[Lingtyp] R: Does bipolar polysemy exist?

Elisa Roma frisella at iol.it
Fri Jun 1 18:00:42 UTC 2018

Dear Ian, dear typologists,

in Italian 

‘Assolutamente’ (absolutely)

is currently used both  as a positive and a negative answer to polar
questions, as well as to express confirmation/agreement/consent or
disagreement/denial to a statement or invitation.  This usage is registered
for example in the online Treccani dictionary at this link
http://www.treccani.it/vocabolario/assolutamente, which suggests that, in
order to avoid misunderstandings, the use of an explicit answer, i.e. with
yes or no (‘assolutamente sì/no’), is preferable.1  This is an echo of a
widespread proscription.


An answer with ‘Assolutamente’ is generally not a simple yes or no answer,
but this “special semantics”, as has been termed, holds for both yes and no.


I have a feeling that younger speakers tend to use this form more frequently
as a positive answer, as I think with English ‘Absolutely’, but I have no
data and cannot  prove it. Also, I have a feeling that head movements (meant
as gestures :)) conventionally used for yes vs. no may frequently accompany
these answers but I have no evidence whatever. Neither do I have evidence
concerning diverging intonation or vowel length or something else which
regularly or frequently correlates with yes but not no or viceversa. What I
can say as a native speaker is that ‘Assolutamente’ frequently makes me a
puzzled addressee, but my puzzling ends in a few seconds (rough measure),
usually thanks to what I then hear or see.


This case confirms the hypotheses laid down by Maia Ponsonnet about the
diachronic sources of this kind of polysemy, but shows that both negative
and affirmative markers can be elided. I would suggest that the phoric
anchoring typical of responsives or other expressions has a bearing on the
emergence of this kind of polysemy.   


Thank you.




1Nelle risposte, è com. l’uso di assolutamente da solo, non seguito da sì o
no, ma è preferibile, per non generare equivoci, ricorrere sempre alla
formula più esplicita: Siete d’accordo? Assolutamente sì. Sei stanco?
Assolutamente no.]


Elisa Roma, PhD

General and Celtic Linguistics

Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici

Università di Pavia


 <mailto:elisa.roma at unipv.it> elisa.roma at unipv.it








Da: Lingtyp [mailto:lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org] Per conto di
Joo Ian
Inviato: giovedì 31 maggio 2018 12.57
A: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
Oggetto: [Lingtyp] Does bipolar polysemy exist?


Dear all,


I would like to know if the following universal claim holds:


There exists no lexeme that can mean X and the negation of X. (For example,
no lexeme can express “to go” and “to not go”).


I wonder if such “bipolar polysemy” exists in any lexeme, because I cannot
think of any, and whether this claim is truly universal.

I would appreciate to know if there is any counter-evidence.


>From Hong Kong,

Ian Joo


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