Natural language and logic

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Tue, 20 Feb 1996 13:32:48 -0500

The notion that natural language works like formal logic got us into trouble way
back, when Bishop Robert Lowth decided (1762) that people might think more
logically and clearly if they stopped using those infamous "double negatives."
Since then, despite the efforts of countless English teachers and William
Safire, we, as native speakers, still "know" that there is a semantic as well as
pragmatic difference between "There ain't no more beer!" and "There isn't any
more beer."

I tell my students that human language is not logical; it is BIOlogical. Also,
it is patterned, which is not the same as saying that it is logical.


Ronald Kephart
Dept of Language & Literature
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, FL USA 32224-2645
Phone: (904) 646-2580