Saturday, December 11, 2010

positive anymore

English, like most if not all languages, has what are called Negative Polarity Items (NPIs). NPIs are words or phrases that have to be scoped under some sort of negation, irrealis, or otherwise nonaffirmative clause. One example in English is "ever". We can say I haven't ever been to Atlantic City, because "ever" is scoped under negation. We can say I wonder if John has ever looked at syllable-initial geminates, because if-clauses are irrealis or nonaffirmative. We can ask Have you ever ridden an elephant?, because questions are nonaffirmative (they don't contain any at-issue assertions). But we can't say *I have ever been to Jane's house, because this is a declarative, positive sentence that makes an at-issue assertion.

For most(?) people, "anymore" is an NPI. Thus for most native English speakers, I don't smoke anymore is fine, whereas *Young people are so rude anymore is bad. However, there is a small subset of American English speakers (and possible speakers of other dialects) for whom "anymore" can be used in positive contexts, as in the second preceding example. My grandmother was one of these, which is probably the only reason I know this. For her, it was fine to say "The buttons on phones are so small anymore". I can't think of a good way to easily find good examples of these constructions on, e.g., google or COCA. Suggestions would be welcome.

14 comments:

Clavis said...

I took a course on Canadian English once, which said that some speakers use positive anymore in Canadian English, though not in most dialects. Maybe in Ottawa Valley English?

JoshMc said...

Strange, the second and third examples sound perfectly fine to me and I'm positive I've said similar things many times. It seems so natural to me that I've never even considered that it would be odd for the majority of American English speakers. I'm also from South Jersey, which puts me close enough to your location that I would expect, if it were a regional thing, that you would hear this regularly as well. Maybe you do?

linguistlessons said...

I don't think I've noticed it here in Middlesex county, but then as a graduate student I'm around people who are mostly transplants from other region and countries and are overeducated (and I have the intuition that positive "anymore" isn't a feature of SAE and thus might be stigmatized). However, my grandmother is from Hoboken, so Jersey may well be fertile ground for positive "anymore" generally speaking.

vp said...

Your fellow blogger Gabe uses positive "any more":

http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/grammar-fail-fail/

In England afaik positive "any more" is completely unknown.

Jim said...

*I have ever been to Jane's house.

This is new. This sort of constrcution used to be accpetable, although you would more probably have said "I was ever at Jane's house, but then her husband returned from overseas." But things change. T'was ever thus.

linguistlessons said...

Indeed. I've even used such constructions in more artistic writing. All I meant is that in informal speech or academic writing it's marked to the point of being mostly perceived as ungrammatical (though it would probably be the task of a well-formedness judgment task to determine that).

Alex said...

I use constructions like this all the time. I'm born and raised in Cleveland, OH, where I'm told everyone talks very strangely. I would find it totally acceptable to say something like "Gas is so expensive anymore that you might as well just walk" or even "Anymore, gas is so expensive..."
This reminds me of the "does this need washed" or "the living room needs vacuumed" construction, borrowed, I believe, from Scots.

Tor Hershman said...

I have ever been to Jane's house -
Well...suppose you were born and raised in Jane's house, never havin' left.

OH OH! Suppose you are a Jain, oh...never mind.

Jen G said...

I'm from the Ottawa Valley, and the 'positive' anymore sounds odd to me. I know that I have heard this usage before, but it was an American dialect speaker - trying to remember where he was from - Pennsylvania maybe.

Just found this, by John Lawlor -

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/aue/anymore.html

The distribution of positive "anymore" is only vaguely geographic;
mostly it's social dialects -- speech groups not necessarily distinguished
by location -- that show it. And just about everybody in the US
speaking English has encountered it. It's a natural extension of
the meaning of negative "anymore", and it can occur to anybody
independently -- it need not have had a single source.


Apparently, for users of positive "anymore", "nowadays" doesn't
cut it anymore. Anymore, they use "anymore" instead. Or perhaps
only in certain speech contexts; the definitive sociolinguistic
study remains to be done.

Jen G said...

Check this out, from John Lawlor

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/aue/anymore.html

He says it's a social dialect more than regional.

I grew up in the Ottawa Valley and it sounds odd to me.

Fat Al said...

I definitely associate the positive anymore usage with South Jersey and Philadelphia. You almost never hear it in New York unless you're talking to someone from those parts. I also find the usage remarkably hard to replicate on the fly. That's how wrong it sounds to my ear.

~tapu~ said...

I'm a little late jumping in here but...

The Positive Anymore is a strong feature of the Upper Appalachian dialect. (WVa/OH/KY, where I'm from. I had not realized it was stigmatized until I went to college at Univ of California—in Linguistics!)

A good example of the usage in full Appalachian dialect:
"Tammy been landin' five, six catfish a day anymore."

Interestingly I have noted that Negative Anymore has fallen out of usage somewhat, to be replaced by what I'll call "Negative No More."

For example, rather than:
"Lonnie ain't afraid of that ol' rooster anymore," I'll hear "Lonnie ain't afraid of that ol' rooster no more." I've considered that the dialect is working further to distance the polarities.

Then, to illustrate the confusion that can result from intermixed dialects, here's a conversation I had with my 10yo, Boston born, son.


Asa and the Positive 'Anymore'

Asa was wondering if we might start getting cable TV.

I thought about it: Well, there is some good stuff on tv anymore.

[pause]

Asa: Are you saying I don't like it anymore?

Me: No, I'm saying you do like it anymore.

[pause]

Asa (clearly confused): But that says something... negative... right...?

Anonymous said...

I'm from County Mayo in the West of Ireland and positive 'anymore' is in common usage here. It's generally used as a term to mean 'from now on'.
For example, "the road is closed so I'll have to walk there anymore." It can also be used in the negative sense.

Anonymous said...

These may be useful:

http://microsyntax.sites.yale.edu/positive-anymore

http://www.lacus.org/volumes/33/chambers_j.pdf