In linguistics, an A-not-A question is a polar question that offers two opposite possibilities for the answer. Examples in English are "Are you happy or sad?" and "Are you happy or not?". The answer to the former must be an echo answer, stating the correct alternative ("I am sad"); however, the answer to the latter can be yes or no in response to the first and more explicitly stated alternative. A-not-A questions are interpreted as having a ‘neutral’ presupposition or used in a neutral context. This means the questioner does not hold any assumption that the proposition expressed by the question is either true or false.
This disjunctive question is predominantly found in Sinitic and some Altaic languages that offers a choice between an affirmative predicate and its negative counterpart. As such, the “A-not-A” question structure is commonly found in Chinese. The overarching principle is that of contrasting the positive and negative form of a premise side by side. A characteristic property of this structure is the restriction to not use YES/NO answers, and requiring an echo response instead. Therefore to properly answer the query, the recipient must select the positive or negative version and use it in the formation of their response.
In forming A-not-A questions, "A" must indeed remain the same on both sides. "A" is essentially a variable which can be replaced with a grammatical particle such as a modal, adverb, adjective, verb, or a preposition.
In Chinese A-not-A can be formed by a verb, adjective, or an adverb. Modals can form A-not-A questions as well. A-not-A questions have a special interrogative type pattern in which all answers must be in “A” (affirmative form) or “not-A” (negative predicate form). The interrogative clause, A-not-A occurs by repeating the first part in the verbal group (with the option of an auxiliary) and the negative form of the particle in placed in between. However, this clause does not apply when using perfective in aspect. Instead, meiyou is used to replace the repeated verb used in A-not-A form.
- 1 A-not-A Questions in English
- 2 Examples of A-not-A questions in Mandarin
- 3 Examples of A-not-A Questions in Korean
- 4 Analysis
- 5 See also
- 6 References
A-not-A Questions in English
A-not-A Questions are not usually used in English, but the following example shows how A-not-A questions are answered.
Q: Did John eat beans or not? A: (Yes,) John ate beans. (No,) John didn't eat beans. *Yes. *No.
As seen in this example, simply answering "Yes" or "No" does not suffice as a response to the question. This question must be answered in the "A" or "Not A" form. If this question was asked in the A-not-A pattern, it would be "Did John eat not eat the beans?"
Examples of A-not-A questions in Mandarin
- 1. a. V-NEG-V type:
你 去 不 去？ A: 去/不去 ni qu bu qu? qu/bu qu you go not go go/not go DP V -NEG - V V/NEG V Are you going? Yes/No
- 1. b. V-NEG-V-Object type:
你看不看电影？ A: 看/不看 ni kan bu kan dianying? kan/bu kan you watch not watch movie watch/not watch N V-NEG- V- N V/NEG V Will you watch the movie? Yes/No
- 1. c. V-Object-NEG type:
你看电影不？ A: 看/不看 ni kan dianying bu? kan/bu kan you watch movie not watch/not watch N V - DP -NEG V/NEG V Will you watch the movie? Yes/No
- 1. d. V-Object-NEG-V type(debatable):
你看电影不看？ A: 看/不看 ni kan dianying bu kan? kan/bu kan you watch movie not watch watch/not watch DP V - DP - NEG - V V/NEG V Will you watch the movie? Yes/No
- Answers to 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., 1.d. must be in the form “V” or “not-V”
There is some debate amongst speakers as to whether or not 1.d. is grammatical, and Gasde argues that it is.
- 2. a. A-NEG-A type:
这本书好不好？ A: 好/不好 zhe ben shu hao bu hao? hao/bu hao this CL book good not good good/not good DP A - NEG - A A/NEG A Is this book good? Yes/No
- 2. b. A-NEG type:
这本书好不？ A: 好/不好 zhe ben shu hao bu? hao/bu hao this CL book good not good/not good DP A - NEG A/NEG A Is this book good? Yes/No
- answers to 2.a., 2.b. must be in the form “A” or “not-A”
- 3. a. P-NEG-P type:
张三在不在图书馆？ A: 在/不在 Zhangsan zai bu zai tushuguan? zai/bu zai Zhangsan at not at library at/not at DP P - NEG - P DP P/NEG P Is Zhangsan at the library? Yes/No
- 3. b. P-NEG-P type:
张三在图书馆不？ A: 在/不在 Zhangsan zai tushuguan bu? zai/bu zai Zhangsan at library not at/not at DP P-DP-NEG P/NEG P Is Zhangsan at the library? Yes/No
- Answers to 3.a., 3.b. must be in the form “P” or “not-P”
- 4. M-NEG-M-V-Object type:
你敢不敢杀鸡? A: 敢/不敢 ni gan bu gan sha ji? gan/bu gan you dare not dare kill chicken dare/not dare N M-NEG-M -V -DP M/NEG M Do you dare kill chicken? Yes/No
- Answer to 4 must be in the form “M” or “not-M”
(7) Q: 지우-는 자-니 안 자-니? ciwu-nun ca-ni an ca-ni? Jiwoo-TOP sleep-COMP not sleep-COMP ‘Is Jiwoo sleeping or not?’ A: 자-요/안 자-요/*네/*안요 ca-yo/an ca-yo/*ney/ *anyo sleep-HON/not sleep-HON/yes/no (She) is sleeping/ (She) isn’t sleeping/*yes/*no
- Like A-not-A questions in Mandarin, A-not-A questions in Korean must also be answered in the "A" or "Not A" form.
