reporting yes & no in Czech

Viktor Elsik viktor_elsik at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Apr 7 20:08:53 UTC 2006

In Czech there are several ways of reporting yes/no utterances.

* "yes" = ANO, colloquial JO (< German), NO (which seems to trouble Spanish
visitors to Czechia for some reason)
* "no" = NE, dialectal NE'E, bookish NIKOLI

First of all, there is a difference between clauses with a complementiser
(the factual complementiser ZE) and those without any; I'm omitting
diacritics in the examples:

1a. REKLA, ZE ANO "she said yes"
1b. REKLA, ZE NE "she said no"

2a. REKLA ANO "she said “yes”"
2b. REKLA NE "she said “no”"

I think the traditional distinction between ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ speech
captures the difference between (1) and (2) quite well. Option (1) is the
regular way of reporting a yes/no utterance, while the absence of the
complementiser in (2) appears to invoke a greater immediacy of the reported
event. It’s also used in contexts when the speaker puts a ‘metalinguistic
focus’ on the reported utterance: one would use it when, for example,
paralinguistic features of someone’s yes/no utterance are imitated, or when
reporting an institutionalised yes/no utterance, such as the “yes” (“I do”)
of a wedding ceremony (2a’). Here there is even a neuter agreement of the
possessive reflexive with the “yes” word, giving it a status of a
‘metalinguistic’ noun.

2a’. REKLA MU SVE ANO [she.said to.him REFL.POSS.NEU yes]

With cognition matrix predicates such as “think” or “believe” only option
(1) is available. There are no complications of the English type (I THINK
SO/NOT), so Czech is like Italian in this respect.

A third way to report a yes/no utterance is of course through a lexical verb
such as “agree” (3), which however can also be used to report on a more
elaborate event involving agreement or disagreement.

3a. SOUHLASILA “she agreed”
3b. NESOUHLASILA “she didn’t agree”

Option (3), in addition to (1) but not (2), can be used when reporting a
vocal yes/no gesture. A more explicit report on a vocal yes/no gesture would
contain the verbs “say” or “do, make” (never “go”), no complementiser, and
the vocal gesture itself (4). The lack of the complementiser here is shared
with the ‘direct’/’metalinguistic’ option (2).

4. REKLA/UDELALA (vocal.gesture) “she said/did (vocal.gesture)”


Viktor Elšík (Elsik)

> Department of General Linguistics and Finno-Ugric Studies
> Faculty of Arts and Humanities
> Charles University
> Prague

Email: viktor_elsik at

On 6/4/06 22:15, "Nigel Vincent" <nbvint at YAHOO.CO.UK> wrote:

> A question that has always interested me about 'yes'
> and 'no' is how they are reported. In English it's
> straightforward: you say 'he said no' or 'they said
> yes'. In French the yes/no word is introduced by a
> complementizer ('il a dit que oui), more specifically
> by a complementizer otherwise reserved for finite
> constructions, whereas in Italian the connecting word
> is 'di' which is either the complementizer for
> infinitival clauses or an item which introduces a
> nominal (cf 'più intelligente di Giorgio' = 'more
> intelligent than George'): thus 'ha detto di no' = 'he
> said no'. But what about when the yes/no word is what
> people have been calling a 'vocal gesture'? In English
> reports of non-linguistic sounds are introduced by
> 'go' not 'say': thus "he went 'uh-uh'" not *he said
> 'uh-uh'. However, even if someone made a vocal
> gesture, I think it would be reasonable to report it
> as 'he said yes' meaning simply 'he gave his consent'.
> But in English you can't say *'I believe yes/no'
> whereas in Italian you can say 'credo di sì/no'.
> How does reporting 'yes/no' words work in other
> languages?
> Nigel
> Professor Nigel Vincent, School of Languages, Linguistics & Cultures,
> University of Manchester, Manchester, M13 9PL, UK.
> Tel: +44-(0)161-275-3194    Fax: +44-(0)161-275-3031
> ___________________________________________________________
> Win a BlackBerry device from O2 with Yahoo!. Enter now.

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