Questions put in the negative

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Mar 27 18:50:48 UTC 2008

At 11:44 AM -0400 3/27/08, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>For a moment, I thought I was in Japan ...
>At the supermarket yesterday, I was looking for 8-ounce packages of
>smoked salmon, and found only the 4-ounce packages.  I asked the man
>at the seafood counter, which was around the corner, "You don't carry
>the 8-ounce packages any more, do you?"  When he replied "yes", I was
>disappointed and started to wheel my cart away.  But I heard his
>voice behind me, saying "Come with me."  He had emerged from behind
>the counter to show me that the 8-ounce packages were available.
>Clearly I had very quickly, without any cogitation, assumed he meant
>to agree with my hypothetical:  "You don't carry them any more?";
>"Yes, we don't carry them any more."  He clearly meant "Yes, we do
>have them still" -- perhaps an agreement with the second part of my
>question, "do you?".
>My bad: two questions in one -- and one negative, one positive.  If I
>had asked only "Don't you carry the 8-ounce packages any more?" and
>he had responded "Yes", I would at least have been uncertain!  "Yes,
>I agree with you, we don't", or "Yes, we do carry them"? -- and asked
>for clarification.  (If he had responded "No", I would have been sure
>they didn't carry them.)
And if he had responded "Si" in French, you wouldn't have started to
wheel your cart away.


The American Dialect Society -

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