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Old 8th March 2022, 10:33 PM   #1
Puppycow
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Yes, we have no bananas

Dear fellow speakers of English.

I was asked by a Japanese colleague about the meaning of the following question and answer:

Q: Is there no exclusive relationship?
A: Yes.

In this case, given only the above information, does the answer mean

"Yes, there is no exclusive relationship"
or
"Yes, there is an exclusive relationship"

Likewise if the answer were simply "No."

And this reminded me of the famous song "Yes, we have no bananas."

If a customer at a grocery store were to ask "Do you have no bananas?" presumably "Yes" means "Yes, we have no bananas." Right?

I'm a little confused.
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Old 8th March 2022, 10:39 PM   #2
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By the way, my answer was that it might be ambiguous, and I would prefer to ask the question without interposing a "no" in the question. But I feel like I am avoiding the question. Is there an objectively correct interpretation or is it actually ambiguous?
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Old 8th March 2022, 10:50 PM   #3
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It results in a double negative. Best to just reword the question.
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Old 8th March 2022, 11:15 PM   #4
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I know. But that’s not what I’m asking.

In translation you generally have to work with what you are giving, which is sometimes difficult to understand.
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Old 8th March 2022, 11:27 PM   #5
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When I studied Japanese for two years in high school, I was taught that “yes, we have no bananas” is the grammatically correct answer to the question “do you not have any bananas?”.
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Old 8th March 2022, 11:39 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Puppycow View Post
Q: Is there no exclusive relationship?
A: Yes.
An affirmative answer means that there is no exclusive relationship or that there isn't an exclusive relationship.

Since either "yes" or "no" could be misinterpreted, I would rather say "there is no exclusive relationship".
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Old 8th March 2022, 11:59 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Puppycow View Post
I know. But that’s not what I’m asking.

In translation you generally have to work with what you are giving, which is sometimes difficult to understand.
Once you recognize it's a double negative you have the correct answer.

Quote:
Is there no exclusive relationship?
A: Yes.
Answer, yes there is no exclusive relationship.
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Old 9th March 2022, 12:05 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by psionl0 View Post
An affirmative answer means that there is no exclusive relationship or that there isn't an exclusive relationship.

Since either "yes" or "no" could be misinterpreted, I would rather say "there is no exclusive relationship".
Yeah, that's basically what I answered. Thanks.

Assuming that the goal is clear, unambiguous communication, you want to give more information in the answer than a simple "yes" or "no".

Sometimes things like these will come up in a flowchart though, where the branches are labeled "Yes" and "No". Right now I don't know the full context.
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Old 9th March 2022, 01:06 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Puppycow View Post
Sometimes things like these will come up in a flowchart though, where the branches are labeled "Yes" and "No".
The questions in a flow chart are usually a lot more straight forward (is x < 0? etc).
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Old 9th March 2022, 01:45 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Puppycow View Post
By the way, my answer was that it might be ambiguous, and I would prefer to ask the question without interposing a "no" in the question. But I feel like I am avoiding the question. Is there an objectively correct interpretation or is it actually ambiguous?
I don't have a source, but my memory is that phrases like this can have different regional interpretations. A population may be comfortable with the construction (and have a generally agreed upon interpretation).

For a flow chart where both "yes" and "no" options exist, I'd always rewrite it to be a positive question. I'd expect that to be the easy case (as opposed to speech or writing that is trying for a particular effect).
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Old 9th March 2022, 02:25 AM   #11
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Highly ambiguous without more context.

Strictly, I would say "Yes" ought to mean "Yes, you are correct that there is no exclusive relationship" but in natural language (in British English at least) it would be significantly more likely for it to be a contradiction "Yes there is in fact an exclusive relationship".

In a spoken exchange the nuance might be a neutral sounding "yes" meaning "correct" while a stressed "yes" meant contradiction, but really it's just poor communication.

Last edited by Jack by the hedge; 9th March 2022 at 02:27 AM.
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Old 9th March 2022, 04:10 AM   #12
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Yes.
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Old 9th March 2022, 06:01 AM   #13
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Japanese doesn't work like English.

