5. Negation

The discussion of negation will focus on (1) negation with not, especially the contraction of not and the verb, (2) multiple negation and (3) negation with never. Negation with no, none, nothing, and nobody/no one will be discussed in 7.7. However, these pronouns are inevitably touched upon in the examination of multiple negation and never negation.

5.1 Een’t (Ain’t)

The form een’t [ɪ:nt] (occasionally ain’t [eint], especially in the speech of the informants from south-east Cambridgeshire) has two main functions: (1) it functions as the negative form of the present tense of both the main verb be and the auxiliary be, replacing the forms am not, aren’t and isn’t, and (2) it functions as the negative form of the auxiliary in the present perfect, corresponding to StE haven’t and hasn’t. In the interviews for the present study, there is also some surviving use of the verb be as an auxiliary of the present perfect (see the discussion in 3.2.1). Thus, the form een’t (ain’t) corresponds to both haven’t/hasn’t and am not/aren’t/isn’t as the auxiliary of the present perfect. Een’t (ain’t) does not make person distinctions; thus, there is only one form across all persons and numbers. Examples of een’t/ain’t as the negative form of the main verb be and as the auxiliary be include:

5.1 (a) I een’t real sure but I think our wages then was round about twenty-four shillings a week = then. (Swaffham Prior EW)
  (b) They ain’t shoes today, are they? (The speaker refers to the poor quality of shoes, compared to the ones in the old days) (Newton JF)
  (c) You’re all right as long as you een’t a-travelling. (Waterbeach BB)

The negative form een’t of the present perfect occurs in instances such as 5.2 (a). Similarly, the form een’t occurs in the construction corresponding to StE haven’t got/hasn’t got, as in example 5.2 (b), the construction een’t got having present time reference.

5.2 (a) I een’t had a drop of beer since (Willingham AA)
  (b) and I had three brothers and I een’t got one now (Rampton TR)

The form een’t/ain’t is also common in tag questions after positive declarative sentences, as in:

5.3 (a) Well, really we are bloody half German, een’t we though? (Willingham SS)
  (b) You’ve seen sweat pea grow, een’t you? (West Wickham CC)

A positive tag question is usually tagged onto the end of a negative declarative sentence, as illustrated by the latter part of the example Now you got taps, een’t you? But that een’t like well water, is it? (Burwell GW), and by example 5.1 (b).

The use of een’t is a salient feature of Cambridgeshire dialect speech, which also appears in answers to questions asked in StE, as in Q: That artificial is not good?That een’t. You want farmyard manure (Burwell GW).

The use of the common negative form (pronounced [eint], [ɛnt], [ɪnt] etc. [1]) for the verbs be and have has been recorded almost everywhere in Britain (Hughes & Trudgill 1979: 14). [2] Wright’s EDD, which reports traditional dialect forms at the end of the 19th century (recording mostly the usage of speakers who had acquired their speech in the first half of the 19th century), lists the forms ain’t, een’t and en’t for the verbs be and have. For instance, Wright observes that, in southern Nottinghamshire, ain’t for the verb be is used in both singular and plural, although een’t is more common in the third person singular. For Cambridgeshire, Wright gives the forms ain’t and ’av’n’t for the verb have.

The SED material, collected in the 1950s, includes examples from Cambridgeshire of ain’t for the verb be and for the third-person singular of the auxiliary of the present perfect (SED X.6.3). The SED fieldworker visited only one locality in Cambridgeshire proper and one in the Isle of Ely. Thus, the responses may not include all the variants that were used in the 1950s.

It is also worth noting here that the form een’t/ain’t is not used in the present tense of the main verb have, i.e., instances like *I een’t/ain’t a book now have not been attested. Instead, the informants use the construction don’t have, as in But we don’t have nothing now (Waterbeach BB), and een’t got, as in example 5.2 (b).

5.2 Wont

In addition to the two forms wasn’t ([wɒznt]) and weren’t ([wəːnt]), the present material suggests a third variant, wont ([wɒnt], [wɔnt], [wɔːnt]). The third variant is spelled without the apostrophe to distinguish it orthographically from the future auxiliary. There is a strong tendency to use the negative form wont (instead of the two distinct forms wasn’t and weren’t) (cf. the regularisation of een’t/ain’t for the present tense), although the variants weren’t and wasn’t are heard occasionally, as in:

5.4 (a)
MH: Oh. Not too bad, was it?
ET: No, it weren’t. (Willingham)
  (b) (Th)at was a cruel way, wasn’t it? (Bartlow CP)

Note that in example 5.4 (a), the informant answers with the dialectal form, although the interviewer uses the standard form. The form weren’t is used mainly by speakers who regularise the affirmative form were and the form wasn’t mainly by speakers who regularise the affirmative form was.

