First off, let's take a broader look at multiple negation. Van der Wouden (1994a) describes four different classes of how multiple negation can be interpreted:
- double negation (DN), e.g. Standard English constructions with negation on the verb alongside negation of the pronoun [
He did not see no-one.];
- weakening negation, e.g. Standard English constructions with negation on the verb alongside negation on a scalar adjective [
She is not unhappy.];
- negative concord (NC), which is divided into:
- strict NC, e.g. Serbo-Croatian, where negative pronouns necessitate the negative adverb [
Ne zove niko, lit.
NEG called no-one for "Nobody called"];
- non-strict NC, e.g. Colloquial French, where negative pronouns eliminate the negative adverb pas, [
Il a rien vu, for "He saw nothing", not
*Il a pas rien vu].
- emphatic negation, e.g. in Dutch, where stacking negative pronouns and adverbs corresponds to a stronger negative than just the usual negative marker for verbs.
The clear dichotomy is between DN and NC languages, but most show structures that allow the other two interpretations, although the details vary from language to language. But to force the evasive meaning of the DN-language's two negatives, there are some (rather convoluted) strategies.
Always a strategy, in any language. But how the logic flows through can vary by convention. Standard English
Nobody eats nothing is equivalent to the more natural
Everybody eats something, and not
Somebody eats something. But that is by convention.
One common way of capturing the evasiveness of the DN-language two negatives in one clause way is to append an extra clause of denial, e.g. "It is not the case that..."
Non-Strict NC: French
This is a non-strict NC language (with respect to pas, at least). By combining both the negative adverb with the other negative words in this non-strict NC language, a DN reading is forced:
Personne (ne) mange pas rien
nobody NEG eats NEG nothing
"Nobody eats nothing."
In general, most Romance languages exhibit some level of allowance of the DN reading, although for many (e.g. certain varieties of Catalan, I'm led to believe) there has to be a pre-verbal negative word as a subject.
Strict NC: Russian
In general, these languages tend to employ a form of rephrasing by adding a sort of indication of denial.
Неправда, что Иван не знает ничего.
not true that Ivan not know nothing
"It is not true that Ivan does not know anything."
There are very limited circumstances where the ambiguity does exist though, in "small clauses":
докладчик не обращается ни к кому
speaker not address not at who
"The speaker does not address anybody / The speaker does not address nobody"