Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


May I Quote You on That?

By Stephen Spector

A guide to English grammar and usage for the twenty-first century, pairing grammar rules with interesting and humorous quotations from American popular culture.

New from Cambridge University Press!


The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages

Edited By Peter K. Austin and Julia Sallabank

This book "examines the reasons behind the dramatic loss of linguistic diversity, why it matters, and what can be done to document and support endangered languages."

Academic Paper

Title: Celtic Influence in English? Yes and No
Author: Theo Vennemann
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Linguistic Field: Historical Linguistics; Syntax; Text/Corpus Linguistics
Subject Language: English
Abstract: Compared to German Ja and Nein, English Yes and No are used less frequently, and often in combination with short sentences consisting of a pronoun and an auxiliary or modal verb: Yes I will; No I won't. When such a short sentence is used, Yes and No may be omitted: I will; I won't; I do; I don't; He can; They certainly won't. This difference in usage is established (1) by comparing the marriage vow in German and English, where the officiant's question is answered by Ja in German but by I will or I do in English; (2) by citing material from a practical grammar for German students of English; and (3) by studying the way Shakespeare has his figures answer decision questions, or Yes/No-questions, in comparison with Schlegel's way of rendering their answers in his German translation. Next it is shown that Shakespeare's way, which is essentially the same as modern usage, differs radically from earlier English usage up to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1388–1400) and Troilus and Cresseide (1382–6) and the anonymous York Plays (fourteenth century) and Towneley Plays (late fourteenth century), which all reflect the Germanic usage, essentially the same as in German. It is concluded that the modern English usage arose during the two centuries between Chaucer and Shakespeare, as a Late Middle English and Early Modern English innovation. As for the reason why English developed this un-Germanic way of answering decision questions, reference is made to Insular Celtic: decision questions are answered with short sentences in both Irish and Welsh, and this usage is old in both languages. The viability of this contact explanation is underlined by Irish English, where Yes and No are used even less frequently than in Modern Standard English, and short sentences are the normal way of answering decision questions.


This article appears IN English Language and Linguistics Vol. 13, Issue 2, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .

Add a new paper
Return to Academic Papers main page
Return to Directory of Linguists main page