Questions put in the negative

Dennis Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Thu Mar 27 20:36:07 UTC 2008

Nor would you if he had said "hai" in Japanese.


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>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>Subject:      Re: Questions put in the negative
>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 -

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
Morrill Hall 15-C
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48864 USA

The American Dialect Society -

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