Macmillan.

    Bailey, R. W. (1991) _Images of English: a cultural history of the language_, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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