In English if it rains outside, and I ask "You have no umbrella?" then "No" means, "No, I have no umbrella."

In Japanese you answer yes or no based on whether the statement in the question is true or false. So "Yes" means the statement "you have no umbrella" is true, whereas "No" means the statement "you have no umbrella" is false. So basically I answer "no" if I DO have an umbrella, or answer "yes" if I don't.

The same applies to bananas. If I ask "you have no bananas?" Then for a Japanese, "yes" would literally mean "yes, we have no bananas."

Some of these constructs are harder to say in English without being confusing. Like, you might want to spell it out "actually we do have bananas". German has it easier with the word "doch".
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Old 9th March 2022, 08:20 AM   #14
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Do you mind if I eat the last banana?

Either way you answer, I am eating the last banana!
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Old 9th March 2022, 09:12 AM   #15
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I agree that the answer is not really definite, owing in part to the language of the person asking, but also because it's not a really good answer anyway.

"Is there no...." is another way of saying "isn't there a...." implying that one had thought something existed, and the unambiguous answer would be "yes there is," or "no there isn't."
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Old 9th March 2022, 11:37 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by Puppycow View Post
By the way, my answer was that it might be ambiguous, and I would prefer to ask the question without interposing a "no" in the question. But I feel like I am avoiding the question. Is there an objectively correct interpretation or is it actually ambiguous?
It is actually ambiguous.

There are two ways to address the ambiguity - either by rephrasing the question, or by rephrasing the answer. An answer of "that is correct" alleviates the ambiguity too.
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Old 9th March 2022, 11:43 AM   #17
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Seems pretty straightforward to me.

Q. "Is there foo ?"

A1. "Yes, there is [foo]."

A2. "No, there is not [foo]."

The "is there/there is" call and response is a well-established pattern in English syntax (grammar?).

It can be explained in terms of (semi)formal logic, but my view is that when it comes to natural languages, the best approach is to tell newcomers, "that's just the way it's done, so practice it a few times until you get used to the construction."

("Foo" in this case maps to "not an exclusive relationship", triggering the double-negative rule, which is the logical explanation for this particular one.)
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Old 9th March 2022, 12:29 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
Seems pretty straightforward to me.

Q. "Is there foo ?"

A1. "Yes, there is [foo]."

A2. "No, there is not [foo]."

The "is there/there is" call and response is a well-established pattern in English syntax (grammar?).

It can be explained in terms of (semi)formal logic, but my view is that when it comes to natural languages, the best approach is to tell newcomers, "that's just the way it's done, so practice it a few times until you get used to the construction."

("Foo" in this case maps to "not an exclusive relationship", triggering the double-negative rule, which is the logical explanation for this particular one.)
There is a little more ambiguity, I think, when it's "is there no fu " but the issue is solved equally well by making the answer better asyou suggest.
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Old 9th March 2022, 12:48 PM   #19
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The bananas are a lie.
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Old 9th March 2022, 01:02 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by Puppycow View Post
I know. But that’s not what I’m asking.

In translation you generally have to work with what you are giving given, which is sometimes difficult to understand.
Apologies if someone else already pointed this out, but since you're asking about precise language, I made a minor correction above.
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Old 9th March 2022, 06:53 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by shemp View Post
The bananas are a lie.

They are needed for scale.
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Old 9th March 2022, 07:07 PM   #22
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Yeah, in Japanese, essentially you affirm or deny the truth of a statement.

"Are you from the UK?" No.
"You are not from the UK?" Yes (I am not from the UK).

I suppose, in contrast, English is actually weird.
"Are you from the UK?" No, I'm not.
"You are not from the UK?" No, I'm not.

Unless there are some regional variations that I don't know about, in English, "Yes, we have no bananas" could be:

a) someone being "clever" such as when someone asks for a pen and you say "Yes" but pretend they are not asking to borrow it.
b) possibly interference from an L1 other than English.
c) a "pathology"?
d) possible regional variation
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Old 9th March 2022, 07:53 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
Yeah, in Japanese, essentially you affirm or deny the truth of a statement.

"Are you from the UK?" No.
"You are not from the UK?" Yes (I am not from the UK).

