CRILLS      Leverhulme

The Syntax of Yes and No

The funded part of the project was completed 30th of September 2013. The work on some of the publications continues, in particular the monograph The Syntax of Yes and No, to appear with Oxford University Press. The following is a summary of the project proposal, written in 2011.

The project is funded by a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, for 24 months starting October 2011. The aim is to accomplish two related tasks: (a) a survey of forms of answers, affirmative as well as negative, to polar questions (yes/no-questions) in the languages of the world, and (b) an investigation of the syntactic structure of the different types of answers encountered: What do they have in common, how do they differ? The following are some salient differences among languages as regards answers to polar questions:

The echo-type clearly involves sentential ellipsis, so the project has theoretical implications for the syntax of ellipsis and focus, in addition to having implications for the syntax of negation, affirmation, and interrogation. A hypothesis to be investigated is that particle answers are also derived by ellipsis.

What is the range of variation? How can we explain these different strategies? One hypothesis is that these are different strategies employed to avoid including the negation of the question in the elliptical, affirmative reply. One task is, then, to investigate the variety of reply forms found across languages, and check if this hypothesis is right.

The first stage of the project will include collection of data from a large set of languages, sampled so as to adequately reflect the genetic and areal variation among the world’s languages. In the second stage, a small set of languages will be investigated in detail, with a view to providing a detailed syntactic analysis of different forms of answers, and characterising in precise, formal terms the variation among the languages.

The syntax of yes and no

Anders Holmberg, Newcastle University

Last updated on 1st January 2014