Puzzling response particles An experimental study on the German answering system

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Berry Claus
A. Marlijn Meijer
Sophie Repp
Manfred Krifka


This paper addresses the use and interpretation of the German response particles ja, nein, and doch. In four experiments, we collected acceptability-judgement data for the full paradigm of standard German particles in responses to positive and negative assertions. The experiments were designed to test the empirical validity of two recent accounts of response particles, Roelofsen & Farkas (2015) and Krifka (2013), which view response particles as propositional anaphors. The results for responses to negative antecedents were unpredicted and inconsistent with either account. A further unexpected finding was that there was large interindividual variation in the acceptability patterns for affirming responses to negative antecedents to the extent that most speakers found ja more acceptable whereas some found nein more acceptable. We discuss possible revisions of the two accounts to model the findings, and explore in how far the findings can be accounted for in alternative, ellipsis accounts of response particles.


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