I suppose, in contrast, English is actually weird.
"Are you from the UK?" No, I'm not.
"You are not from the UK?" No, I'm not.

Unless there are some regional variations that I don't know about, in English, "Yes, we have no bananas" could be:

a) someone being "clever" such as when someone asks for a pen and you say "Yes" but pretend they are not asking to borrow it.
b) possibly interference from an L1 other than English.
c) a "pathology"?
d) possible regional variation
As I recall, "Yes we have no bananas" was a popular song about a Greek immigrant grocer who prefaced everything with a "yes" thus causing confusion, and the oddity of the language is the point. It also, coincidentally, is about the growing shortage of bananas owing to the periodic blights that cause the massive dieoff of cloned fruits, which ultimately led to a change in the breed of bananas we now get.
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Old 9th March 2022, 09:40 PM   #24
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Old 9th March 2022, 10:33 PM   #25
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A lot of the yes/no ambiguity can be avoided by phrasing a question in the positive sense: "Is there an exclusive relationship"?

It's when you use a negated statement that your answer risks the dreaded double negative.
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Old 10th March 2022, 11:50 AM   #26
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I'll point out that asking questions in the negative form is actually very usual, just usually not in the form in the OP. It's just usually phrased something like "Don't you have a pen?" or "Isn't there a book on the topic?" rather than "Is there no book?"

In both cases, in English "yes" or "no" actually have nothing to do with how the question is phrased. If I'm about to take a test and I'm asked either "Do you have a pen?" or "Don't you have a pen?", I will answer "yes, I do" or "no, I don't" regardless of whether it's asked in the positive or the negative. It has nothing to do with triggering the double negative or not. It's about whether my longer answer would a positive statement ("I do" => "yes, I don" vs "I don't" => "no, I don't".)

Unlike in Japanese, where, as I was saying, it's about the truth of the statement in the question. In Japanese "no, I do" or "yes, I don't" is actually the correct way to answer "Don't you have a pen?"
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Old 10th March 2022, 12:28 PM   #27
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I responded to a survey recently that asked the question, "Do you know if you have had Covid, or not?", with a choice between YES or NO. I'm still puzzling what to answer. Can anyone help me?
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Old 10th March 2022, 01:17 PM   #28
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Originally Posted by Gord_in_Toronto View Post
I responded to a survey recently that asked the question, "Do you know if you have had Covid, or not?", with a choice between YES or NO. I'm still puzzling what to answer. : confused : Can anyone help me?
What's confusing about it? There's two obvious ways to interpret it, but they both lead to the same answers: Either you know if you've had Covid, or you don't know if you've had Covid.

Before I caught it, I knew if I'd had it. After I caught it, I knew if I'd had it.

Actually there was a week after I caught when I thought it was the flu. If you'd asked me that week, I would have said, "no, I don't know if I have had Covid or not, but in fifteen minutes I'll have the results of this home Covid test and then I'll know if I've had it nor not."
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Old 10th March 2022, 02:55 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
In Japanese "no, I do" or "yes, I don't" is actually the correct way to answer "Don't you have a pen?"
I answer questions like this regularly, mostly just to be a smartass.
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Old 10th March 2022, 04:02 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by Gord_in_Toronto View Post
I responded to a survey recently that asked the question, "Do you know if you have had Covid, or not?", with a choice between YES or NO. I'm still puzzling what to answer. Can anyone help me?
Standard pedantic smart ass answer is always "yes" to a question that has "or" between the two elements of a true dichotomy.

theprestige gave the answer that will save you from getting punched.
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Old 10th March 2022, 04:11 PM   #31
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Originally Posted by RecoveringYuppy View Post
Standard pedantic smart ass answer is always "yes" to a question that has "or" between the two elements of a true dichotomy.

theprestige gave the answer that will save you from getting punched.
More to the point, it's the logically, intuitively, and practically useful answer.
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Old 10th March 2022, 04:18 PM   #32
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Originally Posted by Puppycow View Post
Dear fellow speakers of English.

I was asked by a Japanese colleague about the meaning of the following question and answer:

Q: Is there no exclusive relationship?
A: Yes.
I was going to point out that it's because of the awkward phrasing of the question. It would be more common to ask, "Is there an exclusive relationship?" or "Isn't there an exclusive relationship?"

