YesNo: Affirmative and rejective responses to negative assertions and questions

Principal investigators:
Prof. Dr. Manfred Krifka (HU Berlin, 2014-17)
Prof. Dr. Sophie Repp
Universiät zu Köln

Project description:
The project continues the investigation of affirmative and rejective responses to negative assertions and polar questions with response particles (‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘ja’, ‘nein’, ‘doch’ etc.) from the first funding period of XPrag.de. The results obtained in the first funding period have been quite surprising in several ways and require more extended and more in-depth analysis, as well as further systematic quantitative empirical testing. First, we found differences between the languages under investigation (German/English) that were unexpected for existing theoretical accounts of response particles. A comparison with a third language (Dutch) revealed more cross-linguistic differences. Second, we found great interindividual variation in the acceptability of response particles to the extent that speakers showed opposite preferences in specific (language-dependent) dialogue types. Third, we unexpectedly found subtle differences between responses to negative questions and negative assertions in German and in English. Fourth, the exploration of factors that overall are crucial for a good understanding of response particles and propositional anaphors in general, like the availability of positive and negative propositions – although still in its initial stages – has yielded promising results for a more intensive investigation.
In the second funding period we plan to further scrutinize these findings and fill gaps in the empirical coverage that have arisen as a consequence of the unexpected findings, with the goal to create a suitable database for a thorough theoretical evaluation. The empirical work to be carried out will consist in (A) an extension of the range of languages under investigation, (B) an extension to various types of biased antecedents, (C) an investigation of prosodic factors, (D) an investigation of responses with propositional anaphors beyond ‘yes’ and ‘no’. We expect from these investigations a clearer understanding of the interplay of grammar (syntax, semantics and prosody) and individual preferences both with respect to response particles and with respect to anaphoric processes in the realm of propositions. Furthermore, we expect to gain better insights into the issue if, and if so, how factors like speaker bias, which do not normally enter the analyses of response particles may contribute to the use of these particles.