Emphatic repetition instead of "yes"

Discussion in 'All Languages' started by DreamerX, Jul 2, 2014.

  1. DreamerX Member

    I don’t know if this is true, but I heard that in some world languages, the equivalents of “yes” and “no” (especially “yes”) are seldom used to answer closed-ended questions. Instead, what happens is that the person answering the question reiterates whatever was asked in an affirmative tone of voice. Thus, if the asker needed to know whether the beef was in the fridge­ (as opposed to being on the dinner table), the answerer would say “In the fridge” instead of “Yes.” A few other examples like this would be:

    QUESTION: Are you doing your homework?
    ANSWER: Doing. (Yes, I am.)

    QUESTION: Did you call the handyman?
    ANSWER: Called. (Yes, I did.)

    QUESTION: Will you attend the reception at the hotel?
    ANSWER: Attend. (Yes, I will.)

    QUESTION: Are you at the department store?
    ANSWER: At the department store. (Yes, I am.)

    The above exchanges are simply unnatural to a native English speaker. There is no way that an affirmative effect can be achieved without using the word “Yes” or a stronger equivalent thereof such as “Definitely” or “Of course.” However, I have heard that in some languages, the above scenarios are the norm and the equivalent of “yes” might even stick out like a sore thumb in a casual conversation. Do these types of dialogues work in your language? If so, are they widespread or do they belong to a particular social class/regional dialect? In English, I don’t think there are any dialects with these kinds of speech patterns. Also, if it does exist, is there a difference in terms of the time periods these patterns were common. That is, are they modern, slightly old-fashioned, extremely archaic, etc.? Finally, what is the situation like with regard to answering questions in the negative? Does the above also apply to instances where the word “no” would be used in English?
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2014
  2. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Hi DreamerX,

    There are definitely languages where it is normal to repeat the conjugated verb of the question when giving an affirmative answer.

    For example, in Welsh:

    Wyt ti'n 'neud dy waith cartref? "Are you doing your homework?"
    Ydw. "I am."

    Fyddi di'n mynd i'r priodas? "Will you be going to the wedding?"
    Byddaf. "I will (be)."

    If you were answering these questions in the negative, you would add na(g) at the beginning: nag ydw, na fyddaf.

    Even in English, it's not unheard of to repeat the subject and verb of the question when giving an answer ("I am", "We are", "He did not", etc.), without saying "yes" or "no" directly.

    However, in the examples you wrote above, it isn't the conjugated verb that is repeated in the answer, but a different part of the question sentence, and I don't know which (if any) languages this is normal in.
  3. DreamerX Member

    Now that you mention it, Gavril, I feel that I have not explained my point clearly in my first post. However, I would like to point out that the examples you have provided are in fact auxiliary verbs. In other words, they are verbs that do not serve the primary function of the sentence. You are right that auxiliary verbs are commonly repeated by native English speakers when answering a closed-ended question. I’m not familiar with Welsh, but in English, the “Yes” or “No” part would only be omitted if someone were in a state of total exasperation (e.g. “Are you doing your homework?” “I AM, okay?”). Under any other circumstance, the marker “Yes” would be used. However, I was asking about languages where the emphasis rests on nouns (either the subject or the object) or functional verbs and the equivalents of “yes” and “no” are seldom used in everyday conversation. In one of the examples provided above, the person answering the question is reiterating that he is at the department store as opposed to being at the cinema, for example. In English, you will most likely hear “yes” accompanied by the conjugated auxiliary verb, and the “yes” will only disappear if the speaker is flustered. In another example, the answerer is reaffirming the fact that he is doing [his homework] instead of chilling with his buddies. It’s not the auxiliary verb that gets repeated, but one of the functional words of the sentence, and without the benefit of a “yes” or “no.” I’m wondering if there are indeed languages like that. It’s likely that this mode of conversation is more common among native speakers of languages that have no auxiliary verbs, but you can never be certain.
  4. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    There are also languages in which non-auxiliary verbs are "echoed" when answering questions: e.g., I think in Portuguese you could say

    A: Você achou o seu celular? "Did you find your cellphone?"
    B: Achei. "(Yes,) I found (it)"

    I find it perfectly normal for an adult speaker to answer questions with "I am", "He did", "I don't", etc., though these answers might have a slightly different tone than "Yes"/"No".

