It’s Snowing Particles–Polarity & the Dragons of Grammar
It’s September, the month when by tradition dragons are wont to travel about the world, visiting places that most of us humans would avoid. We might find the poles and the antipodes a rather barren and challenging environment, but no so the gentledrakes of RT’s acquaintance. They love nothing better than a good snowball fight! And never mind a blizzard or two, pouring down particles upon particles; the Dragons of Grammar have found the design and interest of grammatical particles to be subtler than we might think.
You might be forgiven, and you certainly wouldn’t be alone, if you thought that “yes” and “no” are a relatively simple business in English. Well, yes and no. Modern English settles for just two possible answers to a straightforward inquiry: 1) yes, or 2) no.
Old English, on the other hand, had a subtler system of answering questions: the four-form system. What this means is, that four the sake of clarity, questions were divided into two categories: negative (“Will he not go?) and positive (“Will he go?”). Following this logic,, responses were also divided into negative and positive categories: 1) for negative, yes, he will go or no, he will not go; for positive, yea, he will go or nay, he will not go. Any English-speaker will remember being unsure of how to respond to negative questions: “Will he not go?”; Is the speaker asking whether the person will stay, or is he asking, will the person go? The solution to this quandary over the centuries has apparently been to drop the negative form of questions, to the extent possible (or at least that’s RT’s experience of the problem), but to keep the pair of negative responses. Go figure.
Meanwhile, returning to this post’s title, a sentence’s polarity simply indicates whether or not a statement affirms (positive) or denies (negative) a statement: positive (“James is here.”) or negative (“James is not here”).
And finally, we turn to the matter of particles. A particle is a part of speech which does not belong to any of the defined categories (for instance, nouns, verbs, articles) but which help convey a speaker’s meaning (examples include “not”and “to”) Particles are never inflected..
The Dragons of Grammar are rolling their eyeballs: if only humans would adopt the precision that exists in their language Dragonish. Keeping with their litigious nature and need for clarity, dragons have an Eight-form system for their responses: Positive: 1) yes, 2) yag (as in “Yes, and you’re being awfully inquisitive today”), 3) yog (as in “I was planning to, but I’m uncertain at the moment.”), 4) yigi (as in “I wasn’t planning to, but you’ve interested me in the possibility.”) and Negative 5) no, 6) noog (as in “No. I’m feeling lousy; don’t ask again.”), 7) negeehi (as in “No. Can’t you see I’m busy?”, and 8) natti :as in “No. Care for an Etruscan Salami?”). RT’s contacts in the DoGs assure him that it’s a snap to learn 8-form. RT has his doubts about their claim: Natti!! But his interlocutor merely replies: “No. Care for a snowball fight?” RT
Photograph: Snowball Fight, Montana State University. Author: ZeWrestler. WikiCmns; Public Domain.