YEAH NO.

The Australians are fond of the phrase “Yeah no,” according to a June 11 Bridie Smith article in The Age:

The verdict from Monash University chair of linguistics Kate Burridge is that the apparently non-committal expression will stick around. And, like it or loathe it, linguists say “yeah no” is a surprisingly effective communication tool.
“It’s not going to disappear,” Professor Burridge says. “It’s always hard to predict with language change, but it looks like its use is on the increase.”…

“All of these little markers have a very important role in conversation. They have roles in showing the relationship between speaker and hearer and this one has a linking function as well,” Professor Burridge says.
In Australia, where the phrase has become entrenched in the past six years, “yeah no” can mean anything from “yes, I see that, but can we go back to the earlier topic” to an enthusiastic “yes, I can’t reinforce that point enough”. So, where does the distinction lie?
Professor Burridge says the phrase falls into three main categories, each determined by context. The literal agrees before adding another point, the abstract defuses a comment and the textual lets the speaker go back to an earlier point.
The next time a footballer answers “yeah no”, be aware that there is more to the reply than just an “um-ah” prefix. In this sporting context, Professor Burridge says “yeah no” is often used in its abstract context; as a way to defuse a compliment by a bashful footballer.
“You’ve got to downplay the compliment but you can’t reject it because that seems ungracious. It’s a complicated little thing.”

(Thanks for the link to John Hardy of Laputan Logic, who calls it “a quite prevalent Australian linguistic weirdism” and says “the ‘yeah’ is to acknowledge the possible validity of the other person’s remark, the ‘no’ to deflect its implications.”)

Comments

  1. Да нет, on the other hand, means extra no. Odd.

  2. I say ‘yeah no’ once in a while (I’m Canadian). It’s always meant to me pretty much exactly what John Hardy describes, but it isn’t common enough in my everyday life to be a weirdism, it’s just an occasional ad-hoc formation.
    I like it.

  3. It sounds like a corruption of ‘yeah I know’ to me. But then I haven’t realy thought too hard about it.

  4. Bandersnatch says:

    Not at all. Speaking from experience (as an Australian) here, “yeah I know” doesn’t fit at all in the same contexts where “yeah no” would be used.

  5. This sounds like something from our teenage Southern California-speak of yesteryear. I would translate it as “Yes, I acknowledge what you said and I accept the criticism or clarification you have proposed regarding my previous statement, or regret that I have not made myself clear, and so I hereby retract, amend, or amplify my position on the subject.”
    It’s a congener of locutions like “No, I mean …” which is often a way of elaborating on a point, or “No, you’re right.”
    “Hendrix is God. No, I mean really, they even have a church for him on Fillmore Street.” It’s kind of a dramatic device, anticipating an imaginary objection from the audience. It might mean, for example, “You have made your objection in a hesitant manner, and seem to doubt your own opinion, but I do not agree that it has no merit. No, you are not wrong. Yes, you are right.”
    Like the professor said, it’s all part of the game of managing conflict in conversational relationships.
    So you might have something like “Yeah, no, you’re right, cheap Canadian beer IS better than cheap American beer. I’m just saying that Old Milwaukee has a certain charm, that’s all.”
    See also “No, yeah …”

  6. But, No. 47, if you don’t actually use the phrase in question, there’s not much substance to your exegesis — you’re defining a hypothetical use you might give it rather than the way it’s used by Australians.
    And PF, yes, that is odd.

  7. Anthony says:

    Yeah no, No. 47 has it pretty much right.

  8. I say ‘yeah, no’ a lot in the ‘yes, that’s what you said and I disagree’ but also to mean ‘yes, you’re right the answer is no’. I’m from the UK and didn’t realise this was an Australian thing!

  9. I’m glad “yeah, no” is a prevelant Australianism – I’d noticed I use it a lot (and since I’m a native speaker, I presume I must be using it correctly.) I don’t quite use it in any of the ways mentioned (though I’d recognize some of them as correct if other people used them that way) – I tend to use it just to mean “yeah”, usually before going on to say something further. (“Yeah, no” on its own would be strange, in the way I use it.)
    Now, why I would say “yeah, no..” to mean “yeah” is something I don’t know…

  10. I find myself using the phrase a fair amount. (No Australian connection). I think that I use it when the conversation is wandering and/or I want to change the subject, or I want to be agreeable and pleasant (yeah) but also want to quibble or revise or ignore what someone said (no). I used it for awhile before I realized it was sort of odd.
    It’s a little politer form of “yes, but” maybe. Or how about this: you can begin the same sentence with “Yeah…” or “No….” in certain circumstances. The two meanings are not really diametrically opposed in actual speech, so you can use both.
    “No yeah”? Can’t remember using it, but it seems possible.

  11. the ‘yeah’ is to acknowledge the possible validity of the other person’s remark, the ‘no’ to deflect its implications
    It strikes me that my use of “Yeah, well” is similar.

  12. We first noticed this tic in our conversations back in, geeze, 1990 or so in Boston, and kicked it around, with only a vague consensus ever sort of tentatively reached, since it’s so darned odd, and it seemed to spring up all on its own, with no paper trail or even a hint of an origin. I think No. 47 has the right basic tack: we used it as an enthusiastic (though sometimes tempered) agreement, but usually indicating an original statement we’d ourselves made would have to be modified, or at the very least acknowledging a vector to the topic that we hadn’t ourselves yet considered: “Yeah, no, you’re right.” (It was used outside that sense, too, but I think as leakage from this sense, as it were.) –But it’s “Yeah, no,” (or even “nah” or “naw”), not “Yeah no”–there’s a very meaningful comma between the “yeah” and the “no,” and both words are given the same thoughtful, musing weight, even drawn out a little (in the archetypical useage, anyway). It’s sometimes “No, yeah,” but not as often as “Yeah, no.”
    Though this is a bunch of disaffected liberal arts dropouts from the New York area and the deepish South hanging out in Boston, not Australian footballers. Who may well drop the comma. So.

