Neither yes nor no

I used to think all languages had opted for a similar way to accept or decline, to confirm or deny. 2 little words, short to be as efficient as possible.

yes – no
oui – non
sí – no
ja – nein
да / da – нет / niet

The first language to alter my viewpoint was the Turkish language, which uses longer words: evet (yes) et hayır (no). Depending on where a Swahili speaker lives, one will either say the words ndio (yes) or hapana (litteraly “there isn’t”), or a sound and a nod. Thus a long “eeeeh” with raised eyebrows will show agreement, while a “huh-huh” and a nod will show disagreement.

Lastly I came to discover a language that entirely skipped the question. In Gaelic, the official language of Ireland, there is neither yes, nor no. To answer the following question “do you want to go there?”, a simple “I do want to go” or “I don’t want to go” will suffice. The sole verb confirms or declines. And this influences the English spoken by the Irish, who would never lose a game of “neither yes nor no”!

Thanks to the FICEP for organising language initiations and to Paula Nic Cionnaith for sharing her culture on a rainy Saturday of May in the Hotel de Ville.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *