Yeah / No

A few years ago a friend pointed out to me "that New Zealanders say 'Yeah / No'". As is the way with such things, having become aware of this language habit, I now notice it all the time. It's not confined to New Zealanders - Australians do it too. What does it mean? It doesn't signal outright disagreement so much as a kind of reflexive acknowledgment of the other's position - remark, statement, supposition, whatever - followed by an assertion of one's own version. If the 'yeah' is an agreement, the 'no' is almost an apology. One person might say: "I thought you guys were going away this weekend?" and the other reply: "Yeah, no, we are." Is this a simultaneous registration of the other's doubt that the weekend was going to happen, followed by a denial that this doubt is valid? It seems to be. And yet ... there's often something fugitive in this surely bizarre conjunction of the positive and the negative. The shades of meaning conveyed can feel contradictory and, at the same time, ineffable. Perhaps 'yeah / no' speaks from a deep layer of the antipodean psyche, so deep that ultimate clarification is problematic, even, perhaps, impossible. Yeah, no, I know what you mean.


richard lopez said...

yeah/no is not confined to nz or oz since it is often employed as a reflex in california too. I've noticed that as well as speakers using the word "like" in a conversation to convey a third party speaker. for example, instead of using "say," as in, "he says." or the past tense "said" the word "like" and even, heaven forbid, "go," is used in its stead. so often are these words used that I wonder if it is endemic in the english language all over the world or is of only local usage.


Martin Edmond said...

Californians too? One thing I notice is that not everyone does this here, those who do tend to be 'nicer' or perhaps less confident people. Yeah, the like infestation is ubiquitous, and the 'He goes ...' One habit I enjoy, a few years old now, is the simile without the point of comparison, as in 'black as ...' or 'hot as ...' Or weird as ...