The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Linguistics Colloquium 10/14 - Anders Holmberg

SPEAKER: Anders Holmberg — Newcastle University
TIME: 3:30 PM, Friday 10/14
LOCATION: 32-141
TITLE: On the Syntax of Yes and No in English


The paper discusses systems of answering yes/no- questions in general, as background to a discussion of two theories articulating the idea that answers to yes/no-questions are derived by propositional ellipsis under identity with the proposition of the question. The first theory is articulated by Kramer & Rawlins (2009,2010), the other is based on Holmberg (2001, 2007). The paper focuses on a particularly vexing case of answers to negative questions in English: the ambiguity of yes as an answer to negative questions with the negation not (called ‘negative neutralization’ by Kramer & Rawlins). It is argued that the ambiguity is due to the structural ambiguity of not, as either negating the sentence or constituent-negating the predicate. An argument is also presented that affirmative declaratives have an affirmative polarity head, a counterpart of the negative polarity head of negative declaratives.