  13. I’m an Australian, and this article made me realise how much I use that phrase — I’d never really been conscious of it before. IIRC, when I use it I always feel like disagreeing with the person, when that was often not what I really intended.

  14. It’s interesting that more Australians haven’t chimed in on this, I think as James said many people aren’t even aware that they are doing it (if they were they’d probably stop it at a guess).
    From my subjective experience I can’t say whether it’s restricted to only the Melbourne region or goes much wider (it seems likely that it does because dialects aren’t really all that pronounced in Australia). I hear it often used amongst people of my own age group – younger sibs of the Babyboomers / older GenX-ers – and more often by men than women (I think) although it’s certainly not restricted to footballers.

  15. hippietrail says:

    I’m an Aussie. I’ve definitely noticed it and thought about it over the past 5 or 10 years. I wanted to hate it because of its seeming self-contradiction but it has a charm of its own which I can’t deny. Even though I consciously notice others using it, I’m usually unconscious of when I use it myself. But in my daily life now I’m surrounded by non-Aussies (mostly British) who definitely don’t use it. It really stands out when I hear it. But I’ve never heard anybody talking about it before.
    I agree with the usages given. It’s definitely not related to “Yeah I know”. There is a gap between the “yeah” and the “no”. In its most logical uses, the “yeah” is a response to the previous speaker and the “no” is a sentence adverbial to begin the real response. But I’m pretty sure some people use it just as a filler and this is much more annoying to my ears.

  16. It’s been around the D.C. area a few years, that I have noticed, all run together as one quick word. Lately I’ve been hearing “yesyes, nono” as well.

  17. RhiannonStone says:

    I’m not Australian in the least (though I have been asked several times if my Southern US accent was Australian, something I’ve never been able to figure out), but I catch myself using “yeah no” quite a lot. Sometimes it’s dismissive, a way of acknowledging that the other person has said something and then continuing down whatever line of conversation I’d started, and other times it’s just pure verbal filler. It’s one of the many usless words and phrases I’m trying to stop using so much.

  18. RhiannonStone says:

    As for “yesyes, nono,” I’ve never heard that, but back in highschool my friends and I used “yesno?” as a (usually but not always rhetorical) request for confirmation either way at the end of a sentence. I think it came from the way we liked to mangle the French we were studying, and was our form of “n’est-ce pas?” but I’ve also heard it since from people unconnected to my highschool friends group.

  19. Does the Bob Hope But play a similar role in American? “But I wanna tell ya…”

  20. The Afrikaans have long said, Ja-nee (Yes-no) which means more or less “so be it”.

  21. Tatyana says:

    Да нет is used in situations when previously stated opinion has to be reinforced regardless of the opponent’s objections. Something like: Yeah, I heard you, but still insist on what I said before”. I can’t say it’s “extra no”

  22. I think there was an article in the Australian Journal of Linguisics Kate wrote on this about a year ago.

  23. Tatyana, the situation I was imagining was something like this:
    Speaker 1: Don’t all Americans buy powdered mashed potatoes in little plastic bags?
    Speaker 2: Да нет (absolutely not)!
    “Extra no” was a wrong way to put it.

  24. Natalja says:

    I think I agree with PF, in that I’d use “Да нет” in a similar situation meaning “(No,) not at all”.
    I wouldn’t say that the Russian “Да нет” is an equivalent of “Yeah no” though. “Да” in “Да нет” is more similar to the “Да” in, for example, “Да что вы говорите”, where it doesn’t mean “yes” either. I think it’s what you call a “Gesprächspartikel” in German (I don’t know the English term), such as “mal”, “eben”, “doch”, “halt”, “ja”, all of which are difficult or even impossible to translate into English.

  25. I’m under the impression that every Spanish speaker understands “Sí, ¿no?” as “yes, don’t you agree?”. In my part of the globe (Río de la Plata), “Sí, no, <blah>” is absolutely standard since forever and means what No 47 masterfully exposed.
    Maybe it’s a weird southern-hemispherical thing?

  26. I’m from the UK and it definately is spreading here. I have heard it on BBC radio and TV. I first heard it when my friend came back from Australia about 5 years ago and thought it was quite cute. He used to come out with multiple contradictions like “yeah but no but yeah” etc.
    I think that a lot of what has been said above is correct and that it has many uses, the most reasonable being to soften a negative answer before desagreeing. However, as people have heard it and used it more and more (mainly unconciously) I think it has lost most of its meaning and it now is just a substitute for “yeah”.
    Has anyone else heard multiples? I have previously heard:
    “Yeah yeah, no, no…”
    “Yeah but no…”
    and my personal favourite, the extra-confusing:
    “No, no, I know, but no…”
    I have a stammer and have to think about every word I say and am always interested in other’s speech patterns. I never use it and interestingly, when I point it out to people, they find it just as confusing and stop using it so much.

  27. Sitting working in an office in melbourne australia, I just heard someone ask a question (ie did you finish that report), then heard the response “yeah nah I did”.
    In that context I believe it meant yes I did it, no you don’t have to worry about it. The response was as if the person had asked “did you do the report and do I have to worry about it”. In that sense it I agree it has a deflecting meaning (even if it pre-empts a question that wasn’t asked).

  28. Brent in California says:

    This is more and more common in the Uninted States as well. I hear it spoken quite often … and on last week’s “The Office” too.
    Its strange that i always seem to know what they mean…

  29. My boss (from the midwest US) says “yeah no” all the time, and each time it’s such a distraction that it’s starting to drive me crazy! I wish it would come to an end!

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