The form wont occurs as both the main verb and the auxiliary, as illustrated by the examples:

5.5 (a) That wont no trouble to feed ’em (th)at time a day (Castle Camps JH)
  (b) Well, they wont earning nothing, wont they? (Rampton TR)

Wont is used with both singular and plural subjects, as in:

5.6 (a) but she wont only [3] very small (Willingham SS)
  (b) We wont very popular at Earith (Willingham ES)
  (c) You wont lucky, well, you was unlucky, wont you? (Burwell GW)

The idea that there is a variant distinct from wasn’t and weren’t is supported by sources such as the SED. The SED (IX.7.6) shows the form [wɔːnt] ([wɔːnd]) in a large area in the East Midlands and in parts of East Anglia, including one locality (Elsworth) from Cambridgeshire proper and one (Little Downham) from the Isle of Ely. The SED form from both localities is [wɔːnt] ([wɔːnd]) for wasn’t (I), weren’t (you), wasn’t (she) and weren’t (they). [4]

5.3 Don’t

The tendency towards greater regularity (i.e. the use of a single form for a variety of functions and for all persons and numbers) is also evident with the form don’t. In the material for the present study, the use of don’t is a rule; I have come across no instances of doesn’t. The occurrence of don’t instead of doesn’t is not surprising, since in less formal speech don’t is common throughout the English-speaking world (Hughes & Trudgill 1979: 17). In particular the form don’t is the form one would expect in Cambridgeshire and in East Anglia in general, since this is an area of general loss of the third-person singular -s for all verbs (e.g.; Trudgill 1974a). This is also evident with the affirmative counterpart do, which is the form used in the third-person singular along with the form does, in the few cases where this verb is attested with the third-person singular subject. There are instances such as Q: Not from Orwell?SC: Well, he does come here but he don’ co- he does- they do come here (Lt. Eversden). In this example, the first does is used for emphasis.

The use of the form don’t with the third-person singular subject is illustrated by the examples:

5.7 (a) I keep meself up and keep me daughter up = s- so she don’t have to buy none (West Wickham CC)
  (b) That don’t matter if there’s thunders. If I wake up, I just roll over and let him go. (Newton JF)

The negative don’t is often accompanied by another negative, for instance, a negative pronoun, as in example 5.7 (a), which thus illustrates multiple negation 5.4.

5.4 Multiple Negation

Like colloquial speech in general, Cambridgeshire dialect speech allows more than one negative, where written StE allows only one.This feature is commonly known as the ‘double negative’, but the term ‘multiple negation’ would be more appropriate, since more than two negatives may be incorporated within one clause. Illustrations of multiple negation include:

5.8 (a) But we- we don’t have nothing now like we used to (Waterbeach BB)
  (b) Nobody don’t say nothing (Willingham AA)
  (c) but there- more- een’t been no = feast (Rampton TR).

In contrast with the usage in StE, a negative verb may be accompanied by the adverb hardly, as shown by the examples:

5.9 (a) [They] don’t hardly grow no hay today (Bartlow CP)
  (b) [There] ain’t hardly a farm cart about now (West Wickham CC) [5]

One further aspect of multiple negation is the use of a negative question tag after a negative statement, as in Well, they wont earning nothing, wont they? (Rampton TR).

Multiple negation is a feature employed by a majority of English speakers; however, it is often considered to be ‘wrong’, largely because it is typical of working-class speech, and for that reason tends to have low prestige (Hughes & Trudgill 1979: 14). At one time, this construction was found in the standard dialect, but by Shakespeare’s death multiple negation has almost passed out of standard use (Strang 1970: 152). [6]

5.5 Never Negation

In StE, never refers to an extended period or to repeated occasions, whereas in Cambridgeshire dialect speech never can also refer to a single occasion in the past, as in example 5.10 (a). Illustrations of the use of never:

5.10 (a) [He said], “Don’t you come to school no more till I send for ee.” And I never went no more. (Willingham ES)
SS: Whether they were religious or not I don’t know but they’d never go a Sunday.
MH: No
SS: never done nothing on a Sunday (Willingham)