    (I'm not contradicting what you said, it just doesn't agree with my experience of American English.)
  5. Radioh

    Radioh Senior Member

    Sydney, Australia
    Interesting thread :)
    Hope it helps.
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2014
  6. arielipi Senior Member

    In hebrew you can hear mostly yes, but it is ok and not weird if one repeats the verb used in the question (as the verb denotes tense and person)
  7. Maroseika Moderator

    This is very common way to answer in Russian (probably, in other Slavic languages, too). In many cases simple answer "yes" or "no" would sound too formal or cold.
    I suspect this is mostly peculiar to the languages with personal endings (or other indicators) of the verbs and free order of verbs.
  8. arielipi Senior Member

    In hebrew it's rather the other way around, repeating the verb shows (most of the times) impatience or annoyance (yes mom, im doing my homework!) (i called him, i called him).
    Hebrew has both person notation verbs and free order of (almost) anything (except for adjectives - they accompany the word but retain free order inside this companionship).
    Usually if the verb comes at the very end of the sentence it denotes high annoyance or impatience (because i said!).
    Generally speaking, we speak in person + verb + rest of the sentence in day to day conversations, other orderings are either to dramatize/build tension or keep some information as a mystery/surprise; and lastly as formal/high approach.
  9. Maroseika Moderator

    In Russian free order of words is also used to express semantic stress and other nuances (SVO is usually neutral). But what I meant is that due to the free order such phrases as "Called." do not look unnatural, like in English. It looks quite natural even as a question:
    - Called?
    - Called.
  10. mataripis

    mataripis Senior Member

    Same case in Tagalog but if the one who ask question need the yes or no answer.do it.because answering the question outside yes or no means there are hidden agenda(oldies).
  11. bibax Senior Member

    Czech (Prague)
    I agree. It is very common in Czech as well.


    - Slyšíš mě? (Do you hear me?)
    - Slyším. (I hear [you].)
    - Neslyším. (I don't hear [you].) - quite a paradoxical answer

    - Můžeš to udělat? (Can you do it?)
    - Mohu. (I can.)
    - Nemohu. (I cannot.)

    future (we answer with the auxiliary verb meaning shall/will/shan't/won't, never with the infinitive):

    - Budeš mě poslouchat? (Will you obey me?)
    - Budu. (I shall.)
    - Nebudu. (I shan't.)

    past and conditional (we answer with the l-participle, never with the auxiliary verb):

    - Viděl jsi ten film? (Have you seen the movie?)
    - Viděl. (*seen, but "seen" is not equivalent to the Slavic l-participle "viděl")
    - Neviděl.

    The simple answer Yes/No is considered too terse. In the elementary school we were forced to answer with the so called "whole sentence" (odpovídat celou větou):

    - Budeš mě poslouchat? = Will you obey me?
    - Ano. = Yes.
    - Odpovídej celou větou! = Answer with the whole sentence!
    - [Ano,] Budu vás poslouchat, soudružko učitelko. = [Yes,] I shall obey you, comrade teacheress. :eek:
  12. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I've heard that Irish (Gaelic, not English) doesn't possess the word "Yes".
  13. Словеса Senior Member

    In Russian, it's an option like any other (I think this is a much better way to phrase it). "Any other" also includes all kinds of answers like угу or ага. The verb may be repeated twice (Ты меня слышишь? — Слышу-слышу.) I don't think there is any reason to expect dependance on the verb conjugation for this. However, there is a reason not to expect it, provided by Radioh.
  14. Словеса Senior Member

    In Russian, it's the same. It's one of the uses for this construction.
  15. Словеса Senior Member

