Replying to a negative question

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Mon Dec 24 14:32:08 UTC 2007

Cf. the often-discussed paradox of how a sworn witness in a courtroom is to answer, "yes" or "no," a question posed in the lawyerly formula "Is it not true that . . . ?"


---- Original message ----
>Date: Mon, 24 Dec 2007 00:47:34 -0500
>From: "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
>At 12/24/2007 12:22 AM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>>At 4:03 PM -0500 12/23/07, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>>>At 12/23/2007 02:46 PM, Arnold M. Zwicky wrote:
>>>>On Dec 23, 2007, at 11:03 AM, Joel Berson wrote:
>>>>>... Wasn't the word that prompted the "vl cluster spotting" chain
>>>>>"vlog"?  And no, I will refrain from telling you the various
>>>>>Dutch/Afrikaans words either.
>>>>Joel, did you want to stick to the form of that last sentence?  if so,
>>>>what's the "either" doing?  (and the "no", for that matter?)
>>yes, I noticed those too...
>>>I cannot defend my last sentence strongly, you must excuse it as a
>>>non-peer-reviewed (until now!) email submission.  But to explain, the
>>>"no" and "either" were in response to the following sentence from
>>>Dennis Preston:
>>>>please don't write in and tell me about the "English" word
>>>>Vladivostok and other borrowed stuff)
>>>which I unfortunately snipped from my response.  (My "no" should
>>>probably have been "yes", but I think I had started my thinking with
>>>"no, I will not tell you ... ".
>>That was going to be my hypothesis, following Jespersen on blends (as
>>Bolinger or Jerry Cohen would call them) or "fusions" (as Jespersen
>>himself referred to them), e.g. in "I miss not seeing you" or other
>>instances of resumptive and sympathetic negation following verbs of
>>denial, doubting, hindering, forbidding, etc.) or in comparative
>>clauses.  Curiously (but not, I think, ironically), I was just
>>reading Jespersen on such constructions while trying to whip an ADS
>>paper into shape for the none-too-distant future.   Here it's "No, I
>>will not tell you either" + "I will refrain from telling you", or the
>There are also differences from English in other languages, such as
>Japanese, I believe.  (If a native Japanese speaker is asked a
>question in English phrased in the negative, he is likely to reply
>"no" when the native English speaker would reply "yes", and vice versa.)

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list