You say yes, I say no: Investigating the link between meaning and form in response particles

Mora Maldonado*, Jennifer Culbertson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Response particles, like English ‘yes’ and ‘no’, are used to respond to polar questions or assertions and are found in all languages. However, the number of particles and the specific meanings they convey vary across languages. For example, in some languages particles mainly convey whether the response itself is positive or negative, while in others they convey whether the response is agreeing or disagreeing with previous discourse. Further, some languages have two response particles, while others have three, or even four. Recent work suggests that how meanings tend to be mapped to forms cross-linguistically might nevertheless be constrained. Roelofsen & Farkas (2015) suggest that indicating disagreement with a negative question or assertion (e.g., A: ‘Ally doesn’t eat meat.’ B: ‘Yes, he does.’) is more marked than indicating agreement with a positive assertion (e.g., A: ‘Ally eats meat.’ B: ‘Yes, he does’.). This difference in semantic markedness is argued to lead to a difference in form: more marked meanings are mapped to more specialized forms. Here we investigate this hypothesis in a series of behavioral experiments. Across our experiments, we find that participants are indeed sensitive to the differences in meaning that particles can convey. However, not all of the differences implicated by the hierarchy hypothesized in Roelofsen & Farkas (2015) are supported by our results, and we find evidence highlighting an unexpected special role for Positive Agreement—the least marked meaning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-41
JournalGlossa: A Journal of General Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • semantics
  • syntax
  • response particles
  • artificial language learning
  • typology


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