Two correspondents write recently with the same concern. One says: 'Yesterday I came across a sentence in a local newspaper: Have you ever tried Chinese food yet?', and he asks: is it right to have both ever and yet in the same sentence? The other asks whether one can have also and too in the same sentence, citing this example (about Shakespeare): And he is also pretty high up in the league of affixers too.
Well, seeing as the second sentence is from a paper of mine, I guess my answer has to be yes! So let me explain why.
There is a literary critical tradition in English that all repeated meaning is a bad thing. Tautology is a deadly sin, according to stylists. Fowler, for example, came down strongly against people who 'fail to notice that they are wasting words by expressing twice over in a sentence some part of it that is indeed essential but needs only one expression.'
The issue, of course, is whether the repetition is an identical expression of meaning or not. The prescriptive temperament tended to condemn anything that was even slightly repetitive, ignoring the nuances of emphasis and aspect that subtle speaking and writing can convey, and failing to appreciate the way adverbs in different parts of a sentence have different modifying roles.
What's happening in the 'Chinese food' example? First, by repeating the notion, the speaker is adding extra emphasis to the time reference. Secondly, he is adding a nuance, as 'ever' looks backwards in time while 'yet' looks forwards. And thirdly, there are different pragmatic issues involved. If someone asked:
Have you ever tried Chinese food?
the question is very general. It is asking you to think back into your past and remember an occasion when you tried Chinese food. It is a new topic of conversation, presupposing no prior discourse history. By contrast, if someone asked:
Have you tried Chinese food yet?
the question is more likely to be alluding to a previous discourse. We've had this conversation before, and now I'm raising the subject again.
A lot depends on the intonation, of course. If the stress falls on the verb, the speaker could be construed as querying a state of mind.
A I don't like Chinese food.
B Have you ever tried Chinese food?
A Well no, actually...
As for the 'Shakespeare' example, my two adverbs have very different directions of modification. This can be seen if we view the sentence in context.
Shakespeare is the doyen of functional shifters. And he is also pretty high up in the league of affixers too.
The role of the also is to relate pretty high up to the doyen. The role of the too is to relate league of affixers to functional shifters. I want to make two emphatic comparisons here, not one.
In both cases, the message is clear. We need to see a supposed tautology in its discourse context, and not just within a single sentence. Only when that context has been eliminated might we justifiably condemn a usage as tautologous also as well.