Language Questions

Reading the thread about Gaelic and Hindi word relation put two questions in my mind, and not wanting to hijack the thread I thought I would start a new thread.

So is this the reason that no has just about the same sound in most languages? Also, why would the Gaelic people not have developed a specific word for yes or no?

Just out of curiosity, how does “no” sound in other languages? I mean besides the romantic languages, where it’s essentially the same word – no, no, no, no, non, no.

For example I don’t think “nein” sounds like “no” but it’s not a romantic language (it being German).

No in French, Spanish, and so on all come from non, Latin for “not”. Both the English word “no” and the Latin non ultimately come from the Indo-European root ne; I suspect the German nein and Russian nyet could be traced back to this same root as well. If so, then “no” has the same sound not necessarily in “most languages”, but rather in Indo-European languages, because they’re using cognate words which ultimately have a common origin. In non-Indo-European languages, I doubt that the word for negation would necessarily sound anything like “no”; in Japanese, for example, “no” is iie (pronounced “ee-eh”).

I remember going to a Greek Island many summers ago and getting terribly confused by their ‘yes’ and ‘no’. The reason being, I forget the word for ‘yes’, but ‘no’ was OKI, which sounds like a bit of an affirmative to me.

You might just as easily ask why would the Germanic and Romance languages have developed a specific word for yes or no. It’s far from a universal feature. Apart from all six of the Celtic (not just Gaelic) languages, Chinese, Finnish, Swahili and Hungarian also don’t have these words. If I had time to track them down I’m sure I could find a long list of others.

No in Vietnamese is “khong”. Yes is “vang”, but only in the Northern dialect. Southerners don’t have a specific word for yes, but just echo part of the question back.

In Arabic the word for ‘no’ is pronounced as ‘leh’. (The word for ‘yes’ is something like ‘ah-you-wah’.) So the ‘no’ sound is definitely something Indo-European.

Ahem, from my not terribly strong knowledge: no.

La is no.
Leh is why. (in some dialects)
Yes is naam. (except in egyptian in which case its the version you mentioned.)

ruadh, the reason that I asked about Gaelic specifically is because I am studying it at the momment. When I learned some Spanish and French they both had a “yes”
and “no” so I thought that gaelic was an exception. Thank you for pointing out other languages, and thanks all for answering as well.

Balthisar writes:

> a romantic language

No, the term is “a Romance language.”

In Japanese, a word for no is iie (EE-eh). Yes is hai (“high,” with a sharper ending).

Collounsbury is right that ‘no’ in Arabic is . ‘Yes’ is na`am, and ‘why’ is li-mâ dhâ.

In Hebrew, ‘no’ is lo (you can see the relationship to Arabic, compare salâm / shalom: Arabic a corresponding to Hebrew o). ‘Yes’ is ken (which is probably related to the Arabic word kâna ‘to be’; the Arabic word for ‘yes’, naam*, is related to the Hebrew word for pleasure and delight, also *naam).

The Modern Greek word for ‘yes’ is nai, which sounds just like the English negation nay! Weird, isn’t it?

MEBuckner and Short correctly noted that the Japanese word for ‘no’ is iie. Want to know something funny? Check this out:

In Turkish, the native word for ‘no’ is yok. But this is a very abrupt sound, as rude as a punch in the nose. Turks are very polite people, so they needed a more genteel way to say ‘no’. The polite Persian way to say ‘no’ is na khayr, a compound of na ‘no’ and the Arabic word khayr, ‘good’. It’s as if to say, “I’m afraid the answer is no, but I wish the good for you anyway.” The Turks made it even more polite by deleting the negative and they just say the word for ‘good’, pronounced hayïr in Turkish. So the really polite Turkish way to say ‘no’ is hayïr, literally ‘good’.

The Japanese word iie ‘no’ looks similar to the Japanese word for ‘good’, ii. But the Japanese word for good is pronounced exactly the same as the native Turkish word for ‘good’ – iyi. So ‘good’ and ‘no’ have this fascinatingly interwoven strands between Turkish and Japanese. (Japanese has been linked to the Altaic family of languages, to which Turkish belongs.)

Hungarian does so have words for ‘yes’ and ‘no’! They are igen and nem.

Negatives in n- are common to nearly all Indo-European languages; some examples that haven’t been mentioned are Hindi nahîm, Persian , and Russian nyet.

Verbal negatives in m- are found in Classical Greek (), Persian (ma-), Hindi (mat), and Turkish (-mi).

