Monday, 28 April 2008

yes, yeah

I've recently encountered the opinion that yeah is a lazy way of pronouncing yes. I'd always assumed that yeah was a contraction of yes. Neither of these beliefs are true, the truth is more interesting.

The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology on yes:

word expressing an affirmative reply (peculiar to Eng.). OE. ġese, ġīse, ġȳse, prob. for *gīese, f. *ġīa sīe 'yea, may it be (so)'; formerly used spec[ifically] in response to a neg. question [contrary to] YEA.

on yea:

OE. ġe, (WS.) gēa, corr. to Ofris. gē, jē, OS., OHG, jā̆ (Du., G. ja), ON. , Goth. ja, jai; ult CGerm. *ja, *je, which was variously modified through stress or emotional emphasis. The standard sp. yea and pronunc. jei show retarded development, perh. partly due to assoc. with nay (but the normal development jī is current locally).

In other words, yeah and yea are older than yes. A form of yeah is found in most Germanic languages. yes is specific to English and was formed from (a form of) yea plus sīe "may it be so" (from PIE *h₁es- "to be".)

The ODEE states that yes was originally used for an affirmative response to a negative question - much like French si. Could si also be derived from a form of "to be"? I don't know; this etymology of si³ is the only one I could find, and it's not helpful. No!


parvomagnus said...

I'd always thought that French si, used like that, was etymologically the same as Spanish , from Latin sic. The Academie needs to get the rest of their Dictionnaire online... Wiktionary says the same, for what that's worth.

komfo,amonan said...

From the entry si3, taking valeur issue de l'adv. de manière to be a reference to si2, and taking V. si2 to be the etymology, since they generally appear at the end of the entry, we can conclude that the two entries share an etymology and derive from Latin sic, as stated at the end of the entry si2.

goofy said...

That makes sense. Thanks!

WordzGuy said...

I wonder if people will ever get over the idea that there even is such a thing as a "lazy" pronunciation, which, it should be noted, is always how other people speak. We ourselves speak very ... uh ... diligently.

zmjezhd said...

Great entry, goofy. This can now be added to the till / until controversy.