    Weird. In Russian, all pupils are taught to address their teachers with вы and via the name-patronymic name form. With differing success, I must say; most people succeed, but yet somehow people tend to avoid the name-patronymic form. It becomes intricate in higher education schools, where students are often too lazy to remember their teachers' names and patronymics. So the "universal" name becomes извините, and the "universal" patronymic becomes пожалуйста, overall giving "извините, пожалуйста" (excuse me, sir …) :eek:

    As for full sentences, for me it was associated mostly with foreign language lessons ("half the answer exists in the question!"); unfortunately, very little attention is given to the native language, people only talk and write in their schools somehow, and teachers are supposed to decipher what their pupils wrote or told.
  16. DreamerX Member

    You’re right, of course. My bad. It’s just that I was wondering specifically about languages where it’s the more functional words that get echoed rather than auxiliary verbs, and the words “yes” and “no” are not particularly a consideration in an informal setting. I did neglect to mention that auxiliary verbs may also be echoed by adult speakers of American English without saying “Yes” and “No.” However, I still stand by my case that phrases such as “I am,” “He did,” or “I don’t” are slightly more formal and less common than equivalents that include “Yes” and “No,” or “Yes” and “No” as standalone words. For example, at weddings, the bride and groom say “I do” to one another. If “I do” were replaced with “Yes” or “Yes, I do,” it would sound way too colloquial for the occasion. From what I’m reading on this thread, though, it looks like it’s exactly the opposite in most other languages.
  17. Saluton Banned

    Moscow, Russia
    As mentioned above, what you wrote in the first post is absolutely true for Russian and for many other languages, too. However, one of your examples,
    doesn't work for Russian. We would say "will attend" or, in other contexts, simply "will" can work, but not just the notional verb in the present tense. I suppose it's the same in other languages.
  18. Radioh

    Radioh Senior Member

    Sydney, Australia
    Just want to add some information :) In Vietnamese, we tend to say just "uhm, attend". To me "will attend" and "will" sound equally odd. if we want to be formal, we will say "Yes, I will attend".
  19. Словеса Senior Member

    In Vietnamese, there is no conjugation and there are no verbal tenses or verbal persons, so I suppose it's not the same for them… Though it is better to ask Radioh for clarifications (is it just a bare verb word, or something else has to accompany it). I suppose that it may be any way, including one cited by Dreamer: there are close to no limits for grammar.
    PS: cross-posted. Thank you, Radioh!
  20. bibax Senior Member

    Czech (Prague)
    Because in Russian/Czech/etc. the notional verb is in the infinitive form. So we answer with the auxiliary shall/will that is conjugated (budu, budeš, ...).

    In the present tense there is no auxiliary, so we answer with the conjugated form of the notional or modal verbs.

    In Czech the simple answer Yes/No sounds incomplete (perhaps because we are taught in school to answer with the full sentence). When talking to a superior person the standalone Yes/No is considered disrespectful. We must add the address at least: ano, pane ministře (ja, herr minister; yes, minister isn't enough); ano, paní/soudružko* učitelko (yes, madam/comrade* teacheress**).

    *soudružko (female comrade), before 1990
    **the male teachers are very rare in our elementary schools
  21. Словеса Senior Member

    I tried to think how we express agreement when we need to be formal, and I think that we mostly say things like совершенно верно, or справедливо, or согласен с вами ("very true", "I agree with you"). Answering with the full sentence is good from the academic point of view (it helps to avoid ambiguity and compels people to express what they really think), but it is not a requirement of politeness, so few people ever do that, unless they indeed need to be precise. Answering with a bare verb is a colloquial form of speaking, anyway. Overall, with expressing agreement, the usual rule applies: "there is more than one way to say it".
  22. bibax Senior Member

    Czech (Prague)
    Answering with the full sentence would certainly prevent many air disasters.
  23. Radioh

    Radioh Senior Member

    Sydney, Australia
    You are right, Словеса :) It's just a bare verb; nothing accompanies it. And you're also right that Vietnamese has no verb tenses nor conjugation. As for auxiliary, we don't have the helping verb "do" but we have "sẽ", which means will/shall. Ah,... You're very welcome :D
  24. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    Similarly in Greek as well, a few examples in past, present and future tenses:

    -«Με ακούς;» [me a'kus?] --> do you hear me?
    -«Ακούω» [a'ku.o] --> I hear.

