A meno che (non)

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calum
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A meno che (non)

Post by calum »

I understand that in the following style of sentence, the 'non' is optional.

A meno che (non) piova.

I have come across a sentence that uses this style and I find it ambiguous in comparison with the English equivalent.
In a book I am reading, a person convicted of a crime claims he is innocent and offers a different version of the circumstances. Nobody believes him.

A situation later arises which causes a prosecutor to reconsider this and he says, «A meno che Wayne (the criminal) non dicesse la verità.» meaning: «Unless Wayne was telling truth.» If I hadn't already been aware of the context of that sentence, how would I know if it was negative or positive in meaning?

How would you say in Italian, “Unless Wayne wasn’t telling the truth.“?

regards,

Calum
Peter
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Re: A meno che (non)

Post by Peter »

Hi Calum, a good question, one that had me scouring the Wordreference forum. I found a discussion in which Carlo (under the monicker Moodywop) made a few suggestions: sempre che/purché/a patto che. Here's the link: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=47122. Carlo's relevant message is number 16 on page 1. Hope this helps. :)

Hai un buon fine settimana
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Re: A meno che (non)

Post by Peter »

and indeed that whole discussion, with a huge amount of input from Carlo, is so interesting.
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Quintus
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Re: A meno che (non)

Post by Quintus »

The short answer is that the "non" in "a meno che non" has excusively a semantic value, that is the "non" is there only to signal (semantic value) that we are entering an exceptive proposition (proposizione eccettuativa), which usually takes the subjunctive:

«Verrò, a meno che non piova»
«I will come, unless it rains»

As a mere signal, the "non" is pleonastic and if you think that your listeners/readers don't need it, you can omit it. However, it would be better to use it as we are accustomed to it (although we sometimes skip it in spoken Italian).

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I think that what "disturbs" you is that you see the "non" coming immediately before the verb, ie "non piova". Hence it seems that the action expressed by the verb be negated. So your objection could be like this: "why should the action be negated when it constitutes the exception that I am just trying to express?". Italians too do raise the same objection. Though "non" does not negate the action, it's only a signal.

And, are you sure that the English way is different? I will try to convince you that it's all the same in English. The first thing to do is to simplify the expression "a meno che". Let's trash "a" and "che", so to have to deal with "meno" only (which is not possible in the real language, but it is possible in a laboratory):

A - «Verrò, meno non piova»
B - «I will come, unless it rains»

Let's now consider "meno" in the sentence A: "meno" corresponds to "less", not "unless". Why does B contain "unless"? What is the "un" for? The Longman Dictionary is quite exhaustive on the "un" prefix: it means "not, in, non" and indicates the opposite of something. Was there the need to indicate the opposite of something in "unless it rains"? Imo, no: in facts, the sentence is equivalent to "except if it rains", which does not contains negative elements. So, the purpose of "un" is pleonastic and exclusively semantic, the same as in Italian. I know it, the position of "un" is different in English: it comes before any other thing and it is part of "unless", which you probably feel as one word. Nevertheless, it is made up with two pieces. We could try to unscrew the "un" from "unless" and substitute it for a "not" which is to be placed after the adverb "less":

«I will come, less-not it rains»

Then, reintroducing the "che" preposition, ie "that", you have:

«I will come, less that not it rains», «I will come, less (meno) that (che) not (non) rain (<-subjunctive)»

We can't say "meno non che piova": the "non" must be moved to right, after the preposition "che": "meno che non piova". This strong displacement to right causes the sensation of a negated action.
How would you say in Italian, “Unless Wayne wasn’t telling the truth.“?
We would say "less that Wayne not was telling the truth", that is "a meno che Wyne non stesse dicendo la verità". But, as I said, "a meno che Wyne stesse dicendo la verità" also works well.

Quintus

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Itikar
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Re: A meno che (non)

Post by Itikar »

Wonderful explanation Franco! :D
I would be very grateful, if you could please correct my English.
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Re: A meno che (non)

Post by calum »

Quintus wrote:
How would you say in Italian, “Unless Wayne wasn’t telling the truth.“?
We would say "less that Wayne not was telling the truth", that is "a meno che Wyne non stesse dicendo la verità". But, as I said, "a meno che Wyne stesse dicendo la verità" also works well.

Quintus

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Hi Quintus,

I was with you right up to the end when it all fell apart again!

