A-not-A question

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In linguistics, an A-not-A question is a polar question that offers two opposite possibilities for the answer. This disjunctive question is predominantly found in Sinitic and some Altaic languages that offers a choice between an affirmative predicate and its negative counterpart. They are functionally regarded as a type of "yes/no" question, since they are very similar to a large extent. "A-not-A" questions are often interpreted as having a 'neutral' presupposition or is used in a neutral context.[1] This means that the person asking the A-not-A question does not assume the truth value of the proposition expressed by the question. 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.

A-not-A questions in English[edit]

An example of an A-not-A question in English is in (1.a) "Are you happy or sad?". The response to this question must be an echo answer, stating either "I am happy," or the correct alternative, "I am sad". In other words, this sentence is a leading question, where the speaker has an expectation as to what the answer will be. In contrast, (1.b) "Are you happy or not?" is a neutral question where the answer to this can be yes or no in response to the first and more explicitly stated alternative.[2]

         (1.a) Q: Are you happy or sad?
               A: I am happy.
                  I am sad.

         (1.b) Q: Are you happy or not (happy)?
               A: Yes.
                  No. 

A-not-A questions are not usually used in English, but the following example shows how A-not-A questions are answered.

           (2) Q: Did John eat beans or not?
               A: (Yes,) John ate beans.
                  (No,) John didn't eat beans.
                  *Yes.
                  *No.[3] 

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, its direct form would be "Did John eat or not eat the beans?"

In Chinese[edit]

In forming A-not-A questions, "A" must 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 preposition.

In Chinese, A-not-A can be formed by a verb, an adjective, or an adverb.[4] Modals can form A-not-A questions as well.[5] 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).[5] In 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 is 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.[6]

Verb[edit]

V-NEG-V type:[5]

Here, the verb go is "A", and there is no object.

         (3.a) 你?   A: /不
               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
V-NEG-V-Object type:[5]

Here, the verb watch is "A", and while there is an object, the object is not included in "A", and is therefore not reduplicated.

         (3.b) 你电影?    A: /不
               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
V-Object-NEG type:[5]

Here, the verb watch is "A", and while the object is included before NEG, it is not included in "A", and is therefore not reduplicated. Reduplication is optional here.

         (3.c) 你电影不?   A: /不
               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
V-Object-NEG-V type[5](debatable):

Here, the verb watch is "A", and while the object is included before NEG, it is not included in "A", and is therefore not reduplicated. "A" is reduplicated here.

         (3.d) 你电影不?   A: /不
               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 (3.a), (3.b), (3.c), (3.d) must be in the form “V” or “not-V”

There is some debate amongst speakers as to whether or not 3.d. is grammatical, and Gasde argues that it is.

Adjective or adverb[edit]

A-NEG-A type:[5]

Here, the adjective good is "A", and it is reduplicated. The word ben is a classifier, which means it is a counter word for the Noun book.

         (4.a) 这本书?   A: /不
               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
A-NEG type:[5]

Here, the adjective good is "A", but it is not reduplicated.

         (4.b) 这本书不?   A: /不
               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 (4.a), (4.b) must be in the form “A” or “not-A”

Preposition[edit]

P-NEG-P type:[7]

Here, the preposition at is "A", and it is reduplicated.

         (5.a) 张三图书馆?   A: /不
               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
P-NEG-P type:[7]

Here, the preposition at is "A", and it is not reduplicated.

         (5.b) 张三图书馆不?   A: /不
               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 (5.a), (5.b) must be in the form “P” or “not-P”

Modal[edit]

M-NEG-M-V-Object type:[5]

Here, the modal dare is "A" and it is reduplicated.

         (6.a) 你杀鸡?   A: /不
               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
The answer to (6.a) must be in the form “M” or “not-M”.

A-not-A questions in Korean[8][edit]

Here, the verb sleep, along with its complement is "A", and it is reduplicated after the negative. Like A-not-A questions in Mandarin, A-not-A questions in Korean must also be answered in the "A" or "Not A" form. One cannot answer just "yes" or "no" in response to A-not-A questions in Korean.
            (7) Q: 지우-는   자-니자-니?
                   ciwu-nun ca-ni an ca-ni? 
                   Jiwoo-TOP sleep-COMP not sleep-COMP 
                   ‘Is Jiwoo sleeping or not?’ 

                A: -요/안 -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

Analysis: the post-syntactic approach[edit]

One analysis of the formation of the A-not-A construction is the post-syntactic approach, 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.[7]

Syntactic distinctions between morphosyntactic words (MWd) and subwords (SWd)

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). 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.[7] The A-not-A operation is a MWd to MWd movement.

