Double negatives are considered bad grammar in English. Try telling an English teacher that you “haven’t got no pencils” or that you “didn’t see no-one” and he or she will pounce and say “Aha…. A double negative cancels out to become a positive, so you do have some pencils and you did see somebody.”
It hasn’t always been like this though. There was a time in English when using a double negative was an acceptable way of emphasising something. Shakespeare is littered with double, and even triple, negatives!
In As You Like It, Celia says: You know my father hath no child but I, nor none is like to have…
In Richard III, Stanley says: “I never was nor never will be”
And in Twelfth Night, Viola says: I have one heart, one bosom, and one truth.
And that no woman has, nor never none
Shall mistress be of it, save I alone.”
Other languages still have a double negative. For example in Spanish to say I see nothing you would say “No veo nada.”
Well, if it was good enough for Shakespeare, and it’s still good enough for other European languages, what went wrong in English? To paraphrase Baldric in Blackadder goes forth, “ There must have been a moment when double negatives being acceptable went away, and double negatives not being acceptable came along. So, how did we get from the one case of affairs to the other case of affairs?”
Well, what happened is that the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason came along. Mathematics became more socially important and scholars tried to impose the same mathematical rules to language. In the mid 1700s Robert Lowth wrote a book about English grammar, proclaiming that two negatives must make a positive, and so it has been ever since.
Interestingly – French made the opposite change. As anyone who has tried to learn French will probably remember, to say something in the negative you have to make a ne pas sandwich. I don’t want is “je ne veux pas, I don’t know is “je ne sais pas” and so on. If you’ve ever wondered why you had to use two bits, and why the second word was the same as the word for a step, well… there is a reason!
It wasn’t always that way. Once upon a time I don’t want was “je ne veux, I don’t know was “je ne sais” and so on. But then there came a great fashion for exaggeration for emphasis: I couldn’t eat another mouthful….I couldn’t drink another drop……I couldn’t walk another step. Over time this manner of speaking became the norm, but then gradually most of the expressions disappeared, just leaving “pas” which tacked itself onto all of the negatives and has stayed there ever since.
And that’s the story of how English lost the double negative, and French gained it.
Spanish, aka Castilian, is one of the Romance languages and the second most spoken language in the world after Chinese. It just spoken in Spain, most of Central and South America, and parts of Africa.
The language evolved from Latin, and its current form spread from the north of Spain, down through the country when the Christians reconquered the lands from the Moors. There is still lots of Moorish influence on the vocabulary, including words such as aceite (oil) aceituna (olive), albóndiga (meatball), alcalde (mayor) and aldea (village).
Spanish is a popular language to learn as a second language in the UK, partly because Spain is a popular holiday destination, and partly because its phonetic nature makes it easier to learn than some European languages such as French and its lack of cases makes it easier to learn than other European languages such as German.
Like most Romance languages, it has two genders (masculine and feminine) for nouns, and sentences follow a subject-verb-object word order. Probably the languages most distinctive features are the upside down question mark (¿) and the upside down exclamation mark (¡).
If you fancy learning some Spanish, there is a free course at FutureLearn. If you’d like some face-to-face lessons instead, then get in touch to see how I can help.
The most common Romance languages are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian and Catalan. Other lesser-known ones include Occitan, Galician, Asturian, Sicilian, Corsican and Sardinian. In all there are about 35 living Romance languages. Sadly their name comes from the word Roman and not the word romantic.
The Romance languages are the ones that evolve from vulgar Latin. Vulgar here means common, ie the version of Latin actually spoken by the common people, compared to the classical Latin of the church and of the elite. Originally vulgar Latin and classical Latin were mutually intelligible, but over time vulgar Latin evolved into the various Romance languages and the people were no longer able to understand classical Latin.
Most Romance languages have lost some of the more difficult aspects of Latin, such as declensions and cases. Because of this they have a much stricter subject-verb-object word order, and they make more use of prepositions.
There are about 800 million speakers of Romance languages in the world and most of them are in Europe, Africa and the Americas. In Europe the places where Romance languages are spoken roughly equates to the boundaries of the Western Roman empire.
And to return to the statement in the first paragraph about the Romance coming from Roman and not romantic, there is a link between the words. Back in those days, “serious” literature was written in classical Latin. Popular tales, such as love stories, were written in the common (ie Romance) language, and so they came to be called romances.
With approximately 8-9 million speakers, Quechua is the largest surviving indigenous language in the Americas.
It originated in Peru with the Incas, and then due to trade relationships, it spread north to southern Columbia and south to northern Argentina. Quechua is mostly spoken in Peru and Bolivia where it has joined official status with Spanish.
When the Spanish first arrived in the 1500s, Quechua was such an important language that it continued to be widely used. It was officially recognised by the Spanish administration, and Spanish officials learnt it to communicate with the locals.
However, in the 18th century, Quechua was banned as an administrative and religious language, and its use declined. In the 19th century it was reinstated, but by this time the damage had been done and Quechua was no longer seen as a prestigious language. Quechua was made an official language in Peru in 1975, but Spanish is still seen as the language of economic advancement.