3.806 yes/no, cont. (152)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Thu, 30 Nov 89 21:38:48 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 806. Thursday, 30 Nov 1989.

(1) Date: Wed, 29 Nov 89 20:14 EST (59 lines)
Subject: yes-no, etc.

(2) Date: Thu, 30 Nov 89 01:50:30 MST (11 lines)
From: John Morris <JMORRIS@UALTAVM>
Subject: Not my reference

(3) Date: Thu, 30 Nov 89 07:46 CST (21 lines)
From: Robin Smith <RSMITH@KSUVM>
Subject: Yes and no, assent and denial

(4) Date: Thu, 30 Nov 89 18:11 EST (31 lines)
Subject: No and

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 29 Nov 89 20:14 EST
Subject: yes-no, etc.

Kenneth Burke wrote extensively on the negative in Part
III of Language as Symbolic Action (University of California
Press, 1968). The specific essay is Chapter 7 of Part III, "A
Dramatistic View of the Origin of Language" which speaks of the
"negative as a marvel of language." An interest in the negative
runs through Burke's writings from the 1930's on.

The current discussion on yes and no also reminds one of
Carlyle's Sartor Resartus with its discussion of the everlasting
yea and the everlasting nay. Carlyle as well as Bergson appears
to have had some influence on Burke.

As regards Joyce just to add to the statistics I checked
the Steppe-Gabler Handlist to Joyce's Ulysses. Including all
variants - italicized, captialized, etc.- there are 625 nos to
358 yeses in Ulysses as a whole. In the final episode, Molly's
soliloquy, the ratio naturally changes radically with 57 nos to
84 yeses. Removing the final episode, there are 568 nos to 271
yeses. The ratio for yeses to nos is 1.4 for episode 18; .48
for the other seventeen episodes and .57 for the entire work.
None of this is surprising considering Joyce's having made "yes"
one of the four key words in the closing episode.

Unfortunately it is not possible at the moment to do the
same for the"nichtian" language of Finnegans Wake, since the Hart
concordance does not itemize yes, no or other items like preposi-
tions and conjunctions. As Ulysses is more affirmative, the
night world of the Wake is likely more negative, even if it is
"nat language in any sinse of the word". Even if the concor-
dance were to supply the entries, the real problem of establish-
ing all of the forms of yes or no in the Wake would require a
complex theory of fuzzy matches (e.g ,"nat" in the above cita-
tion). But that is just as true of Ulysses and for that matter
any text, since there are numerous syntactic and semantic forms
of yes and no. No interpeter, though, could discount the impor-
tance in Ulysses of the predominant number of yes items in the
last episode nor the greater preponderance of yes items through-
out, since this is obviously a significant aspect of the struc-
ture, which is clearly confirmed by the author's own remarks re-
garding the use of yes in the concluding episode.

The problem raised initially of ratio of negative to affirmative
elements in works raises interesting question of relationship
between statistics and interpretations. Considering the impor-
tance the concept of negativity occupies in contemporary criti-
cal discussions about the revolution of poetic language and
theories of deconstruction, this raises an intriguing set of
speculations concerning possible shifts in such ratios at various
moments from Hegel's Phenomenology (or perhaps Pope's poetry) to
the present.

Donald Theall

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------19----
Date: Thu, 30 Nov 89 01:50:30 MST
From: John Morris <JMORRIS@UALTAVM>
Subject: Not my reference

Kessler at UCLA is very kind to credit me with a Freud reference,
but, it wasn't me. I am unable, alas, to pass the credit on to those
more deserving as I have not kept all of the "yes, no" discussion.

And since no one has leapt to my defence on such a niggling point . . .
"sic" translates as "yes", "sic" stands for "yes" but it does not mean
"yes". If refuted there will be no no no more from me on the subject.
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------29----
Date: Thu, 30 Nov 89 07:46 CST
From: Robin Smith <RSMITH@KSUVM>
Subject: Yes and no, assent and denial

Perhaps everything useful has been said now about searching for
affirmative and negative particles, but I can't resist one further
comment. It seems to me that nothing at all interesting is likely to
come from a count of any of the sorts of relative frequencies being
explored here. Consider the very narrow context of looking for
affirmative and negative responses to questions (one place where one
would look for 'yes' as well as 'no'). Make it even narrower: imagine
scanning Plato's dialogues, in particular those such as the Republic or
Phaedo which are in indirect discourse. Dissenting responses more or
less have to include some negative particle (e.g. ouk ephe, ouk emoige,
or just ou). Assents, on the other hand, might occasionally include a
nai but are more commonly drawn from a wide variety of forms: sunephe,
emoige dokei, sundokei, etc. Suppose now that in a particular exchange
there are a hundred responses, sixty of which are affirmative (but only
one including an explicit nai) and forty of which are negative (all
including an ou or a me somewhere). Searching for the various negative
particles, etc., will give the false impression that negative responses
far outweigh affirmatives here. That's why I described the whole thing
as misguided.
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------37----
Date: Thu, 30 Nov 89 18:11 EST
Subject: No and

I have just read 27 HUMANIST messages saved over the last ten days while
our BITNET link was down. Many of these messages concerned the
frequency of the words "yes" and "no" (and other negatives). While many
of you may feel that the subject should be closed, I'm just now getting
my chance. Please bear with me.

It seems that we are counting the wrong thing. If, as is the case in
English, any sentence without negation (or at least most) is considered
positive, should we not compare the number of sentences with negation to
the number without, rather than simply counting words?

I'm afraid that it is more complicated than that, since some sentences
with more than one negative are positive, but others remain negative.
My point is that rather than English texts being considered negative
because there is such a high preponderance of negative words over
positive ones, we should observe that most texts are overwhelmingly
positive since more positive statements are made than negative. Perhaps
Nancy Ide would remind us about her study of negation in Sylia Plath's
novel _The Bell Jar_. We will remember that negation (as with beauty)
is in the eye of the beholder.

Mary Dee Harris