LINGUIST List 7.1030

Mon Jul 15 1996

Sum: yes/no additional material

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Marina Yaguello, yes/no additional material

Message 1: yes/no additional material

Date: Sun, 14 Jul 1996 20:37:46 BST
From: Marina Yaguello <>
Subject: yes/no additional material
Dear Linguists
Since posting my summary on yes/no, I have received additional information
on Hungarian and Chinese, which I now pass on to you.
This is a quote from Laszlo CSERESNYESI:

>1. Your description of the Hungarian case is correct, although it might be
>worth adding that the language, in fact, has words for YES (i.e. igen), and
>for NO (i.e. nem), i.e. [igen] or [nem] do not have other functions than
>serving as particles of pragmatic affirmation and negation.
> If the finite verb in a question sentence has no perfectivizing prefix
>(preverb), the affirmative answer may either be [igen], or the verb itself
>(with the same or some different inflectional suffix). If the verb has a
>preverb, than, as you have pointed it out, the affirmative answer can be a
>simple repetition of the preverb (or [igen], but the YES answer can never be
>the repeated verb stem without the preverb) .
>The negative answer can only be [nem] whether or not the verb has a prefix.
>The etymology of [igen] and [nem] is somewhat obscure, but experts agree
>that the initial i- comes from a Finno-Ugric proximal demonstrative root (cp.
>Hung. igy meaning IN THIS WAY, itt meaning HERE, etc.). The well-attested
>development of proximal demonstratives, such as Hungarian [i-] or Classical
>Chinese [shi] into copular and/or affirmative particles is probably a worthy
>subject for cross-linguistic comparison.

[Yes indeed. in French, for instance, oui developped from hoc ille( fecit),
where hoc is a proximal demonstrative (M.Y.) ]

>2. The Chinese words [shi]/[you] and [bu]/[mei]/etc. seem to qualify as YES
>and NO words, respectively.
>Arguing that there is no single YES word in Chinese is, of course, plausible.
>It is true that [dui] serves also other functions than being a mere
>affirmative particle. The two real YES particles, are indeed used as verbs
>(of existence, copula, etc.).
>Well-well... [Dui] or [dui-le] may often sound a bit pompous, but I cannot
>think of a pragmatic context where either [shi(-a)] or [you] would sound
>unnatural as a response. In short, saying that Chinese has no YES particle is
>somewhat controversial, but not untenable.
>With NO words, I think, there is even more room for discussion, since the
>various forms of NO are only used as negative particles. The choice of the NO
>particle depends on what is negated. This is true of the historical forms of
>Chinese, and the modern dialects I am familiar with (each regional or
>historical variety seems to use a different set of particles).
KENNEDY, George A. 1954. "Negatives in Classical Chinese" Wennti 1.1-16
reprinted in:
>Selected Works of George A. Kennedy. New Haven: Far Eastern Publications (Yale
,1964, 119-134 is the best literature I know of.

>My perception of the case in Chinese is that the simple dichotomy of
>affirmation and negation is divided into pragmatic subtypes, e.g. negation >
>negating existence, negating action, prohibition, etc. Yet,in Mandarin, for
>example, YES seems to have only two subtypes, namely [shi] and [you] which are
>more-or-less in complementary distribution.

Karl Teeter and Robert Handelsmann have also contributed comments, for
which I thank them.

Marina Yaguello
Professor of linguistics
University of Paris 7-Denis Diderot
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