And then I realized that even though those questions seem to be asking opposite things, they would both be answered by me (according to the yes there is no exclusive relationship reading) with a "No."

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Old 10th March 2022, 06:58 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by Gord_in_Toronto View Post
I responded to a survey recently that asked the question, "Do you know if you have had Covid, or not?", with a choice between YES or NO. I'm still puzzling what to answer. Can anyone help me?

Since the intent of the question appears to be to determine whether you have had covid or not, I would answer yes if I had, and no if I had not.
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Old 10th March 2022, 07:15 PM   #34
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Originally Posted by arthwollipot View Post
Since the intent of the question appears to be to determine whether you have had covid or not, I would answer yes if I had, and no if I had not.
The intent of the question is to determine how much you know about your covid status. But okay I guess it is a little ambiguous, if you and gord both couldn't figure it out.

How would you go about asking someone if they know whether or not they've had covid, as a survey question?
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Old 10th March 2022, 08:01 PM   #35
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
I'll point out that asking questions in the negative form is actually very usual, just usually not in the form in the OP. It's just usually phrased something like "Don't you have a pen?" or "Isn't there a book on the topic?" rather than "Is there no book?"

In both cases, in English "yes" or "no" actually have nothing to do with how the question is phrased. If I'm about to take a test and I'm asked either "Do you have a pen?" or "Don't you have a pen?", I will answer "yes, I do" or "no, I don't" regardless of whether it's asked in the positive or the negative. It has nothing to do with triggering the double negative or not. It's about whether my longer answer would a positive statement ("I do" => "yes, I don" vs "I don't" => "no, I don't".)

Unlike in Japanese, where, as I was saying, it's about the truth of the statement in the question. In Japanese "no, I do" or "yes, I don't" is actually the correct way to answer "Don't you have a pen?"
The point is that the listener may not interpret a simple "yes" or "no" answer the way that you do if the question is phrased negatively. That is why you have to give a longer answer to reduce the risk of misinterpretation.

OTOH if you are the one asking the question then try to phrase it positively. You are likely to get a simple "yes" or "no" in response.

And if somebody asks you "do I turn left here?" never say "right".
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Old 10th March 2022, 08:24 PM   #36
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Yes, English is weird. This is just a confusing convention that English speakers use, and it is also the basis of many smart-aleck jokes and sarcastic responses.

In response to the question "Do you have no bananas?", the usual answer in English is "No, we have no bananas" is perhaps a shortened version of "I agree, and I am going to repeat the question as a statement and say - there are no bananas".

It is interesting that Japanese and other languages have a problem with this. Because as I understand it, in Japanese, a question is just a statement with a question mark added at the end. E.g. "There are no bananas." becomes "There are no bananas?" This seeks a yes/no response, and the obvious answer then would be "yes" (hai).
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Old 10th March 2022, 09:22 PM   #37
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
How would you go about asking someone if they know whether or not they've had covid, as a survey question?
How about "Do you know whether or not you have had covid?"
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Old 10th March 2022, 11:44 PM   #38
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Originally Posted by Norman Alexander View Post
"There are no bananas." becomes "There are no bananas?" This seeks a yes/no response, and the obvious answer then would be "yes" (hai).

¿No hay plátanos?
¡Hay!
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Old 11th March 2022, 12:50 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by arthwollipot View Post
Since the intent of the question appears to be to determine whether you have had covid or not, I would answer yes if I had, and no if I had not.
I thought the intent of the question was to determine whether you have knowledge of whether you have had covid or not.

Either you know, or you don't know. If you know whether you had it or not, the answer is yes, and if you don't know whether you had it or not (you've never been tested for example), the answer is no. I think it's certainly possible that some people have had it and don't know that they've had it. And some people have no symptoms or only mild symptoms.
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Old 11th March 2022, 02:11 AM   #40
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Originally Posted by Puppycow View Post
I thought the intent of the question was to determine whether you have knowledge of whether you have had covid or not.
Yes, I initially interpreted it differently. See my response to theprestige, above.
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