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Specializations => Semantics and Pragmatics => Topic started by: zaba on May 03, 2014, 03:42:47 AM

Title: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: zaba on May 03, 2014, 03:42:47 AM
Words like 'yes' (EN), 'si' (ES), dui' (MC), ja (DE) are all ?? agreement markers ??

>> Is this the right word? "agreement marker"? If not, what's a better choice?
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: Daniel on May 03, 2014, 10:36:57 AM
Well, "no" is a disagreement marker, then, so I don't think that's broad enough.

There are various terms like "discourse particle" you could use but I'd think that just talking about "yes" and "no" would be enough. Is that a problem?


In my opinion, these are actually pro-forms, like pronouns but for whole sentences. That's not widely used terminology though :)
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: lx on May 03, 2014, 03:18:43 PM
In my opinion, these are actually pro-forms, like pronouns but for whole sentences.
Can you elaborate? Not that I have spent much/any time thinking about this question, but I don't think with time I'd reach such a conclusion. So, my curiosity has awoken :)

Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: Daniel on May 03, 2014, 03:42:34 PM
In a language like Latin, the answer for "yes" is to repeat the verb in the question:
A: Did you read the book?
B: I read. ['Yes.']

Therefore, I believe that the word yes or no is substituting for a whole sentence. Consider these other proforms:

John walked home then he went to sleep.
John walked home quickly, but Mary less so.
John went home by bus, but Mary did so by train.

Now consider (with the right intonation!):
John won the game, but Mary, no.
John didn't win the game, but Mary, yes.


A simple way to think about this is what part of speech these words are. I can only think that they substitute for full sentences.
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: lx on May 03, 2014, 04:10:17 PM
In a language like Latin, the answer for "yes" is to repeat the verb in the question:
A: Did you read the book?
B: I read. ['Yes.']

Therefore, I believe that the word yes or no is substituting for a whole sentence.
But how can you make an analysis of Latin, which clearly has this connection between confirmation via repetition of the matrix verb, and other languages that don't have that connection? I mean, it's certainly a valid hypothesis for Latin and languages that have that feature, but once the structure changes, it's effectively a different phenomena, no? If you had an explanation that validated the comparison across to yes-structures that don't involve such main verb repetition, it would be interesting to hear.
Quote
Consider these other proforms:

John walked home then he went to sleep.
John walked home quickly, but Mary less so.
John went home by bus, but Mary did so by train.

Now consider (with the right intonation!):
John won the game, but Mary, no.
John didn't win the game, but Mary, yes.


A simple way to think about this is what part of speech these words are. I can only think that they substitute for full sentences.
Okay, I get a better picture of the framing of the argument now.  Interesting. I suppose when an analysis is forced based in the reigning paradigm of syntax, this is a pretty decent hypothesis. Curiosity satisfied.
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: Daniel on May 03, 2014, 04:16:51 PM
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I mean, it's certainly a valid hypothesis for Latin and languages that have that feature, but once the structure changes, it's effectively a different phenomena, no?
I'm not sure about that-- it seems like the same structure to me. It is not literal, certainly, in that the event is constrained contextually. One could argue, I think effectively, that the tense on the verb is strictly bound by the tense in the original question. It's anaphoric in that sense.

Quote
I suppose when an analysis is forced based in the reigning paradigm of syntax, this is a pretty decent hypothesis.
Haha, not sure I think of it that way. I actually thought of this a long time ago when I was talking to a museum curator about how to label "yes" and "no" in discourse transcripts regarding immigration. I couldn't think of what they should be called. They're probably just boring old "adverbs" in traditional grammar, or we can be lazy and call them "particles", but that doesn't seem insightful to me. They seem to (with polarity) represent entire sentences. So I'll call them pro-sentences. I don't know of anyone else whose made a similar argument, though, so I may be out there on this one :D
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: MalFet on May 03, 2014, 09:07:48 PM
Treating yes/no as "pro-sentences" is a fairly mainstream notion (even wikipedia talks in these terms: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pro-sentence). It works for basic analysis, though it quickly gets thorny when you start in with second-order semantic configurations.

