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Jo (adverb/particle)

The adverb jo is used to mark the fact that what is being said is known information for both speaker and recipient. Often, jo is included in answers to questions. Depending on the context, marking information as being known and shared by the interlocutors may serve different purposes. For instance, and as we will see in some examples below, it may challenge the recipient’s claim of missing information (that is, the person’s basis for asking a question); account for why the speaker can’t answer a question, and mark a posed question as being unfair. 

Some examples here are from Swedish talk-in-interaction, but since jo (Swedish ju) seems to have the same function in Danish and Swedish, we can generalize the analyses as being applicable to Danish as well. 

In a sentence jo can be placed in two places: after the finite verb, and/or at the end of the whole sentence. Here is an example of both things in the same utterance: Det ku jo være arbejdsløshedskassen jo ‘it could jo be the unemployment fund jo’. If jo occurs in a direct answer to a question the utterance may have as function to challenge the askers claim that they are missing the information they are requesting. In that case jo signals that the recipient already should know the answer to the question they posed. This can be seen in the Swedish example below where the couple H and M are trying to find out what to give M’s younger sister as a birthday present: 

Heinemann, Lindström and Steensig | sextifyra glas (Swedish) | ((face-to-face)) 

01   H:     Mm:→

02          (2.0)

03   H:     Har hon nå kaffekoppar eller servi:s
            ‘does she have coffee cups or tableware’

04          (sådär)↗→

05          (1.8)

06   M:     Hmhh ja(h)a hon fick    ju  va
            hmm  yes    she get.PST PRT be.PST
            va:’re    sextifyra
            be.PST-it fortysix
            ‘hm yes she got ju what was it fortysix’

07          gla:s   av   Katr(h)i(h)n I  sin
            glas.PL from Katrin       in her
            studentpresent ()
            ‘glasses from Katrin as a student present’

08   H:     Ju:st de→
            ‘that’s right’

In line 3, H asks if the sister has some coffee cups or tableware, to which M in line 6 answers that she got 46 glasses as a student present. Here, M uses jo and signals that H is already aware that the sister got the glasses, which is further confirmed in line 8 when H answers “that’s right/oh right”. 

Jo can also occur in utterances which immediately follow an initial answer to a question. In this position it can justify why the speaker can’t answer a question. The example below is from a conversation between L, an older woman, and her home carer, B. L has been talking about her daughter who lives in the US, and has told that it hasn’t been raining much over there, to which B asks if that has affected the agriculture. 

Heinemann, Lindström and Steensig | afgrøder (Danish) | ((face-to-face)) 

01   B:     Jahm [a det g]å u- A det gå u ove:rehm (.)
            ‘well has it aff- has it affected uhm’

02   L:     [(mange)]

03   B:     afgrøder å så noe da?
            ‘crops and such then’ 

04   L:     Ja  det  ve   jeg itt fordi=eh nu
            yes it.N know I   not because  now
            bor      hun jo
            live.PRS she PRT

05          inde   i  en ( ) by   der   hhh=
            Inside in a-C    city there hhh
            ‘yes I don’t know that because uhm now she lives in a city there’

06   B:     =Jerh→=

07   L:     =Men hun sa at de havde altså manglet vand↗
            ‘but she said they had been short of water’

L indicates in line 4 that she doesn’t know the answer to B’s question by saying det ved jeg ikke ‘I don’t know’ and points out immediately after that her daughter lives in a city, which implies that the daughter can’t know very much about how the drought has affected crops. By using jo in the follow-up utterance, L signals that this information is somehow shared by her and B, and that B should recognize this as a valid reason for why L can’t answer the question. B accepts L's utterance as a valid answer with Jerh ‘yeah’ in line 6. 

The above excerpts are both examples where the interlocutors have had a relatively high degree of harmony between them: both H and B have accepted the jo-utterances as information they had access to, and from what we can see in these conversations nobody has been held accountable for lacking knowledge or for asking unnecessary questions. The next example however, between the couple V and R shows a bit more conflict. The couple is sitting in a café, and before the excerpt, the café owner has seen V with a pack of cigarettes in his hand and told him, while R was present, that he was allowed to smoke at the café. In line 1 V lights a cigarette, to which R asks if he’s allowed to smoke: 

Heinemann, Lindström and Steensig | det var da det hun sagde jo (Danish) | ((face-to-face)) 

01          (1.8)((V lights a cigarette))

02   R:     Måtte du ryge↗
            ‘were you allowed to smoke’

03          (0.2)

04   V:     Ja  det  var    da  det  hun
            yes it.N is.PST PRT it.N she
            såj     jo
            say.PST PRT
            ‘Yes that was PRT was she said jo’

05          Det  gør    de   jo  å    selv
            That do.PRS they PRT also self
            ‘that do they jo also themselves in here’

06          (1.0)

07   V:     Hm hm
            ‘hm hm’

08   R:     Hm→

09          (2.1)

The fact that R asks the question after V has lit the cigarette means that any answer V gives will be problematic: if he answers that he is not allowed to smoke, he would be admitting that he has done something wrong, and if he answers that he is allowed to smoke, he will show disagreement with R. R has posed the question quite provocatively by using the past tense form måtte ‘were you allowed to’ which implies that R’s request of smoking has already been rejected. In line 4, V phrases his answer with jo thus showing that R is already aware that the cafe owner has given him permission to smoke. He even uses the adverb da which has a similar function: da can challenge and reject a presupposition made by the asker, in this case R’s presupposition that smoking isn’t allowed. V underlines his claim that R should know that this presupposition is wrong in line 5 with Det gø de jo å selv herinde ‘they do that jo also themselves in here’, where jo occurs again. In contrast to the previously seen examples, this question is pointed out as being unfair, because the asker (R) has access to the requested information. R’s accepting response to this isn’t as explicit as the first two examples, but merely a hm in line 8. 

These three examples show that jo in different positions and different contexts can serve different purposes, when it occurs in answers to questions. In the first example jo occurred as part of an immediate answer to a question and served as a reminder that the asker already knew the answer to their question. In the second example jo came as part of a follow-up utterance after the initial answer to a question and served as an account for why the speaker couldn’t answer (knowledge that both asker and answerer knew). In the last example jo was used to hold the asker accountable for asking an unfair question with a deliberately wrong presumption. In common for all the examples is the fact that jo signals that the recipient already knows some of the information presented. 

Sources and further readings

Heinemann, T. (2009) about the use of da. 

Heinemann, T., Lindström, A. & Steensig, J. (2011) is a longer article about jo/ju in Danish/Swedish. 

Terkelsen, R. (2004) looks at jo in Danish, among other things. 

Stivers, T., Mondada, L. & Steensig, J. (2011) is a book about how speakers of different languages morally treat (i.a. shared) knowledge in conversation. 


Forms > Word classes/parts of speech > Adverbs

Forms > Word classes/parts of speech > Interjections and particles 

Functions > Actions > Questions and answers > Answer to request for information

Functions > Actions > Questions and answers > Confirmation/rejection of assumption