The formation of the A-not-A construction is through two stages of M-merger. First, the A-not-A operator targets the MWd which is the head that is closest to it and undergoes Lowering to it the A-not-A operator determines the target node. Then, reduplication occurs to yield the surface form of the A-not-A question.
Tseng suggests A-not-A occurs post-syntactically, at the morphological level. It is movement that occurs overtly at the phonetic form, after the syntactic movement has occurred. A-not-A is a feature of T that operates on the closest, c-commanded Morphosyntactic Words (MWd), and not Subwords (SWd). The elements that undergo post-syntactic movement are Morphosyntactic words (MWd) and Subwords (SWd).A node X is a MWd iff X is the highest segment and X is not contained in another X. A node X is a SWd if X is a terminal node and not an MWd. The A-not-A operation is an MWd to MWd movement.
The A-not-A operator is defined as an MWd. The A-not-A operator can only lower to a MWd which is immediately dominated by the maximal projection of the A-not-A operator. An SWd cannot be the target for the A-not-A operator. In addition, if there is an intervening MWd or SWd between the A-not-A operator and its target, the A-not-A operation fails.
After lowering, the A-not-A operator triggers reduplication on the target node. The reduplication domain can be the first syllable of the targeted element, the targeted element itself, and the maximal projection that contains the targeted element. Reduplication is linear and the A-not-A operator cannot skip the adjacent constituent to copy the next constituent.
Reduplication of first syllable of adjacent MWd
Zhangsan tao-bu-taoyan Lisi Zhangsan hate-not-hate Lisi Does Zhangsan hate Lisi or not?
The A-not-A operator copies the first syllable tao of the MWd taoyan. The reduplicant tao is put at the left of the base taoyan and then the negative constituent bu is inserted in between.
*Zhangsan taoyan Lisi-bu-tao Zhangsan hate Lisi-not-hate
"*Zhangsan taoyan Lisi-bu-tao" is ungrammatical because tao cannot be put to the right of the maximal projection VP, taoyan Lisi.
Reduplication of adjacent MWd
Zhangsan taoyan-bu-taoyan Lisi Zhangsan hate-not-hate Lisi Does Zhangsan hate Lisi or not?
The A-not-A operator copies the MWd taoyan. The reduplicant taoyan is put at the left of the base taoyan and then the negative constituent bu is inserted in between.
Zhangsan taoyan Lisi bu Zhangsan hate Lisi not Does Zhangsan hate Lisi or not?
The A-not-A operator copies the MWd taoyan. The reduplicant taoyan, not spelled-out here, is put at the left of the base taoyan and then the negative constituent bu is inserted.
Reduplication of maximal projection that contains adjacent MWd
Zhangsan taoyan Lisi-bu-taoyan Zhangsan hate Lisi-not-hate Does Zhangsan hate Lisi or not?
The A-not-A operator copies the maximal projection VP taoyan-Lisi. The reduplicant taoyan-Lisi is put at the right of the base taoyan and then the negative constituent bu is inserted in between.
Zhangsan taoyan-Lisi bu taoyan-Lisi Zhangsan hate Lisi not hate Lisi Does Zhangsan hate Lisi or not?
The A-not-A operator copies the maximal projection VP taoyan-Lisi. The reduplicant taoyan-Lisi is put at the left of the base taoyan-Lisi and then the negative constituent bu is inserted in between.
- Law, Ann (2001) A-not-A questions in Cantonese. UCLWPL 13, 295-318.
- Chen, Y., & Weiyun He, A. (2001). Dui bu dui as a pragmatic marker: Evidence from chinese classroom discourse. Journal of Pragmatics, 33(9), 1441-1465
- Gasde, H. (2004). Yes/no questions and A-not-A questions in Chinese revisited.Linguistics - Interdisciplinary Journal of the Language Sciences, 42(2), 293-326. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from the Communication & Mass Media Complete database
- Li, E. S. & Yan, F. (2007). Enacting Relationships: Clause as Exchange. Systemic Functional Grammar of Chinese. 116-197.
- Han, Chung-Hye; Romero, Maribel (August 2004). "The Syntax of Whether/Q... or Questions: Ellipsis Combined with Movement". Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 22 (3): 527–564.
- Tseng, W. H. K., & Lin, T. H. J. (2009). A Post-Syntactic Approach to the A-not-A Questions. UST Working Papers in Linguistics, National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, 107-139.
- Ceong, Hailey Hyekyeong (2011). The Syntax of Korean Polar Alternative Questions: A-not-A.