Ultimately, these issues aren't likely to be resolved anytime soon. Formal semantics is still quite primitive in its understanding and application of deixis, and that's ultimately what's at stake here.
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: Daniel on May 03, 2014, 09:10:44 PM
Oh, cool. I hadn't ever come across that :)
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: zaba on May 04, 2014, 12:36:51 AM
To elaborate, I'm interested in comparing the semantics of 'yes' (and Indo-European 'yes' words) with agreement markers which have a similar functions in other languages. Latin, as stated, has a different strategy as do other Amerindian languages which have words like 'like so' (so-comparative) to mean something like 'yes'.

But under what aegis are both 'yes', repetition strategies, and 'like-so'?
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: MalFet on May 04, 2014, 02:10:52 AM
To elaborate, I'm interested in comparing the semantics of 'yes' (and Indo-European 'yes' words) with agreement markers which have a similar functions in other languages. Latin, as stated, has a different strategy as do other Amerindian languages which have words like 'like so' (so-comparative) to mean something like 'yes'.

But under what aegis are both 'yes', repetition strategies, and 'like-so'?

Pragmatic function, I suppose.

Beyond that, there's almost certainly no syntactic category that could unify them all. After all, as you observe, they work very differently.
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: lx on May 04, 2014, 05:07:17 AM
though it quickly gets thorny when you start in with second-order semantic configurations.

Can you give an example of a second-order semantic configuration? I've not come across that concept before, and I wanted to understand the full point you were making.
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: MalFet on May 04, 2014, 07:58:10 PM
though it quickly gets thorny when you start in with second-order semantic configurations.

Can you give an example of a second-order semantic configuration? I've not come across that concept before, and I wanted to understand the full point you were making.

I just mean semantics based on second-order (and higher) logic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-order_logic). Particularly when you start getting into type theory, the utility of understanding yes/no as proforms starts to falter.

A very trivial example:
- Is John a jerk?
- Yes [="John is a jerk"]

- John is a jerk.
- It's mean to say yes [≠It's mean to say that John is a jerk]

Tthe substitution only works with first-order propositions, which has implications for how we understand words like yes and no as functional types. This suggests there's something else going on...something that requires more nuanced attention to discourse-level deixis.
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: Daniel on May 04, 2014, 08:26:44 PM
Quote
- It's mean to say yes [≠It's mean to say that John is a jerk]
Isn't that similar to many other phenomena of embedding regarding semantic interpretation? Intension/extension, de se / de re / de dicto?

I don't so much see that as an argument against it as much as motivation for establishing specific distributional criteria for the use (and interpretation) of the word. For one thing, yes/no seem to be a matrix phenomenon. It's very awkward for me to say "I think that yes", for example. (In fact, your sentence is, I think, ungrammatical for me, in a normal linguistic rather than quotative sense.)

But regardless, you're right-- it is not just a discourse level replacement with no questions asked.
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: MalFet on May 04, 2014, 09:10:42 PM
When you start applying substantially different distributional criteria to proforms, your type-level semantics get unbearably ugly very quickly. It's only a slight exaggeration to say that the entirety of Government and Binding was an attempt to deal with this problem.

In other words, postulating the existence of different distributional criteria doesn't fix the problem. It is the problem.
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: Daniel on May 04, 2014, 11:56:56 PM
Quote
It is the problem.
Ok, I agree. But isn't it a natural one?
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: MalFet on May 05, 2014, 03:50:35 AM
Quote
It is the problem.
Ok, I agree. But isn't it a natural one?

I'm not sure I understand the question. Why would treating yes/no as proforms be "natural"?
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: Daniel on May 05, 2014, 03:52:20 AM
They represent the sentence in some contexts and not others. Beyond that, just embedding them in general is odd syntactically, so I don't see a major additional step on working out the semantics including the varied contexts.
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: MalFet on May 05, 2014, 03:58:40 AM
They represent the sentence in some contexts and not others. Beyond that, just embedding them in general is odd syntactically, so I don't see a major additional step on working out the semantics including the varied contexts.