Conditional criteria for grammatical A-not-A question derivation[edit]

A-not-A operator lowering[edit]

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.[7]

A-not-A operator lowering must satisfy four conditions:

  1. The A-not-A operator targets the closest MWd that is the X’-theoretic head that it c-commands.
  2. Closeness of the head is qualified by: (i) The closest head is a X’-theoretic head of the maximal which is immediately dominated by the maximal projection of the A-not-A operator. (ii) The target must have overt phonological realization.
  3. There is not any non-X’-theoretic head or SWd intervening between the A-not-A operator and its target.
  4. Intervention is defined by c-command relation.
Grammatical A-not-A operator lowering to adjacent MWd verb xihuan. Xihuan is the closest X’-theoretical head that the A-not-A operator c-commands, thus satisfies lowering conditions.
Ungrammatical A-not-A operator lowering to adjacent MWd hen. Even though hen is the closest adjacent MWd, it is not an X’-theoretical head, thus lowering to it violates A-not-A lowering conditions

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.[7]

Reduplication of first syllable of adjacent MWd[edit]

In first syllable reduplication, the A-not-A operator copies the first syllable of the adjacent MWd and moves the reduplicant, the copied syllable, to the left of the base MWd. Then the negation is inserted between the reduplicant and base to form a grammatical sentence. In fig. (1.a) 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. In fig. (1.b) *Zhangsan taoyan Lisi-bu-tao is ungrammatical because tao cannot be put to the right of the maximal projection VP, taoyan Lisi.

         (8.a) Zhangsan tao-bu-taoyan Lisi
               Zhangsan hate-not-hate Lisi
               Does Zhangsan hate Lisi or not?[7]

         (8.b) *Zhangsan taoyan Lisi-bu-tao
               Zhangsan hate Lisi-not-hate[7]

Reduplication of adjacent MWd[edit]

In MWd reduplication, the A-not-A operator copies the adjacent MWd and moves the reduplicant MWd overtly to the left of the base MWd or to right of the base maximal projection containing the MWd. Otherwise, the reduplicant can move covertly, not spelled-out, to the right of the base maximal projection containing the MWd. The negation is then inserted between the reduplicant and base to form a grammatical sentence. In (9.a) the A-not-A operator copies the MWd taoyan. The reduplicant taoyan is overtly put at the left of the base taoyan and then the negative constituent bu is inserted in between. In (9.b) the A-not-A operator copies the MWd taoyan. The reduplicant taoyan is overtly put at the right of the base taoyan Lisi and then the negative constituent bu is inserted in between. In (9.c) the A-not-A operator copies the MWd taoyan. The reduplicant taoyan, not spelled-out here, is covertly put at the right of the base taoyan Lisi and then the negative constituent bu is inserted.

         (9.a) Zhangsan taoyan-bu-taoyan Lisi
               Zhangsan hate-not-hate Lisi
               Does Zhangsan hate Lisi or not?[7]

         (9.b) Zhangsan taoyan Lisi bu taoyan
               Zhangsan hate Lisi not hate
               Does Zhangsan hate Lisi or not?[7] 

         (9.c) Zhangsan taoyan Lisi bu (taoyan)
               Zhangsan hate Lisi not
               Does Zhangsan hate Lisi or not?[7]

Reduplication of the maximal projection containing adjacent MWd[edit]

In maximal projection reduplication, the A-not-A operator copies the maximal projection that contains the adjacent MWd and moves the reduplicant either to the left or to the right of the base. The base may be just the MWd or the maximal projection containing the MWd. The maximal projection may be any XP (VP, AP, PP etc.). The negation is then inserted between the reduplicant and base to form a grammatical sentence. In (10.a) 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.

         (10.a) Zhangsan taoyan Lisi bu taoyan Lisi
               Zhangsan hate Lisi not hate Lisi
               Does Zhangsan hate Lisi or not?[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Law, Ann (2001) A-not-A questions in Cantonese. UCLWPL 13, 295-318.
  2. ^ Matthew S. Dryer. 2013. Position of Polar Question Particles. In: Dryer, Matthew S. & Haspelmath, Martin (eds.) The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
  3. ^ 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. doi:10.1023/b:nala.0000027674.87552.71. 
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i 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
  6. ^ Li, E. S. & Yan, F. (2007). Enacting Relationships: Clause as Exchange. Systemic Functional Grammar of Chinese. 116-197.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l 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.
  8. ^ Ceong, Hailey Hyekyeong (2011). "The Syntax of Korean Polar Alternative Questions: A-not-A".