Saturday, January 24, 2009

never

John Wells sent me a really concise request (well, I'm reading the request into it):
AmE I should have never done it = BrE I should never have done it
- I don't think you've discussed this one, have you?
No, I've not/I haven't discussed it, but John Algeo has in his book British or American English?
Adverbs of frequency (generally, never, usually), like those of probability, tend to occur in medial position, after the first auxiliary, if there is one. However, with these also American has a higher tolerance for placement before the first auxiliary than does British: She usually is at work from nine to five versus She is usually at work from nine to five.
Concise response!

I'd feel a bit bad about such a short post, though, so here's another never fact. Algeo lists a "distinctively British" sense of never: 'not by any means'. He gives an example from a David Lodge novel (I hear the protagonist of the latest is a linguist...): "You're never Vic Wilcox's shadow?"

A little snooping on the internet brings up an abstract for a 2008 paper by David Willis (or by Anne Breitbarth, Christopher Lucas and David Willis) that comments a bit more on this:

There are a number of contexts in Present-Day English where never marks sentential negation rather than negation quantified over time:

(1) I never stole your wallet this morning.
(2) a. You’re never her mother. b. That’s never a penalty.
...
In (1), unavailable in standard English but widespread in nonstandard varieties of British English, never conveys pure, but emphatic, negation in the past. In (2), possible even for many speakers who reject (1), it conveys a pragmatic meaning beyond pure negation: (2a) can be paraphrased as ‘There is no reasoning by which I can reach the conclusion that you are her mother.’ (quantification over reasons rather than time). In such cases, an inference of surprise, as in (2a), or disbelief, as in (2b), may be made.

We've already looked at special BrE use of never mind, so click the link to see more on that.

So there you go. A post with no self-revelatory anecdotes or gratuitous pictures of baby and with perhaps the lowest proportion of my own words ever! I always tell my students that if they quote their sources rather than paraphrasing in their own words (and citing the source, of course!), then they've missed out on the opportunity to demonstrate to me that they actually understood what they quoted. Oh well/never mind, I hope you'll excuse me from that demonstration--it's time for bed. And I may have fit in an anecdote or self-revelation after all.

22 comments:

Tulsa Gentleman said...

I would say "I never should have done it", but I'm from Oklahoma which may be a sub-dialect in itself.

John Cowan said...

To me, as Yank as they get, I should never have done it only makes sense with sentential stress on never. Otherwise, it's I never should have done it.

Zach said...

As an Australian I'd say both 'I never should have done it' and 'I should never have done it' are both commonly used. Unlike John however, I would put the stress on the 'should' in the latter, not on the 'never'.

jm said...

Well I never.

Jill said...

I (American) just popped down to the comments to say exactly what John Cowan said. I also say "I never should have done it."

Boak said...

As a Brit, I'm probably more likely to say "I never should have done it" as "I should never have done it" - the latter sounds overly formal to me.

"I should have never done it" sounds wrong though.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Also, to express disbelief/surprise:

"She took first prize at the championships" - "She never!"

Max said...

I should have never done it sounds so strange to me I'd have marked it ungrammatical, or NNSEnglish. Just like I would *I should have done never it. Amazing what differences between BrE and AmE you find when you start poking.

Anne said...

And for even more intensification,
make it "never ever," as in this recent example from a South African blogger (Tertia),
"And yes, our lesson has been learnt, we will NEVER EVER not deflea our animals again for such a long time."

In "The Raven," 'nevermore' comes at the end of the sentence.

Max, would you be okay with "I should have always done that"?

Max said...

"I should have always done that" sounds fine. And with that example in mind "I should have never done that" begins to sound OK with the sense 'I ought not to have always (habitually) done that (which I did)' rather than 'I ought not to have done that even once (which I did)'. The latter is the sense that came into my mind when I first saw the example "I should have never done that". Let others analyse the aspectual or event semantics of these alternative readings :-)

Anonymous said...

Where are you getting that "I should have never done it" is okay in Am.E? "I never should have done it" and "I should never have done it" both sound fine, but the first example is truly hideous to this American.

lynneguist said...

Um, anon, did you not read the post? We have a respected linguist reporting it, and a book (which I cited and quoted) commenting on the topic. If you google 'I should have never' you should get 398,000 hits, most of them American.

Ginger Yellow said...

"In (1), unavailable in standard English but widespread in nonstandard varieties of British English, never conveys pure, but emphatic, negation in the past. In (2), possible even for many speakers who reject (1), it conveys a pragmatic meaning beyond pure negation..."

What do people feel about this? Both are fine for me, if somewhat colloquial, and it seems strange to me that one would be acceptable in some dialects and not the other.

Expat mum said...

As a Brit from the NE of England I would say "I should never have done it", but then that's the NE, where we also say "Eeeh never" when hearing an unbelievable or salacious piece of gossip!

JW said...

Like Tulsa Gentleman, I would say "I never should have done it," or (more likely) "I shouldn't have done it." Despite the book cite and Google hits, the supposedly American way of saying it strikes this Midwesterner as awkward. I'll have to listen for "I should have never done it" from now on, I honestly can't picture anyone saying it.

Picky said...

Well, Ginger Yellow, the difference between 1 and 2 accords with my impression as a Londoner - 'I never did it', and (even more, of course), 'I never done it' sound non-standard to me (though they come naturally to my coarse ill-educated mouth) whereas 'You're never going to do that, surely!' sounds merely idiomatic.

sarajill said...

I grew up in New England & now live in NYC, and I agree with JW—it may be more common for an American to say, "I should have never done it," but I don't think it's standard necessarily. The effect of this construction is, as someone else has remarked, to emphasize the "never."

Anonymous said...

"Also, to express disbelief/surprise:
"She took first prize at the championships" - "She never!"


In SW England where I grew up it can just be the usual negative, "No I never" = No I didn't, without any special emphasis at all.

In my experience the "I would have never done it" construction is now extremely common in the UK among younger speakers, though it still sounds odd to me. Much like "Did you do it yet?" and "I just did it" which used to be impossible in British (cf "have you done/I've just done").
Harry

Anonymous said...

We have a friend from the north of England who says "I never had one of those since last month." It really throws us, because he is using never along with a time limit. Have you heard other British speakers use never this way? Does his usage come under the interpretation of never as "not at all"? I am not sure it would, but I hear so few Britons talk, and also I have no idea how they would understand such a sentence.

A new reader from New Mexico, USA.

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Mindy said...

I take the word never to mean you have not ever( to this point).
So, saying "I never have done that since last month" is terribly inaccurate. If they did it last month, then how could they possibly say they have never?

Albert Welch said...

Massachusetts-

As John Algeo states I will tolerate
"I should have never done it" but unlike John Wells avers my preference is for "I should never have done it".

In either case the focal points of the sentence are never and done, and those usually get the emphasis in either construction, although "I should never have done it" may also have even emphasis sometimes.

Boak said...
As a Brit, I'm probably more likely to say "I never should have done it" as "I should never have done it" - the latter sounds overly formal to me.

"I should have never done it" sounds wrong though.


With the context of "I should never have done it" sounding formal to Boak, I gather she would use "I never should have done it".

If that is so, I'm puzzled by her use of "as" where I would use "than", or "rather than" or "not" or possibly "as opposed to" or "instead of".

Use of "as" in that sentence would seem to follow the form of "I pronounce "talk" as "tock" wherein the first quote provides the standard form for identification by the reader, and the second quote provides the actual usage of the author.

In conclusion, Boak is either using "as" differently from what I would, or else meant to say former, not latter.