Let me ask you this: how would you write the following sentences, still using 'a meno che' and expressing opposite conclusions..

A - "Unless Wayne was telling the truth."

B - "Unless Wayne wasn't telling the truth."

thanks,
Calum
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Quintus
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Re: A meno che (non)

Post by Quintus »

Before answering your question, calum, please let me restart from this point:
I wrote:Let's now consider "meno" in the sentence A: "meno" corresponds to "less", not "unless". Why does B contain "unless"? What is the "un" for? The Longman Dictionary is quite exhaustive on the "un" prefix: it means "not, in, non" and indicates the opposite of something. Was there the need to indicate the opposite of something in "unless it rains"? Imo, no: in facts, the sentence is equivalent to "except if it rains", which does not contains (sob!) negative elements. So, the purpose of "un" is pleonastic and exclusively semantic, the same as in Italian.
I've been thinking over this notation of mine for a while because I was not happy with my conclusion: if "less" and "unless" have opposite meanings, how can the "un" prefix be considered pleonastic? If it were such, it couldn't be strong enough to bend its counterpart at a point to make it change sign. So the correct answer to my question should be this: «Yes. There's such a need». The evidence of this is just provided by the fact that "unless it rains" is equivalent to "except if it rains", which does not contain negative elements, as I said, and I reckon we all could agree on this axiom. Hence what is left now is to prove that "un" plays an effective role and is not pleonastic. As for the "exclusively semantic" part, sure it is semantic, but not exclusively. Besides, everything in spoken and written languages is semantic, at some extent.

I don't know if the demonstration that follows makes sense for a native English speaker, but it was meaningful for me to attempt to clarify to myself why the English language needs to add the negative element "un" to a completely positive sentence in order to set up an exceptive proposition. In my opinion, this analysis is meaningful because, despite my erroneous conclusions on the real purpose of "un", I keep maintaining here that both languages work in the very same way with sentences of this kind, even though there's an additional complication on the Italian side. To do that, I will use the "I will come, unless it rains" English sentence as a reference for everything.

So, let's consider these two sentences:

S - «I will come in all cases less one: if it rains»
A - «I will come, unless it rains»

The sentence S has been judged awkward by a native English friend of mine, but 100% understandable. Since it was just what I needed, allow me to use it here. Also, I will base on the fact that both sentences mean the very same thing, which seems a reasonable assumption, although an arbitrary one.


Sentence S (S is for Subtraction)

The meaning of the sentence S is immediate, we don't have any exceptive proposition here. What we have here is that the preposition "less" is used to subtract one case from the set of all possible cases. The sentence is the expression of a subtraction. In algebraic terms, "less" corresponds to the operator "-" (minus):

all cases - 1 = all case less one

In linguistic terms, we could say that "less" has a negative value, as it demands that something has to be diminished. Also, its semantic value is the same as its grammatical value, that's is the signal of a decrease.


Sentence A (A is for Addiction)

The sentence A is constructed in a different way, although the meaning of it is the same as S. What we have here is an exceptive proposition, that's a subordinate clause which indicates an exception (exceptive). Are we in presence of a subtraction here? No. If you consider the sentence S, I think you can easily convince yourself that there's no subtraction embedded in it. On the contrary, there's an addition. The "unless it rains" subordinate clause actually adds one exception to the concept expressed by the main clause. As a further proof of this, you only need to consider that "unless it rains" has the same value as "except if it rains", which obviously expresses, or adds, an exception. The evidence of this is in the words themselves.


Let's now suppose we want to build the sentence A by means of "less" instead of "unless". That is, we pretend we don't want to use the "un" prefix. We would have:

«I will come, less it rains»

In my opinion this can't work because we are using the negative operator "less" to signify an addition, which is incorrect and appears broken to me too, who sure am not a native English speaker. Fact is, the negative operator "less", which indicates a subtraction, needs to be transformed into a positive one in order it indicates an addition, and this can be achieved by multiplying it by minus one, that is having it preceded by "un":

(-1)*less = (un)*less = unless

So:

«I will come, unless it rains»


So far so good (hopefully). The exceptive preposition coming after the comma is held by a positive sign conjunction which is represented by "unless", in English.

