The origins of 'yes' and 'no'
How do you communicate 'yes' and 'no'?
It might seem that ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are simple. We use them hundreds of times every day. However, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are extraordinary because they have paralinguistic and extralinguistic equivalents: in addition to verbal yes and no, we have vocalised ‘yes’ and ‘no’ (uh huh and uh-uh in English) and gesture ‘yes’ and ‘no’ (nodding and shaking the head in English-speaking cultures). This trimodality — language, vocalisation and gesture — is quite exceptional, making ‘yes’ and ‘no’ a potentially significant area of research in understanding the origins of human communication.
I would like to know how you communicate ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in your language and culture. To take part in the survey, please click here
To read more about how we communicate ‘yes’ and ‘no’, click here
I am also researching dialectal words for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in England and America. To read more about jearse/jess and dow, click here
Dr Stephen Howe is a professor of English and linguistics at Fukuoka University in Japan but grew up in the East of England. In 2018, he was a Visiting Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge University. His research on the origins of “yes” and “no” is funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.
Read more about my research below
Jess and Dow: The ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ of New England’s Great Migration
Do you know these dialect words for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in England and America?