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On the evolutionary history of 'yes' and 'no'

Toyota, Junichi LU (2009) In Studies in language and cognition p.485-498
Abstract
Small words like ‘yes’ and ‘no’ play an important part in our daily communication, but do we clearly know where they come from? Their origin is rather mysterious. We do not know if we need these words at all, since some languages manage without them. For instance, speakers of Celtic languages answer affirmatively and negatively by repeating verbs. However, functional motivations to have ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are obvious, since they are economical, and even those languages without obvious ‘yes’ and ‘no’ terms tend to form some sort of informational verbal signs corresponding to them. Our hypothesis is that in an initial stage ‘no’ is derived from a negation marker, and then becomes an independent word. Since the negative answer can be given with... (More)
Small words like ‘yes’ and ‘no’ play an important part in our daily communication, but do we clearly know where they come from? Their origin is rather mysterious. We do not know if we need these words at all, since some languages manage without them. For instance, speakers of Celtic languages answer affirmatively and negatively by repeating verbs. However, functional motivations to have ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are obvious, since they are economical, and even those languages without obvious ‘yes’ and ‘no’ terms tend to form some sort of informational verbal signs corresponding to them. Our hypothesis is that in an initial stage ‘no’ is derived from a negation marker, and then becomes an independent word. Since the negative answer can be given with ‘no’, its affirmative counterpart is required. A number of features in linguistic structures are organized in binary pairs, and this is one such case. By revealing the history of ‘yes’ and ‘no’, one can detect one aspect of cognitive evolution in human communication, in a sense that the ever-growing demands for effective communication forced speakers to invent a new tactic based on a binary opposition to allow smoother communication. (Less)
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author
organization
publishing date
type
Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceeding
publication status
published
subject
in
Studies in language and cognition
editor
Zlatev, Jordan and Andrén, Mats
pages
485 - 498
publisher
Cambridge Scholars Publishing
ISBN
978-1-4438-0174-4
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
146f24de-1a1a-4094-ac48-057ed9285c33 (old id 1369066)
date added to LUP
2009-04-03 15:42:05
date last changed
2016-04-16 07:50:47
@misc{146f24de-1a1a-4094-ac48-057ed9285c33,
  abstract     = {Small words like ‘yes’ and ‘no’ play an important part in our daily communication, but do we clearly know where they come from? Their origin is rather mysterious. We do not know if we need these words at all, since some languages manage without them. For instance, speakers of Celtic languages answer affirmatively and negatively by repeating verbs. However, functional motivations to have ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are obvious, since they are economical, and even those languages without obvious ‘yes’ and ‘no’ terms tend to form some sort of informational verbal signs corresponding to them. Our hypothesis is that in an initial stage ‘no’ is derived from a negation marker, and then becomes an independent word. Since the negative answer can be given with ‘no’, its affirmative counterpart is required. A number of features in linguistic structures are organized in binary pairs, and this is one such case. By revealing the history of ‘yes’ and ‘no’, one can detect one aspect of cognitive evolution in human communication, in a sense that the ever-growing demands for effective communication forced speakers to invent a new tactic based on a binary opposition to allow smoother communication.},
  author       = {Toyota, Junichi},
  editor       = {Zlatev, Jordan and Andrén, Mats},
  isbn         = {978-1-4438-0174-4},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {485--498},
  publisher    = {ARRAY(0xa44f4d8)},
  series       = {Studies in language and cognition},
  title        = {On the evolutionary history of 'yes' and 'no'},
  year         = {2009},
}