Is there something inherently negative about 'n'?

The word no in every language I know the word no in starts with n. No, nein, non, no, nyet, nej.

Any explanation?

Well, you’ve chosen several languages that have similar background. It’s not that “father” and “vater” and “pater” all came about to mean the same thing because “ater” somehow means “dad” to the human mind – they’re related languages.

In chinese, there is no direct analogue to no but the negative modifer is bu. As in, it is correct is “shi” and it is not correct is “bu shi”.

In japanese, no is iie.

In Greek, Ohkee means No and Neh means Yes (pretty much backwards of what an english speaking person would expect).

So if we taught Greek to the Africans who shake their heads for ‘yes’ and nod them for ‘no’ we’d have the setup for Endless Sitcom Gold, neh?

(It also gives me a fine way to be perfectly ambiguous.)

Strinka: You chose a few examples of the wide world of Indo-European languages, a family that currently dominates most of Europe (except for regions where the Gaelic languages and Basque are spoken) and goodly chunks of Asia, in addition to the regions where an Indo-European language or two dominates due to colonial influence.

Needless to say, all of those languages share a family resemblance. I don’t have the foggiest clue why Greek bucks the trend, however. Can anyone step in and explain?

The Bulgarians do this, too, although these days plenty of Bulgarians are aware of the Western rules for shaking and nodding, which makes things plenty more confusing.

Bah. Now that I do more research, it seems that the Gaelic (Celtic) languages are Indo-European. Hungarian, however, is not, and neither is Finnish, which is related to Hungarian.

Basque isn’t Indo-European because it doesn’t belong to any known (or accepted) language family. It’s apparently the last surviving language of an extinct family.

An encyclopedia article to get you (and me) going.

But one word for for “not” is “nai”. An interesting coincidence.

Finnish and Estonian are fairly closely related, and I’ve been told at least that they’re somewhat mutually comprehensible. Hungarian is also in the Finno-Ugric family, but it’s a more distant relation. Them and Basque, Maltese and Turkish, are about the only languages in Europe that aren’t Indo-European. The Indo-European root here is “*ne-”, and it’s also the source of “un-” in modern English.

I Korean, Yes is “nay”. So N is not naturally negative.
No is “ani” and Not is “an”.

To add onto the OP’s question (which I have also wondered about) - OK, I recognize that the “n-” meaning no is only in a cluster of languages, but it appears to be more frequent than a common initial sound for yes. Yes and Ja are similar, but there’s Si, Oui, and Da which all have different initial sounds even though the corresponding negatives of those five words all have the same initial sound. Is there any particular reason, or is it just coincidence?

I couldn’t begin to guess, but I’m very interested by your observation. In Latin, there weren’t really any words for “yes” and “no”, or so I’ve always been told at least. “Sí” in Spanish and “sim” in Portuguese both came from the Latin “sic”, meaning “(it is) so” or something along those lines. French took “hoc ille” and turned it into “oui” while the southern Langues d’Oc took “hoc” and turned it into “oc”. Even within the Romance languages, then, there’s not much commonality. Even on that short of a time frame, they all went in entirely separate directions. But they all use some variation of “non” (“not”) for “no.”

Although I read that Finnish and Estonian share 80% of their vocabulary, and have a very similar grammatical structure, it seems (& isn’t this always the way…) that a lot of the day to day common phrases of both are in that other 20%.

In Semetic languages it seems that “L” is the “negative letter” (la, lo, laa …).