In example 5.10 (b), the meaning of never done nothing is ‘didn’t do anything’. The form done of the main verb do is used instead of StE did in Cambridgeshire dialect speech ( [7]


[1] The forms ain’t and in’t may be derived (1) from variation in the Early Modern English pronunciation of the negative form of the verb have, and (2) from the negative form isn’t. According to Jespersen (1940: 431-433), the English language had two pronunciations for have, one with a short vowel and the other one with a long vowel; the former prevailed as [hæv] in positive sentences, whereas the latter with -n’t became [heɪnt]. The spelling ain’t (h is dropped) occurred as a vulgarism. The ain’t, and the related in’t, for be in the present tense might be derived from isn’t, as a result of the dropping of s [z]. In the 18th century the form was i’n’t, although there was variation in the initial vowel (e.g. e’n’t). The OED (be.v. A.I.1) lists the forms èn’t, ain’t (for am not, is not, are not) and ar’n’t, a’n’t (for are not, am not) as colloquial and vulgar, found in dramatists and novels since the 17th century, and the forms i’n’t and i’nt (OED i’n’t, i’nt) as obscure abbreviations of isn’t, is not. The form i’n’t can be illustrated with the example No indeed; it i’n’t worth while (Richardson Pamela IV.116. 1742).

[2] The use of ain’t (and variant pronunciations, e.g. en’t, in’t) has been discussed in various studies. These have considered such aspects as its use as an auxiliary in the progressive tense (e.g. Hughes & Trudgill 1979: 14; Trudgill 1990: 96), and the distribution and use of the forms ain’t and in’t (e.g. Anderwald 2002: 116-150; Cheshire 1982: 51-67; Cheshire et al. 1989: 185-225 and 1991: 64-74; Chambers & Trudgill 1991b: 51; Viereck 1985a: 251-252). In her study of Suffolk dialect, based on material from the Helsinki Corpus of British English Dialects, Peitsara (1996: 301) notes the forms ain’t and in’t from Suffolk.

[3] In the present material, only is regularly used with a negative. Thus, a negative + only corresponds to the present-day StE construction with a negative + but or only without a negative.

[4] The idea of a variant distinct from wasn’t and weren’t is also supported by other studies. Viereck (1985a: 259-260) presents the forms for the East Midlands and East Anglia as follows: wasn’t; wan’t; wadn’t (very rarely in the East Midlands); warn’t (e.g. in south Northamptonshire). On the basis of information from Lowman’s informants from the 1930s (Viereck 1985a: 259-260), Viereck states that the form wan’t “is clearly concentrated east of the line running from Warwickshire in the North to east Hampshire in the South”. This means that Cambridgeshire is included in the wan’t area. Although Viereck’s spelling is not wont, his spelling wan’t does show that there is a form distinct from the two standard ones, and probably an r-less variant; hence it would correspond to the pronunciation represented by wont in this study. For a more detailed discussion of the negative forms of the verb be, see Vasko (forthcoming).

For the negative past forms of be in Somerset, see Ihalainen (1987: 77-78).

[5] Trudgill (1984b: 35) points out that negative constructions containing hardly are more acceptable than other multiple negatives.

[6] Similarly, on the basis of data drawn from the Corpus of Early English Correspondence, Nevalainen (1998: 284) claims that “the disappearance of multiple negation was well under way … in the first half of the 16th century”. Today, multiple negation is considered to be common in most English dialects (e.g. Edwards & Weltens 1985: 107), including urban varieties (e.g. Hughes & Trudgill 1979).

[7] In their Survey of British Dialect Grammar, Cheshire et al. (1993: 67- 68) observed that never as past tense negator was amongst the most widely reported features in the Survey. Cheshire (1985) points out that this feature is commonly considered to be non-standard (e.g. Hughes & Trudgill 1979; Labov 1973; Cheshire 1982; Coupland 1988), yet it is very frequent in all varieties of English, including formal written English and spoken ‘educated’ English. Edwards & Weltens (1985: 108) also consider never as a common past-tense negator in many dialects. They further observe that “never functions in much the same way as didn’t, but it is followed by a past tense verb form, not by an infinitive”. Drawing on evidence from the dialect of the Bolton area, (Shorrocks 1999: 193) claims that never can also be used with the meaning ‘not’ rather than ‘never’: I never eat (for ate) no dinner. Shorrocks interprets the example as follows: the informant is saying that he did not eat any dinner on a particular occasion; the reference to a single occasion is totally unambiguous.