Negative intensification in the spoken language of British adults and teenagers: A corpus-based study

Ignacio Miguel Palacios Martínez


Intensification, a general device used by speakers to convey their message more clearly and to strengthen their position to it (Bolinger 1972), has been discussed widely in the literature. However, the specific use of intensification on negatives (i.e. it didn’t do any harm at all, I hadn’t the faintest idea who he was) has received much less attention. The aim of this paper is to identify and explore the resources used by British adults and teenagers in the intensification of negative constructions. A second focus of interest will be the extent to which differences exist here in the language of adults and teenagers, given that the latter are, broadly speaking, more prone to use intensification. Findings indicate that the strengthening of negatives in English can be achieved in different ways: a) by means of a number of non-assertive and negative polarity-oriented items, such as in the slightest, in the least, at all, even; b) the repetition of the adverb never or the combination never ever; c) cases of multiple negation or negative concord intended to heighten a negative meaning); d) negative polarity collocations and idiomatic expressions; and e) adverbs such as definitely, absolutely, certainly plus a negative (not/no or nothing). Teenagers tend to intensify negatives more than adults, although these differences are not so clearly marked as expected, and while the former prefer the use of swear words and idiomatic or semi-idiomatic expressions together with locutions such as no way, the latter opt more often for negatively oriented polarity sensitive items.



spoken English; negative polarity; intensification; youth language; negative concord; negative polarity items

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