What about the Italian side of the question? Everything works in the same way as in Italian. The only thing to remember is that, in Italian too, you must have a positive sign conjunction after the comma, that's at the beginning of the exceptive clause.
The apparent complication arises from the fact that "a meno che" is not the equivalent of "unless", it is the equivalent of "less", and for what I've been previously saying, the sign of "a meno che" is negative, just as it is for "less". The various pieces by which the "a meno che" conjunction is made up are like gearwheels that our language needs having there, but they do not add much to the value of the adverb "meno":

- "a" comes from the Latin preposition "ad", which is still present in English as "at" (e.g. see "at some extent")
- "che" is a conjunction of declarative type like the "that" in sentences like "I say that you are..."

So, "a meno che" could roughly translate into "at less that", but what matters here is that it has a negative value. It is the sign of a decrease, and hence it must be changed to a positive sign to become usable in an exceptive sentence. This job is done by the adverb "non" (Longman: not - adv, used to negate a word or word group), which is added on the right:

a meno che non = unless

In Italian, "non" does the same job as the English "un". But, while "un" has became part of "less", hence generating a new conjunction, the Italian equivalent comes in four pieces, which are somewhat "scattered" across the sentence, thus causing some hindrance to Italians themselves in some circumstances.
As I said in my previous post, such a marked right-shift of the negation "non" causes it to be sensed as influencing the verb that immediately follows it. This influence is not small: indeed, the verb of the subordinate clause looks like reversing its meaning. "Why have I to say 'verrò, a meno che non piova' when it's clear that I'm stating I will not come 'se piove'?"

Fact is, there's not an alternative insertion point for "non" in "a meno che", as we have to expect. Whichever attempt you make, you get ambiguous neologisms. For example, with "a non meno che piova" you have "non meno" which resembles "nondimeno" and your sentence takes a concessive nuance: "I will come, nevertheless/although it rains" (non-di-meno = never-the-less). The only possibility could be "non a meno che piova", where the leading "non" attempts to simulate the leading English "un". But it sounds pretty odd and there's something of "not at least" there, because it recalls "non almeno", which is "not at least".

So, as I said in my previous post, the proper way is "Verrò, a meno che non piova". Also, I said there that the "non" is pleonastic and can be skipped. I must correct my previous statement, at least in part. Strictly speaking, and according to what I've been saying thus far, "non" is not pleonastic, as it serves the precise purpose to turn the negative sign of "a meno che" into the positive one of "a meno che non", which is needed for an exceptive sentence to be built. Nevertheless, depending on the character of the speaker and his/her intolerance for the "non", due to its apparent reversing action on the following verb, many people use to drop it. This should cause the sentence to sound in the opposite way, in so far as if the "non" is logically needed, it couldn't be omitted. Well, it's not always this way: when we hear "a meno che", we know that an exception to what was previously said is about to be expressed, thus the absence of the "non" passes unnoticed. In other words, "a meno che" is perceived as it were "unless", although it's not such, it's the contrary.

Just one opinion of mine. Skipping the "non" is possible with simple sentences like "verrò, a meno che non piova", thus changing them to "verrò, a meno che piova". But with sentences carrying a less immediate, direct meaning, like "non potremo imbarcarci in questa impresa, a meno che non troviamo i mezzi per farlo" (we won't be able to embark on this enterprise, unless we find the means to do it), I don't find it a good idea to drop the negation:

"non potremo imbarcarci in questa impresa, a meno che troviamo i mezzi per farlo"

To me, that doesn't sound well. Not "broken", perhaps, but surely "lame", as we say here, la frase è zoppa, it misses one leg. This is strictly an opinion of mine though. Others may differ. I'd like to know what Alessandro, whom I thank to be contributing to this journal with his writings, thinks about that (ciao Alessandro, se mi senti batti un colpo).
calum wrote:Let me ask you this: how would you write the following sentences, still using 'a meno che' and expressing opposite conclusions..

A - "Unless Wayne was telling the truth."

