[Lingtyp] Polarity-reversing particle

Elena Moser elemoser at gmail.com
Mon Jan 7 14:21:56 UTC 2019

Dear all,

Do you know of a polarity-reversing particle in the language(s) you
speak/work on?

A short definition and examples follow below.

Polarity-reversing particles are particles that function as positive
answers to negative questions; however, in contrast to other answer
particles such as *yes* and *no*, they specifically express disagreement
with the negative proposition of the questions.

Some examples come below. The abbreviation REV indicates a
polarity-reversing particle. This term was coined by Holmberg (2016: 6).


Q. Är det inte varm idag?

[is it not hot today]

It’s not hot today?

A. Jo (det är det)!

[REV it is it]

Yes, it is!


Q. Hast du deine Hausaufgaben nicht gemacht?

[have you your homework not done]

Have you not done your homework?

A. Doch (gestern schon)!

[REV yesterday already]

Yes, (I have already done them yesterday) !


Q. Il n’est pas là Basil?

[he NEG=be NEG here B. ]

Isn’t Basil here?

A. Si!


Yes, he is!


Q. Ők nem beszélnek angolul?

[3PL no speak.3PL English]

They don’t speak English?

A. De.


Yes, they do.

Data from a previous cross-linguistic investigation on answers to polarity
questions suggest that polarity-reversing particles are predominantly found
in Germanic languages (see Moser 2018). This result is congruent with
findings in Da Milano’s (2004) study on the Mediterranean area. However,
currently, there is no good cross-linguistic dataset about this feature;
consequently, a broader assessment of its distribution is not warranted.

For my final project at the master’s level, I want to explore the
distribution of polarity-reversing particles in a more in-depth study. In
order to do this, I will make use of all resources available to me
(reference grammars, etymological dictionaries, language corpora, etc.).
Because information on polarity-reversing particles is scarce, I greatly
appreciate any help.


Da Milano, Federica. 2004. Le domande sì/no nelle lingue del mediterraneo.
Archivio Glottologico Italiano, 1. 3–40.

Holmberg, Anders. 2016. The syntax of yes and no. Oxford: Oxford University

Moser, Elena V. 2018. Answers to Polarity Questions: A Typological Study.
Retrieved 2018-09-20,
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