I asked a question yesterday: Is there a list of verbs for starting yes/no questions?

It very quickly gathered 5 close votes and a lot of comments. When I checked it again today it had 4 reopen votes and it let me cast the fifth. So far, it has received 3 upvotes and only one downvote, so it doesn't seem to be a bad question.

The problem I have is that those who voted to close seemed to know the answer, but would not tell me/make it clear what it is.

One comment says:

I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because surely any verb that is used to start an interrogative sentence is likely to give rise to a yes / no response. The wh-words invite other answers.

And later:

I've instead close-voted for the reason that this is very basic.

In response to that, another comment says:

It's basic if you study EFL, but it's not basic for a native speaker, because such knowledge is tacit; it is not knowledge that we are able to consciously recall.

As further argument for closing my question is this:

This appears in a question closed as a duplicate

The question linked to has three answers and the question it is marked as a duplicate of has five answers. The questions and answers are only peripherally related to mine, and they don't appear to be duplicates of each other, but merely related.

Barrie England's answer here lists primary auxiliaries, modals and semi-modals.

This question seems very low quality to me and unrelated to my question.

And finally:

perhaps you need reminding that ELU is aimed at linguists.

I felt like I had been given this response from The Simpsons:

Well, it should be obvious to even the most dimwitted individual, who holds an advanced degree in hyperbolic topology…

So, what's going on here? I don't believe it's the consensus that only linguists should use this site. I've always previously been of the opinion that any well-considered question about English Language and Usage is welcome here, as long as it's not a duplicate and not trivial to find the answer by looking in a dictionary, doing an online search, etc.

After all, the FAQ says:

English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

While I'm not a linguist or an etymologist, I would describe myself as a serious English language enthusiast.

Why do we seem to have two polar opposites here? One group is quick to vote to close my question as off-topic, and the other group is equally quick to reopen it. I find it strange that no-one has yet definitively answered my question if it is so basic. I don't think that my question is off-topic, basic or a duplicate (although I don't always find duplicate questions due to using different terminology).

By, the way all this is a distraction from getting an answer. Ultimately, I don't care what happens to this particular page, and my question remains unanswered, although heavily hinted at. I don't care if my question gets closed, as long as an answer appears somewhere, even just in the comments. The reason I'm bringing my issue to Meta is because it's much more likely to receive an answer if it's not on-hold or closed.

So, is ELU becoming elitist? If I don't live up to other people's lofty expectations, my questions aren't welcome here? Is it acceptable behaviour to withhold the answer but spend time writing long comments if you don't think the question is worthy of ELU? Short of getting a degree in linguistics, what can be done about this?

  • 4
    Becoming? You must be new to Stack Exchange ;) - I only skimmed the post, but I didn't need to. The title itself lends to a yes/no answer, which is frowned upon, but if you edited it, it wouldn't matter because I'm pretty sure you'd then be asking for a list, and SE doesn't do lists.
    – Mazura
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 3:44
  • 1
    For the record, I avoid grammar questions (basically because of this type of drama, that you will find here at ELU - go read almost any random Meta page and you'll see this is normal), and not that I understand any of this, but I think here's your answer: Modal vs Non-Modal vs Auxiliary modal vs Conjugated Verb
    – Mazura
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 3:52
  • 11
    Look, it's not that we're elitist, per se, it's that you're filthy peasants, and unworthy of our attention.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 4:28
  • 3
    So, what's going on here? Nothing is going on here. If you want your question upvoted/welcomed/unclosed, you should follow the guidelines. Let me ask you one question. How is your question not too broad or not lack of research? Why do you think Does she need one of those? doesn't work very well? As @Mazura commented, requesting for a list is not a good question format on SE. Also, your question would have been better if you had focused on one or two specific examples, e.g., "Why doesn't Does he dare eat that? work in this regard?" than asking for a list. It will have my upvote.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 8:14
  • 3
    Why didn't you just plain ask to have your question reopened? This is just a big rant.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 14:14
  • 1
    You may be interested in a similar question asked (and answered) more than five years ago by moderator nohat: Is English Language & Usage highbrow? To me, the most striking thing about his answer is this assertion: “Complaints that we have too many low-quality questions are unfounded and unsupported by non-anecdotal (read: substantive) evidence.” In that respect, it sounds like a communiqué from another planet.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 19:05
  • 2
    The unwillingness of some to entertain questions that aren't framed perfectly seems like a symptom of a lack of imagination. On what-if.xkcd.com, the questions aren't what make the articles interesting. The extrapolation of the question into areas the asker couldn't know were relevant by someone with a deep understanding of the topic is what makes it fun. I thought it was amusing that you titled your question about yes/no questions as a yes/no question, and I learned something from sumelic's answer. I don't see why similar questions wouldn't be welcomed.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 15:15
  • @ColleenV Maybe you're right and the problem is that I called them "yes/no" questions, thereby exposing my ignorance. Only a child would call an interrogative a "yes/no" question! A real liguist would know the real term, so we won't give a real answer! I wonder who the real child is!
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 21:01
  • 1
    @CJDennis I wouldn't be too bitter about it - it's not personal. On ELL we've come to accept that most questions don't spring like Athena, fully formed (and wearing a full set of armor!), from someone's skull. Because of the language barrier we expect to have to work on questions and get clarification from the author to make them interesting. On ELU it's easy to assume that if you speak English fluently you should be able to ask a decent question, and easy to forget enthusiasts lack the framework to get at the heart of their question without some help from the experts.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 21:22

1 Answer 1

  1. So, is ELU becoming elitist? In terms of some attitudes about attributed lofty goals, that train has long left the station. In terms of scaling those heights, I'd have to say no.
  2. If I don't live up to other people's lofty expectations, my questions aren't welcome here? Correct, except to the extent that they allow those others to use you as an object lesson and whipping boy. See Dan Bron's comment above. In ioculo, veritas.
  3. Is it acceptable behaviour to withhold the answer but spend time writing long comments if you don't think the question is worthy of ELU? For some, it's considered mandatory. See the answer to your last question directly below.
  4. Short of getting a degree in linguistics, what can be done about this? A degree in linguistics won't help you. This is a cultural problem of the site, and any solution must come from that perspective. For an extremely cogent, witty, and learned analysis of the problem, go here. You're welcome.

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