B - "Unless Wayne wasn't telling the truth."
The sentence A is the normal sentence we've been considering up to now: "A meno che Wayne non stesse dicendo la verità".
The sentence B contains two negations (in bold): "Unless Wayne wasn't telling the truth.", and as you said, it expresses the opposite concept. The firm rule is that everything has to work in Italian in the same way as in English. So, what you need is to use the same number of negations. Here's two solutions:

a - The speaker realizes in advance that the negation of "not telling the truth" may conflict with the negation required to reverse the sign of a "meno che", so s/he decides to change "wasn't telling the truth" to "was lying". So:

«A meno che Wayne non stesse mentendo» (or by expressions akin to "mentire": non stesse dicendo una bugìa, non stesse dicendo bugìe, non stesse raccontando frottole, or so)

b - The speaker realizes too late that the negation of "not telling the truth" may conflict with the negation required to reverse the sign of a "meno che", but at the moment an alternative expression fails coming to mind, so, since the sentences has anyway to be concluded, s/he takes a brief pause and then puts a further "non" just before "dicendo", while trying to use a particular pitch so to stress the essential parts (in bold and italic below) and help the listener to get the sentence correctly:

«A meno che Wayne non stesse (short pause) non dicendo la verità»

This is the most common remedy, which works well and it's a standard Italian construction. In this case, the "non dicendo" part is at all similar to the English construction (not telling), while in almost all other circumstances we don't say "io sto non dicendo" (I'm not telling), we say "io non sto dicendo" (I not am saying).

b' - The most common variation for b is, of course, dropping the "non" that would be required to reverse the sign of "a meno che" and use only the one needed for "telling the truth":

«A meno che Wayne stesse non dicendo la verità»

In this case the sentence is a bit less "lame" (see above) thanks to the fact that one "non" is anyway there. This "non" works, in part, both for "a meno che" and "dicendo". But, as I said above, this is not in my opinion the ideal solution.
The best solution is a, especially for literary works. As for b, when one thinks having said something too complex, it's common to hear this:

«A meno che Wayne non stesse... non dicendo la verità. Voglio dire, a meno che Wayne non stesse mentendo".

-

One note of color. We Florentines greatly love the word "un". Indeed, when speaking informally, we don't say "non", we say "un" (uhn). You were here calum, can you remember this? For example "(io) non lo so" (I don't know it) is "ullosò" here:

non lo so = un lo so = ullo so = ullosò

(a "n" before a "l" is something strenuous for our indolent tongues :roll: :wink: . It's better to trash the "n", double the "l" and put everything into the same bag)

Is there a translation for "ullosò"? I think it translates downright to "dunno it".
Problem is, one needs to be in a good mood to speak in vernacular, and the good mood is becoming a rare merchandise in our country. So, these wonderful bad habits are vanishing day after day. It is happening like in the movie The NeverEnding Story, but ullosò if the story is going to have the same happy ending as in the movie.

Quintus

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Itikar
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Re: A meno che (non)

Post by Itikar »

Since I already used wonderful for the previous one, for this I can only say "mitico". :lol:
I would be very grateful, if you could please correct my English.
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Re: A meno che (non)

Post by calum »

Quintus wrote:Before answering your question, calum, please let me restart from this point:.....
Wow, non pensavo che una domanda sul uso di quattro parole producerrebe una risposta da oltre due mila!

Non ho mai visto una frase spiegata in termi matematiche,
(-1)*less = (un)*less = unless
. Fantastico!
«A meno che Wayne non stesse mentendo» (or by expressions akin to "mentire": non stesse dicendo una bugìa, non stesse dicendo bugìe, non stesse raccontando frottole, or so)
Grazie ancora, adesso tutto è chiarissimo.
One note of color. We Florentines greatly love the word "un". Indeed, when speaking informally, we don't say "non", we say "un" (uhn). You were here calum, can you remember this? For example "(io) non lo so" (I don't know it) is "ullosò" here:

non lo so = un lo so = ullo so = ullosò
Sono passati sette anni da quando sono stato a Firenze e quindi non ricordo di aver sentito né la frase “ullosò“ né la parola “un“(uhn). Comunque, mentre stavo lì ho chiesto in un negozio per (non sapendo la parola giusta) a pencil sharpener, gesticolando con le mani l’azione, e la commessa diceva, « Ah, vuol dire un appuntalapis

Da allora, ho saputo che quella parola è piuttosto antiquato e limitato a Firenze. È vero?

saluti,
Calum
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Re: A meno che (non)

Post by Quintus »

@ calum & Alessandro

Grazie ad entrambi per l'apprezzamento!!


