Author Topic: "No, I wouldn't do it!" - is No illogical  (Read 5617 times)

Offline vanilla

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"No, I wouldn't do it!" - is No illogical
« on: February 01, 2019, 07:01:01 AM »
Here is our dialog:
Husband: Our daughter said you ate the whole pizza.
Wife: No, I would never do that.
Husband: You can't say "No".  It is illogical and incorrect to dispute the fact that she said that.

We are married 20 years and live in the US, he is american, I am not.
I always use, "No, I didn't do it. or No, I wouldn't do it. or No, I wouldn't have done it etc
Obviously, i am not denying the fact that she said that.( "No" refers to my position/statement that i would never eat whole pizza.)
Am i wrong using No in this case?

Offline Daniel

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Re: "No, I wouldn't do it!" - is No illogical
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2019, 09:42:20 AM »
First off, linguists don't use the terms "right" and "wrong" like that. We don't tell you how you should speak (prescriptivism), but instead just describe how people actually do speak (descriptivism). By the way, this is especially relevant in the case of dialectal (or just individual) variation, and it should be obvious why assuming there is a single way everyone "should" speak doesn't actually work out in understanding how language works in the real world. And also, language just doesn't follow "logic", especially not if imposed on how language "should" work without fully understanding it at a technical level. (For example, "double negatives" aren't actually double negatives at all, just agreeing forms like "I can't see nothing" where "nothing" agrees with "can't" for the speakers who use this form. It's not illogical, actually perfectly logical, under the logic of their grammars, though not the grammars of other dialects.)

In this case, you're finding that yes/no can refer to different aspects of the original question (or statement, in this case). A proposition is essentially a linguistic claim, e.g., a statement of fact. Here one proposition is the husband reporting that the daughter said something, and another proposition is what the daughter said. One is embedded in the other, but we can still consider them separately, which is what the "no" was doing in the original response.

The flexibility results in ambiguity, where we aren't sure exactly what "yes" or "no" means in a context, and sometimes this can lead to genuine confusion or lack of success in communication. But it doesn't stop us from doing it.

An interesting example of this is the fairly common American response "yeah, no!", roughly meaning "I agree with you about the concept behind what you are saying or your assumption that it would be weird for me to say yes, and the specific point does not apply." For example, "You didn't spend all of our money buying french fries, did you!?" -- "Yeah, no!"

In the end, all that can be said is that context matters and if it isn't clear enough in context, clarification might be needed. The original example isn't even as complex as the one I just gave, because there are two obvious distinct claims (propositions) in the original statement, so it shouldn't be too surprising you can choose to respond to either one.
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