Benjamin Zimmer at Language Log has a fascinating post on “the speech patterns of northeastern Pennsylvania,” taking off from a YouTube video called “Heynabonics,” heyna or haina being apparently a tag question characteristic of the region:

Putting haina on the end of a statement makes the statement a question. It doesn’t matter who you’re talking to, or when the thing happened. “You’re going dancing Friday night, haina?” means “Are you going dancing Friday night?” “He did that last night, haina?” means “Did he do that last night?”

There are interesting parallels with (and possible influences from) Pennsylvania Dutch and Hindi, not to mention British innit. Well worth your attention.


  1. Interesting parallels? I don’t think so. Haina IS from Hindi. And it translates to “isn’t it?”.

  2. More than interesting parallels –
    In my local language, Surigaonon (a sub-group of Visayan) Innit? (or Y’know) = Ganni?
    In Arabic, Innit? (or Y’know) = Yanni?
    They’re the kind of phrase that shows up in thousands of everyday converstions, but never makes it into any dictionary.

  3. In Arabic, Innit? (or Y’know) = Yanni?
    This sounds more like ya9ni – يعني – originall meaning “it means”. As for usage, it’s closest English equivalent would be “Er” or perhaps “Umm” – all words/sounds used whenever one is at loss for words. I doubt that’s how the particle “haina” works. BTW, in Finish, it would be “niinku(in)” or “totaa”, in Swedish it’s “liksom”. Both “niinku” and “liksom” very much resemble US English “like”.
    The Arabic equivalents to this “haina” I’m familiar with are “ma heek” (SLP) and “muu chidhi” (Gulf).

  4. What on earth would make you think there’s any linguistic influence from Hindi or Arabic on the white working class speech patterns of Scranton Pennsylvania? Are you off of your ivory tower rockers? More likely heyna comes from ‘ain’t it’.

  5. Jon,
    we’re looking for parallels, not origins.
    And if both you and Shruti had read the original post by Ben Zimmer, you’d see that he discusses the Hindi parallel.

  6. Not unlike particle usage in the Japanese Language; ne and, more obviously, ka.
    (“ka” at the end of a statement changes it to a question, and “ne” at the end makes it an “isn’t it?[ish]”)

  7. The Queen’s Hinglish doesn’t really claim that innit started among Indians, does it? (The nearest copy in a library is over by LH at UMass.) The book’s publicist must have given some confusing copy to the wire services. It must be that its use got extended beyond instances where “isn’t it” would work grammatically.
    Even Americans know iconic uses of innit from the late 1960s.

    • Yeah, remarkable bird the Norwegian Blue, beautiful plumage, innit?
    • It’s a bird, innit. It’s a bloody sea bird … it’s not any bloody flavour. Albatross!
    • It’s funny that penguin being there innit?

    (Unless there’s some subtle change in pronunciation that I’m not remembering.)

  8. Speaking of parallels that we shouldn’t read anything into, how about “Dui ma?”
    Is there any etymological link between the Mandarin and the Hindi?

  9. Graham Asher says

    The 1960s British usage of ‘innit’ quoted above is very different from the modern usage (which sounds weird to me as a 50s-vintage Englishman). Traditionally, ‘innit’ (i.e., isn’t it) is just one of a whole range of question tags (or tag questions – it doesn’t matter) that have to agree with the subject and verb of the main sentence – so “you’ve just been shopping, haven’t you” is correct,
    as is “it’s an albatross, innit?” and *”you’ve just been shopping, isn’t it [or ‘innit’]” is wrong. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Question_tag).
    The distinctive innovation, which is very stigmatised and generally regarded as substandard, is to use ‘innit’ as a universal question tag.

  10. Yes, that is precisely what I meant. The innovation is extension beyond instances where “isn’t it” would work grammatically. And for that South Asian influence might be real. But a number of people are interpreting the claim as broader than that. See, for instance, the comments quoted here.
    I think the Midwestern American [ɪɾn̩dɪt] works grammatically the same as the older innit.

  11. How vital and/or widespred is this dialect today? My wife is from the northern Poconos, about 30 miles east of Scranton, and I’ve never heard of this feature.

  12. Your wife will do anything to please you, Vanya. She probably went to a voice coach in preparation for marriage.

  13. My wife actually has a slight Philadelphia accent, as her family originally comes from there. Maybe there’s social stratification at work, and newcomers to the area don’t interact enough with the older more rural families, and never pick up on this.

  14. Michael Prytz says

    Interestingly enough, South Africans use “is it?”, which is grammatically a mirror image of the British “innit?”.
    Like “innit”, “is it” does not agree with the (dropped) subject or the original verb.
    “Is it?” is not a tag question, but a sort of confirmation-seeking or phatic interjection:
    – “I bought a new car.”
    – “Is it? What colour?”
    “Is it?” is not considered ‘good’ usage, but could still be found in educated speech in an informal office context.

  15. I’m pretty sure the British ‘innit’ did come from the second and third generations of South Asian immigrant communities, though it has now spread more widely.

