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Despite my attempts and *surplus of questions (since joining ELL), sequences of negative words still annihilate, lame, squash my reading comprehension. So how can I decisively vanquish this paralysis/scourge, productively on a general scale? What do I lack? I asked about the relevance of logic.

*These are listed in this exemplifying question and When do multiple negatives cancel and when do they not?.

  • I think these "crippling" problems have less to do with multiple negatives than with your not being clear on the clause boundaries and verb-phrase-boundaries, and on the antecedents of relative pronouns and pronouns in general. You seem to get thrown off by (usually infelicitous) clauses like '... unless it specifies explicitly that that is what it is doing*. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 22 '15 at 17:21
  • @TRomano Thanks for the feedback. Yes; possibly. How can I improve this? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Apr 22 '15 at 20:40
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    Be more discerning in your choice of reading matter is all I can say. Months and months of questions, and only one concerned a chunk of prose that brought delight (it was the Nabokov passage). – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 22 '15 at 21:06
  • @TRomano Thank you! Sorry to hear about my depressing naivety. Were you implying a specific genre for being 'discerning in your choice of reading matter' ? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Apr 22 '15 at 22:29
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Three ideas

1. Read something easier.

Legal writing is among the most difficult, confusing, and often painfully ambiguous writing in English.

In English, there is a well-known proverb: "You have to crawl before you can walk, and you have to walk before you can run." Translated into a maxim for learning a skill, that would be: "Crawl before you walk, walk before you run."

Unfortunately, I don't know of some easy writing that's filled with sequences of negatives that I could recommend. Maybe someone else can recommend something. But see below for a possible gold mine of easier but appropriate reading.

2. Write examples yourself.

Think of thoughts that include multiple negations, and experiment with how to express these clearly. One of the best ways to learn how to understand language is to express yourself in it. Then you can empathize with the authors of complex writing. You can see how they, too, struggle with making complex negations clear—and you can better tease out the meaning they're trying to get across through the many resources of English grammar.

3. Re-state hard examples in your own words.

I think you've already been doing this; it's a good idea. Rewriting gives you great command of the options that English has available for expressing complex ideas, and mastering the subtler shades of meaning and emphasis.

Talking is of course the most important part of mastering a language. It sounds like you're only having trouble with the kinds of complex thoughts that occur mainly in written sentences, not spoken ones. But explaining a complex written sentence out loud, to a live person you're trying to get the idea across to, is still extremely effective. Usually you end up breaking the complex idea into smaller sentences. This is good. It forces you to slow down, empathize with your listener, and notice exactly what each negation modifies.

Sources

As a less-difficult source of complex negations, you might try reading something in a moderately technical topic—say, gardening. Hitting Google Books just now, I found Gardening Indoors by George F. Van Patten. Here are two examples of multiple negation that I found searching for the words "not" and "unless":

The horticulturist is able to wield control over many factors influencing growth. Since few people have ever played Mother Nature before, they usually do not fathom the scope of the job.

Rewriting the second sentence to be super-clear, breaking it into two sentences:

The number of people with experience playing Mother Nature is small. So, most people don't know how big a job it is.

Another example:

Unless fortified with nutrients, soilless mixes contain no nutrients and are pH-balanced near 6.0–7.0.

Rewriting:

If a mix does not contain soil, then it does not contain nutrients (because soil is where nutrients are normally found). But a mix without soil could contain nutrients if the mix were fortified with nutrients.

Of course, it's best if the moderately technical topic you choose is one that you're interested in learning about anyway. Then you'll be learning the topic through English. Communicating through English should be the main way that you learn, supplemented by a relatively small amount of talking about English.

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However, it is possible for Acts to create offences – ... – that do not require any mens rea, or guilty mind, in order for the defendant to be convicted. But it is right for society to be wary about the number of such offences, so the courts presume that a statute does not impose criminal liability without the need for proof of mens rea unless it specifies explicitly that that is what it is doing. Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/06/29/us/excerpts-from-the-supreme-court-s-ruling-on-gays-and-the-boy-scouts.html

Let's take this slowly.

  1. ... it is possible for Acts to create offences... that do not require any mens rea, or guilty mind, in order for the defendant to be convicted

Mens rea is not a sine qua non for conviction on some offences.

  1. the courts presume that a statute does not impose criminal liability without the need for proof of mens rea unless it specifies explicitly that that is what it is doing.

Unless a statute explicitly specifies that it is imposing criminal liability without requiring proof of mens rea, the courts will presume that proof of mens rea is required for a conviction.

Second quotation:

But the freedom of expressive association, like many freedoms, is not absolute. We have held that the freedom could be overridden ''by regulations adopted to serve compelling state interests, unrelated to the suppression of ideas, that cannot be achieved through means significantly less restrictive of associational freedoms.''

  1. Like many freedoms, freedom of expressive association is not absolute.

Under certain circumstances, freedom of expressive association is not guaranteed. Other principles may take precedence.

  1. We have held that the freedom could be overridden ''by regulations adopted to serve compelling state interests, unrelated to the suppression of ideas, that cannot be achieved through means significantly less restrictive of associational freedoms.''

This court has ruled that regulations serving compelling state interests can override the freedom of expressive association. Those state interests are unrelated to the suppression of ideas. Those state interests cannot be achieved through means that restrict associational freedoms significantly less than those regulations restrict them.

In other words, if a regulation is going to restrict associative freedoms to serve a compelling state interest, it must be shown that there is no less restrictive solution available.

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