English negatives are HARD!

My daughter has an easier time with saying “no” in Bulgarian than she does in English.

In Bulgarian, all she has to do is move the verb to the start of the sentence ,and insert the word “ne” before it and she’s got a grammatical sentence.

Vreme e za san.” (It’s time for bed) elicits “Ne e vreme za san!” (No is time for bed!)

Otivam na rabota.” (I go to work) > “Ne otivash na rabota!” (No go to work!)

The future or hortative is a bit more tricky. Rather than ne, she has to say nyama.

Shte izimiya tvoito dupentse!” (I’m going to wash your bottom!) > “Nyama da izimiesh moeto dupentse!”

“Da otidem na van.” (Let’s go outside) > “Nyama da otidem na van!” (Let’s not go outside!)

And that’s it. If she were speaking Old or even Middle English, she would have a similarly easy time of it.

“It is time for bed.” > “It is not time for bed.” (although you could also say “It no is time for bed” as in Bulgarian)

“I go to work.” > “Thou goest not to work!” (I’m pretty sure my daughter would use the familiar pronoun)

“I will wash your bottom.” > “Thou shalt not wash my bottom!”

“Let us go outside.” > “Let us go not outside!”

And so on in the past and all other tenses, for all other situations.

But then around the time of Shakespeare we started using modal verbs and everything went to hell. Now we have SEVENTEEN separate negatives (not counting nonstandard dialect forms):

not, isn’t, aren’t, wasn’t, weren’t, won’t, wouldn’t, don’t, doesn’t, didn’t, haven’t, hasn’t, hadn’t, can’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t, and mustn’t (although this one’s getting rare).

Yes, the history of these words is still visible as combinations of “is not” “do not” and so on, but they’ve become fused together into unique words that you just have to memorize.

Or not. It shouldn’t be surprising that non-native speakers (as well as many speakers of many dialects of English) pare this list down, saying “he don’t” and “I ain’t.” My daughter went another way:

“It is time for bed.” > “It can’t be time for bed!”

“I go to work.” > “You can’t go to work!”

“I will wash your bottom.” > “You can’t wash my bottom!”

“Let’s go outside.” > “Let’s can’t go outside!”

Most of the time, she’s grammatical, but that last sentence makes it clear she’s just using “can’t” as an all-inclusive negative like Middle English “not” and Bulgarian “ne.” Recently, she’s started to correct “Let’s can’t go outside” to “let’s don’t go outside,” which shows she’s starting to discriminate between different negatives, but she still has a long way to go.

So what do you think? Want to reform English so it’s easier for my daughter learn? Which do you prefer, saying “can’t” all the time, or “don’t” all the time?

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