If you have some way to solve the type-level problems that come with treating yes/no as pro-forms, I'd encourage you to publish it. It will probably get you tenure.
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: Daniel on May 05, 2014, 03:25:05 PM
Avoid them? There appear to be embedding restrictions. Simple (though certainly not worthy of tenure, if that does indeed "solve" it).
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: MalFet on May 05, 2014, 07:39:19 PM
Avoid them? There appear to be embedding restrictions. Simple (though certainly not worthy of tenure, if that does indeed "solve" it).

Like I said, most of the work in formal semantics is very committed to the idea that pro-forms should not have distributional constraints substantially different than those of their antecedents. This goes all the way back to Frege and is tied in with some very important Big Ideas™.

If you don't feel bound by that notion, that's certainly your prerogative, but you should realize that you're scrapping pretty much everything that makes the notion of anaphora meaningful to most people. If that's what you're doing, why use the concept pro-forms at all? Calling this plain old deixis would be equally descriptive and far less misleading.
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: Daniel on May 06, 2014, 11:09:05 AM
I'm not convinced that your sentence is grammatical in the first place. That isn't about semantics.
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: MalFet on May 06, 2014, 05:16:52 PM
Of course it's not grammatical! That's the entire point!
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: Daniel on May 06, 2014, 05:21:55 PM
Binding principle D: sentential pro-forms may not be embedded.

This is true of lots of things, anyway, unrelated to semantics:

?It's true that the more you know the better you do on the test.
?It's true that drink one more beer and I'm leaving!
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: MalFet on May 06, 2014, 06:53:00 PM
I'm just repeating myself now, which is always a good sign that it's time to let go.

Formal semantics is, in general, very attached to the principle that pro-forms and antecedents should not have substantially different distributional constraints. You seem not to be. That's fine. I'm not here to sell you on analytic cognitivism. But, you asked for clarification on why treating yes/no as a pro-form is widely understood to be problematic, and the answer is that it leads to significant problems in type-level representations. Most intro to semantics courses cover this precisely because it's so basic to the discipline. To that end, the embedding problem is one among many. Others include polarity in negative questions ("You're not coming?" "No, I am./No, I'm not") and anaphora reassignment ("Are you Bill?" "Yes"[≠You are Bill]).

In other words, you can't have your cake and eat it, too. You can't scrap the principles of reference that undergird anaphora in formal semantics but then expect people to know what you mean when you call something a "pro-sentence". I'm sure it all feels intuitive, but the purpose of this kind of theory is to figure out which intuitions are sound and which are slights of hand. If you're looking for a good exposition on this — one that clarifies why anaphora is understood in such rigid terms — the argument between Gareth Evans and Howard Lasnik is a great place to start.
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: Daniel on May 07, 2014, 01:27:24 AM
I'd simply see a distinction between distribution and interpretation. But I see what you mean.
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: MalFet on May 07, 2014, 01:54:27 AM
I'd simply see a distinction between distribution and interpretation.

That's why I keep suggesting that you call this "deixis". Deixis (generally) provides a wide berth for interpretation. Anaphora (specifically) does not. This is not casual terminology. Pronominal reference is precisely defined because it needs to be in order for modern semantics to work. That's a big deal, and there's a lot more at stake in that than simply linguistics.
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: jkpate on May 07, 2014, 01:59:19 AM
I'd simply see a distinction between distribution and interpretation.

That's why I keep suggesting that you call this "deixis". Deixis (generally) provides a wide berth for interpretation. Anaphora (specifically) does not. This is not casual terminology. Pronominal reference is precisely defined because it needs to be in order for modern semantics to work. That's a big deal, and there's a lot more at stake in that than simply linguistics.

What else is at stake? Are you talking about proforms as a window into how more general cognition is structured?
Title: Re: agreement with 'yes'
Post by: MalFet on May 07, 2014, 02:22:32 AM
What else is at stake? Are you talking about proforms as a window into how more general cognition is structured?

Either that or it's opposite, depending on which direction you want to come at it from. :)

If we're going to treat human language as something bearing a formal semantics (as most-but-certainly-not-all contemporary linguists are inclined to do), the idea that pronominal reference plays by the same rules as variables in predicate logic is a big-big deal. If we start breaking those rules, we're either (a) drastically curtailing the descriptive power of semantic analyses, or (b) running up against some very fundamental principles in formal logic.

Either way, it stirs up a lot of (probably very unintentional) dust.