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Linguistics

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What Is an Echo Answer?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated: May 23, 2024

An echo answer is a specific way to respond to a question, where the speaker uses a phrase that is similar to the question, or includes some of the same words. This is in contrast to simple affirmative/negative, or “yes or no,” answers to questions. In an echo answer, the verb that is used in the question is often part of the response, either in the same form or in a different form.

Every language has its own uses for echo answers. Many of these are related to the roles that simple affirmative or negative words play in the language. Some languages do not use words that correspond to “yes” and “no,” or these words may not have a prominent role. In these languages, the use of an echo answer is more common.

In English, the echo answer often indicates a more technical or even a stilted response. One case is in the use of echo answers in legal settings. For example, if a person is speaking casually to someone else on the street and is asked if they did something, that person might simply say “yes” or “no.” In a courtroom, when asked the same question, a respondent might say “I did.” or “I did not.” Here, the echo answer is reserved for formal and technical responses.

English speakers may also use a more advanced form of an echo answer. For example, if one English speaker asks another: “Did you go to the store?” the other might respond “I did go,” or even, "I did go to the store." This is not a usual response in many English-speaking language communities. When it is used, it tends to underscore the idea that someone has fulfilled an obligation, or perhaps imply that the person asking the question does not believe that the obligation has been met.

Other languages often rely on verb forms for echo answers. One example is in several latin-based European languages such as Spanish and Portuguese. In these languages, questions about conditions like hunger and thirst, or feeling hot or cold, are expressed with the verb that corresponds to “have.” In effect, speakers ask other if they “have” hunger, thirst, or cold or hot feelings. The person may respond, either in the positive or in the negative, with a form of the verb “have.” This would also constitute an echo answer.

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