    -«Μπορείς να πάς;» [bo'ris na pas?] --> can you go?
    -«Μπορώ» [bo'ro] --> I can

    -«Πήρες τον τεχνίτη;» ['pires ton te'xniti?] --> did you call the handyman?
    -«Πήρα» ['pira] --> I called

    -«Θα έρθεις στη δεξίωση;» [θa 'erθis sti ðe'ksi.osi?] --> wiil you come to the party?
    -«Θα έρθω» [θa 'erθo] --> I'll come

    I agree with Gavril, in languages with conjugated verbs according to the person, it's normal to repeat the verb of the question when giving an affirmative answer. And I agree with Maroseika too, a simple yes or no would sound too formal or cold.
  25. Словеса Senior Member

    Just like the repetition of a bare verb could.
    Why do you think it depends on this? There are not enough data even to establish correlation, let alone causation.
  26. DreamerX Member

    Just so you don’t get too confused, I omitted the personal pronouns in my examples in order to portray more accurately the way I thought affirmative responses were given in other languages. None of the dialogues in my first post were meant to reproduce what would come naturally to a native English speaker. In many other languages, where there is a separate verb conjugation for each personal pronoun, the latter is usually omitted because it is implied in the verb endings. In English, that is simply not possible, but I transplanted this formula onto my examples to showcase what turned out to be a reality in many languages.

    Having said that, it seems that English, especially the American variety, is indeed unique among world languages in how closed-ended questions are handled. Compared to what has been said so far on this thread, “Yes” and “No” are extremely common in everyday conversation, even as standalone words. Phrases involving auxiliary verbs can be repeated without saying “Yes” or “No,” but the intonation is either more solemn or, conversely, more hysterical (see the examples from my previous posts). Echoing notional verbs while dropping both markers and auxiliary verbs, not to mention personal pronouns, is simply unheard of in English, even in the myriad regional dialects. It looks like the opposite is the case in most other languages, though.

    However, I was also wondering if the same applied to subjects and objects rather than verbs. Consider the following dialogues, one of which I had mentioned previously:

    QUESTION: Are you at the department store?
    ANSWER: At the department store.

    QUESTION: Are you there?
    ANSWER: There.

    QUESTION: Is the painting up on the wall?
    ANSWER: Up on the wall.

    Does the same principle apply to nouns and adverbs as well as notional verbs in your language?
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2014
  27. Saluton Banned

    Moscow, Russia
    Of course. Applies :)
  28. Radioh

    Radioh Senior Member

    Sydney, Australia
    These answers do not sound natural for me though my younger brother uses them all the time. But I can say "up on the wall (already)" if asked "Have you hung the painting up on the wall yet ?".
  29. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Quite correct. That's probably the most common way to reply to a question. (And a tell-tale mistake of Portuguese speakers in other languages like English.)

    I would say exactly the same about Portuguese. Just "yes" or (a bit less so) just "no" comes off as blunt.

    P.S. I think the word "emphatic" was a bit misapplied in the title of this thread, but as a matter of fact in Portuguese we even reduplicate the verb when we really want to reiterate something in the reply to a question. For example:

    "Did you hear that?"
    "I sure did!"

    «Ouviste aquilo?»
    «Ouvi, ouvi!» [I heard, I heard!]

    "She didn't say that..."
    "Oh, yes, she did!"

    «Ela não disse isso...!»
    «Disse, disse!» [She said, she said!]
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2014
  30. Словеса Senior Member

    No connection, in my opinion.
  31. Словеса Senior Member

    There are no such mistakes by Russians, of course.
  32. Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Hauts-de-Seine, France
    English (Ireland)
    That is correct, there are no single words for Yes and No in Irish (or Scottish Gaelic), which is why when speaking English, Irish people will often repeat the verb instead of merely saying yes or no.

    Are you coming later?
    I am.
  33. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    Or "I am, to be sure." :D

Share This Page