I was referring to Egyptian, my mistake. And I didn’t mean the Latin transcription of the word ‘leh’, but the way it sounds to me. Of course I’m Dutch, and that may compound the problem of transscribing phonetics. I always heard the word pronounced as the ‘lai’ in ‘lair’, but much shorter.

But let’s give skinny the props, Leh is Egyptian (and I think shami) dialectical for limatha. (No probs skinny, transliterating the sounds is a bitch at best.)

Huh, I just felt my mind expand. Is the a/o correspondence relatively regular between the root languages (leaving aside the modern developments)?

Do Turks import this as good in their own lexicon or is the connection lost to non-Arabic speakers?

And Ish my man, you owe me some Nostratic cites bro! I’m itching to spend my vac reading some of this. Need to bore coworkers when I come back.

Forgot to mention: Arabic also has a verbal negative in m-:
. But is also the interrogative word for ‘what’.

Note that in Turkish, mi is also an interrogative particle (used for making a sentence into a question) as well as a negative. And in Chinese, ma is an interrogative, used to turn a sentence into a question. In Hindi and Persian, they often use the word for ‘what’ to make a rhetorically negative sentence. Sort of like saying “What good is it?” to mean “It’s no good.”

Hungarian and Finnish are the only non-Indo-European languages I can think of that have negatives in n. Hungarian nem means ‘no, not’, while in Finnish en is conjugated as a verb to make a negative sentence (sort of like the English “don’t”). Finnish and Hungarian are Uralic languages, and this is just one of many pieces of evidence that Indo-European and Uralic are related.

Coll, my man, Turks also recognize hayïr as a word for ‘good’, but Arabic borrowings in Turkish are like Latin in English: a more formal register. They say iyi for the everyday ‘good’, and hayïr is more like ‘benefaction’.

There is a fairly regular correspondence between Arabic â and Hebrew o, especially in the active participle of the first form of the verb: Arabic il* is the same as Hebrew *poel. (Hebrew grammarians got their grammar from Arabic in the early Middle Ages, as William Chomsky [father of Noam] documented in his book *Hebrew, the Eternal Language[/]i.

The best available source on Nostratic roots is probably The Nostratic macrofamily: a study in distant linguistic relationship by Allan R. Bomhard and John C. Kerns. This book is a copious source of over 800 Nostratic roots, complete with descended words in daughter languages and tables of regular sound correspondences. Hours of fun!

The original Nostratic Dictionary written in Russian by Aron Dolgopolsky and Vladimir Illich-Svitych hasn’t been published in English translation yet, I don’t think.

I searched the Library of Congress catalog
using the keyword Nostratic and got 12 hits.

Ishmintingas, since when has Japanese been proven to be linked to Altaic (as in fully accepted)? Everything i’ve read says this is still very much disputed and not accepted (which is what it seems like you are implying). By the way, there’s a theory that Japanese may have Austronesian roots as well but this is not accepted fully either.
Anyway, in Tagalog, the word for no his hindî (the diacritic over the i represents it is accented and has a glottal stop), the word for yes is “oo” (said like o-o), or in the polite form, “opo”

Indications are that Japanese came from an early blend of Altaic with Austronesian. It shows affinities with both families.

Looked up some more negatives from other languages, for comparison.

In Telugu, words for ‘no’ or ‘not’ are kâdu (‘no’), lêdu (‘not’), and vaddu (negative imperative “don’t!”). However, verbs in the indicative are made negative by internal changes:
cêsainu ‘I do’
cêyanu ‘I don’t do’
pôtânu ‘I go’
pônu ‘I don’t go’

Actually, lê- and kâ- are verb stems meaning negative action that can be fully conjugated. lêdu means ‘there isn’t’ and kâdu means ‘it doesn’t’. The lê- is reminiscent of the Semitic or lo negative.

In Tamil, the word for ‘no’ is illai, literally meaning ‘it is not’. Tamil verbs are also negated by internal changes.

In Lithuanian, the word for ‘no’ is ne – which isn’t surprising; it’s Indo-European after all.

In Malay, the word for ‘no, not’ is tidak (tak for short). But the word for ‘it is not’ is bukan, while ‘not yet’ is belum.

In Hawaiian, ‘no, not’ is aole.

The Chinese negative is bu.

See any patterns yet?

Yes, for most verbs, but they use * mei * for the verb yao (to have)…