Tuesday, May 31, 2011


This form of our "negative reply" dates to the early 13th century from the Old English adverb na ("never, "), which came from ne + a ("not, no" + "ever"). Both combined forms ultimately derive from Proto-Indo-European: ne from *ne- ("no, not") and a from *aiw- ("vital force, life, long life, eternity"). *Aiw- is also the forebear of aye ("assent"). The adjective no meaning "not any" dates to the 1200's and comes from Old English nan, the forebear of none.

As English speakers, yes and no are a basic and fundamental part of language. Actually, in every language the ability to express agreement and disagreement are basic and fundamental, but not every system is as simplistic as ours. Chinese, for example, doesn't really have a word for yes and no word for no. Instead, speakers echo the question with their answer. For example: Shi bu shi? asks "Is it?", the answer is either Shi ("It is") or Bu shi ("It isn't"). It is also possible for a language to have multiple versions of yes and no that are used in different contexts. In Middle English yea, nay, yes, and no were all used. Yea and nay answered questions that were framed positively ("Are you coming?") while yes and no answered negatively framed questions ("Are you not coming?").

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