This linguistics of yes and no is one of the confusing grammars in English for Korean speakers.
So what do I mean by the linguistics of yes and no?
It is this:
In English, when people ask you
A: "Don't you want to play tennis?"
B: You answer either "Yes, I do" or "No, I don't."
However, in Korean when you are asked the question
A: "테니스 치고싶지 않아?" (Do you not want to hit tennis?)
B: You answer a little differently. Actually you answer with switched position of yes and no.
Like this: "응, 않 칠래." (Yes, I don't want to; but means the same as "No, I don't" in English's case.) or "아니, 치고싶어." (No, I do want to play tennis.)
I know it is really confusing, so let me explain.
In English, we focus on whether or not you want to play tennis. And we match your action with the yes/no. For example, if you want to play, you'll say YES, I DO, never YES, I DON'T and vice versa for no.
But in Korean, speakers focus on whether or not you agree with the questioner. In the example above, B used 응 (yes) when he agreed with A's statement. Since B agreed with A's statement, B's choice was not to play tennis. Thus, B says, "응, 않칠래" (yes, I don't want to). In the other case, B used 아니 (no) to state that he disagree with A's statement. Since B disagrees and therefore uses 아니 (no), B's choice, in this case, is to play tennis. Thus, "아니, 치고싶어"(No, I do want to play tennis).
I remember struggling with this difference in the use of yes and no between Korean and English. But, fortunately, this difference only occurs when you ask with negative (i.e., Aren't you tired? Didn't you miss me? etc.). In non-negative question, English and Korean agree on the yes/no usage. For example:
Do you want to sleep?
Yes, I do want to sleep.
No, I do not want to sleep.
Isn't that a good news? I do think so.
But this is not it. There are some languages that don't have or use yes/no at all. How can this be possible? See Mandarin Chinese!
(I hereby let the readers know that I was too lazy to put tone markings on pinyin. Also note that I am only a novice in learning Mandarin Chinese.)
ni xiang yao chi ma?
Do you want to eat?
(wo) xiang yao.
(I) do or more literally, (I) want.
(wo) bu xiang yao
(I) do not or more literally, (I) not want.
Here it is, the way to avoid the use of yes/no!
I believe this is a really good way not to be ambiguous. If you say only yes or no, what you want can be pretty ambiguous. But if you don't use yes or no and just say "I do" or "I don't" then it'll be much clear and much easier to understand.
Lastly, I want to introduce to you an exception in English yes/no. It is "yeah!"
I might be wondering what's the difference between "yeah" and "yes." From what I have observed during my 3 years here, speaking English full-time, I realized that "yeah" and "yes are different.
In short, "yeah" is just like Korean 응 and used in exactly the same way. For example,
He didn't do homework?
걔 숙제 않했데?
Yeah, he didn't do homework. *use of "yeah" because you agree with the question.
그래, 걔 숙제 않했데.
Nah, he did his homework. *use of "nah" because you don't agree with the question.
아니, 걔 숙제 했데.
Do you see? Many people think that "yeah" and "nah" are just slang-ish versions of "yes" and "no" but they are linguistically different in their functions.
These are all that I know of, because I know only English, Korean, and a little bit of Chinese and Spanish. Let me know if you know any other language or any word that pertains to this yes/no conception.
All blog posts are copyrighted under the Copyright Act.