  16. From Language Log Nov 17 Arnold Zwicky:
    INNIT. And passed on to a DVD of Metrosexuality, a film (originally, a TV show) set in London’s Notting Hill district, with a large cast of characters, of several ethnicities, sexualities, and dialects. It’s very fast-paced, with lots of quick cuts. Not really an Arnold Zwicky work thing, because it requires so much attention. But it has some wonderful London street speech, including this telephone exchange right at the beginning, between an adolescent and his (flamingly) gay father, both black:
    Dad: Just tell me what you want and be done.
    Son: How about a lift home, yeh? See, your no-good ragamuffin ex-husband ain’t shown up, innit, And I don’t got no bus fare, innit.
    Dad: But you do got legs, innit. And you do can walk, innit.
    (Plot point: the son is trying to get his two dads, separated for 18 months, to reconcile, and is contriving to get them both in the same place at the same time, on his behalf.)
    There’s just so much here: the deployment of innit (which has several uses in current London street speech, going well beyond its use as a fixed question tag) and the do’s in the dad’s last two sentences, in particular.
    This is new – but it might well be a South Asian scriptwriter putting familiar phrases into the mouths of Afro-Anglos (have I heard that description somewhere, or did I just make it up?)
    Another comment above on Japanese usages also rang a bell in Surigaonon – ‘Jari – na’ means, more or less ‘Here it is – innit’ and ‘Sige na’ = OK innit? If you’re pleading, the na becomes naa-aa.

  17. Turns out that Metrosexuality was created and written by one ‘Rikki Beadle-Blair’ – an ‘English’ name with a pedigree about as long as a ticket-stub.
    Having a given name like mine makes you extremely averse to odious comparisons, like ‘Tricky Dick’, ‘Dirty Dick’ and so on.
    Last time I saw the name Rikki it was used for an Indian mongoose.

  18. Not sure why you’d expect Metrosexuality to have a South Asian scriptwriter, Richard. Even if invariant “innit” was influenced by similar tags in South Asian languages (or, according to Peter Trudgill, Caribbean creoles), it has long been nativized in the English of working-class white Londoners (the type now usually disparaged with the label “chav”). For another fictional example you could take a look at invariant “innit” as used (prolifically) by Keith Talent, the Cockney anti-hero in the 1989 novel London Fields by Martin Amis.

  19. What about an ultimately Scottish origin? In Scotland a common tag question marker is “eh?” (right?) which has an interrogative negative form “eh no?” (isn’t that right?)I reckon this might be the origin of heyna.

  20. terrycollmann says

    The extension of “innit” into an all-purpose question marker is certainly more than 20 years old in Britain, as the comedian Harry Enfield was using it in his sketches as Stavros the North London Greek kebab shop owner on Saturday Live about 1986:
    and not too long after that (about 1990) I heard it being used by a schoolboy wearing the uniform of the Oratory School in West London – the same Cstholic school Tony Blair sent his sons to – who said to a friend: “You told me you was doin’ your homework, innit!”
    What is interesting is that for the past seven or eight years or so a “hyper-correct” version of “innit” has been around, in London at least, used by people who know “innit” is stigmatised and who therefore say “isn’t it” – but still using it “ungrammatically” as a universal marker, as in: “I’m going on holiday next week, isn’t it.”

  21. Languagehat, thank you so much for the link to the YouTube video. I don’t think my co-workers have ever heard me laugh that hard. It hit, shall we say, a bit too close to home.
    I strongly suspect that “heyna” (not really used where i grew up in Central PA) must come from “hain’t’chya.” My dad (born and raised in Shamokin, PA, in the heart of the Coal Region) says “hain’t so” frequently enough, so it’s a word i’m well familiar with. And i’m so glad to have the Language Log -provided link to CoalSpeak — much of it entirely too familiar. I think i’m going to have to buy a copy of the book they offer.
    All of Pennsylvania is a wonderful linguistic treasure trove (i’m more familiar with eastern Pennsylvania, but i’d guess western Pennsylvania is much the same) — so many waves of immigrants coming in thru’ Philadelphia before Ellis Island opened. Eastern Europeans, Irish, Italians mixing with the English and Pennsylvania Germans who had been there a century or more. Culinarily interesting, too: one can have scrapple for breakfast and pierogies for dinner. For as long as i can remember, my mother and grandfather referred to small stones found in the yard while mowing as “gornicks.” Mom always said it was a Pennsylvania Dutch word. It was just last year, at the age of 34 and now living 3000 miles away from where i grew up, that i discovered that the word is really “dornick” and it’s originally from Irish.

  22. In Wisconsin this tag is “enna” and seems to be attributed to a German influence.

  23. I grew up close enough to Scranton to share a Congressman, but I’d never heard of “heyna” until today. We always used “say?” for that purpose.

  24. Anyhow, having grown up in NEPA, I’ve heard ‘haina’ all the time. I’ve also heard an Indian I was working with that it means the same thing in Hindi. That’s a nice coincidence, but it’s just that and no more. Obviously, ‘haina’ came from ‘ain’t it’, in NEPA.

  25. David Necikowski says

    Both my parents were Polish, second-generation American citizens. All my grandparents came through Ellis Island. They ended up working in PA in the coal mines. Dad’s family settled in Wilkes-Barre and my mom’s in Kingston. My folks and all my relatives used and still use heyna when talking. It was a common word in my house when I was growing up. I left home at 17 and have lived in VA for over 40 years so I don’t use it here. Southerners have their own slang words, like taron or kaddi. Which translates to Tire Iron and Karate. So I’d say it’s from the PA region, along with puttz-(fart), Koke-(any kind of soda), beer garden-(any bar), full of malarky-(bull s***, and outen-(turn off the light.

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