@ calum

Eh lo so, la lunghezza delle risposte è il mio punto debole, debolissimo. Ma la domanda era sottile, anche se di quattro parole, e sciogliere l'ambiguità di un espressione italiana con altrettante parole, in inglese, è impresa ardua. Sul fatto della matematica, sì, potrebbe essere stata una buona idea. La prossima volta spero di poter estendere il metodo per mezzo di operatori più evoluti, come ad es. SquareRoot(unless) :wink: :D
Appuntalapis è la parola che abbiamo sempre usato qui e quindi, è vero, potrebbe essere antica. Credo che il termine italiano più diffuso sia "temperamatite" (maschile, invariante in genere e numero, come appuntalapis), ma devo dire che il verbo "temperare" usato nel senso di "fare la punta" è assai poco comune.


@ Alessandro

Lo confesso, sì, sogno sempre di entrare nella terra del mito e della leggenda. Una terra ricca di piante e d'acqua, come quella vicino alla quale forse vivi tu, dove il grande fiume raccoglie le storie che sulle sue rive gli alberi narrano e le porta al mare. Una terra pianeggiante che brilla nel sole. Una terra mai dominata dalle montagne. Una terra senza monti.
Va be', dai, sto scherzando sui monti :roll: , ma non certo su quella terra, dato che mi sono letto Guareschi tante volte per il piacere di gustarne e rigustarne le descrizioni. E comunque, grazie. Mi fa piacere vederti sulle pagine di questo giornale. :D


Franco

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Itikar
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Re: A meno che (non)

Post by Itikar »

Grazie per i complimenti, ma non ti far ingannare dai poeti di quassù sulla Pianura Padana. :P
Un tempo era un'unica enorme palude che venne bonificata, ed è ancora afosa ed infestata dalle zanzare d'estate.
In inverno invece è gelida e nebbiosa, tanto che i greci la chiamavano "esperia" letteralmente "la terra della sera", poiché non si vedeva mai il sole.
Il fiume oggi è inquinatissimo, i boschi furono tutti abbattutti qualche secolo fa, e le ultime piante intorno ai campi invece le han tirate via negli ultimi lustri.
In compenso però c'è qualche bella giornata di primavera in cui si possono vedere sia le Alpi, sia gli Appennini eterei e lontani all'orizzonte. :)

Monti invece, sebbene ce ne vergogniamo profondamente, purtroppo pare che sia proprio nato qua da noi. :x
I would be very grateful, if you could please correct my English.
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Re: A meno che (non)

Post by Brerus »

"A meno che non" -- the "non" is redundant, but usually needed.

Context explains what's being stated.

As a writer, when I write something like that and find its meaning is doubtful (there being no context) I rephrase it.

A meno che non dica la verità = BOTH unless he's telling the truth AND unless he's not telling the truth (less frquently)

A meno che non stia dicendo una bugia SOLVES THE DILEMMA if I mean he might not be telling the truth
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Re: A meno che (non)

Post by calum »

Brerus wrote:"A meno che non" -- the "non" is redundant, but usually needed.

Context explains what's being stated.

As a writer, when I write something like that and find its meaning is doubtful (there being no context) I rephrase it.

A meno che non dica la verità = BOTH unless he's telling the truth AND unless he's not telling the truth (less frquently)

A meno che non stia dicendo una bugia SOLVES THE DILEMMA if I mean he might not be telling the truth

Brerus, che bello rivederti, è un secolo che non ci sentiamo! Grazie per la risposta, breve e chiara, alla mia domanda.

Calum
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Re: A meno che (non)

Post by Brerus »

Ciao Calum, grazie per la cordialità.

Trovo difficile rassegnarmi al fatto che per ogni messaggio che posto io debba ricevere un'e-mail (che devo cestinare) per avvisarmi che il messaggio è stato postato. Mi sembra farraginoso. Non è possibile modificare il sistema, o introdurre delle Preferenze?
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Re: A meno che (non)

Post by calum »

Brerus wrote:Ciao Calum, grazie per la cordialità.

Trovo difficile rassegnarmi al fatto che per ogni messaggio che posto io debba ricevere un'e-mail (che devo cestinare) per avvisarmi che il messaggio è stato postato. Mi sembra farraginoso. Non è possibile modificare il sistema, o introdurre delle Preferenze?
Questa limitazione era diventata necessaria a causa degli spammers. Solo i primi due messagi di un nuovo membro vengono controllati, addesso hai via libera!

Calum

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