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Jo (answer token)

2020.06.22 | Samtalegrammatik.dk

This entrance is about the answer token or interjection jo, , which does not have a direct English translation, but which we have chosen to call ‘yes2’. This response token is used as a response to both questions and other utterances. It is normally stressed and can be pronounced as ['joːˀ], ['jɔwˀ].

Danish has a so-called ‘perfect polarity system’ which means that negatively formulated utterances are confirmed with nej ‘no’, while positively formulated utterances are confirmed with ja ‘yes’. However, in some cases, a positive claim is expressed through a negatively formulated utterance. In those cases, jo is used to to confirm or disconfirm the claim. The example below illustrates the clear difference in the usage of ja and jo. In the example, a positively formulated utterance is confirmed with a ja, but when the same utterance is rephrased negatively a while later, it is confirmed with jo:

TH/S2/005 | Jens & AnneMie | Arnes billeder ((telefon))

01   Mie:    [nej↘ men det  (højst/ås)
            No  but it.N (mostly/also)
            ’No but it’s (mostly/also)’
02           interessant→ >det  ka'j'   lov'    dig→ det< en hel   krimi↘
            interesting that can-1SG promise 2SG  it   a  whole thriller
            ‘interesting I can promise you that it’s a whole thriller’
03           (.)
04   Jens:   >·hh< det  tror  jeg bestemt det er↘ > [det var da li:
              that think 1SG surely  it  is     it  was DA just
             ‘I definitely think it is it was just about to’
05   Mie:                                         [jahhhheh hh
     Mie:                                         'yes'
06   Jens:   ve    å  gå gal<   her  i- i  mandags↘=jeg ku    >·hh<
            about to go wrong here o- on monday   1SG  could hh
            ’about to go wrong here on Monday I could’
07           >han   havde vist   glemt     å  si  det te ole↘
            3SG.M had   surely forgotten to say it  to NAME
            ‘I think he forgot to tell Ole’
08   Jens:   ·h[hhhh
09   Mie:      [jerh
10           (0.3)
11   Jens:   >havde han   ikk↗<
            had   3SG.M not
            ‘didn’t he’
12   Mie:    >°joh  han   havde↘°<
            yes2 3SG.M had
            ’yes2 he did’

Mie and Jens are gossiping about a local family and Mie has just told Jens that the family members have had a falling out due to an inheritance issue. In lines 4-7 Jens makes a statement to Mie about one of the family members having forgotten to inform another family member of something. The use of vist in line 7, which translates literally to something like ‘surely’, but in use means something more like ‘I think’, suggests that Jens has less knowledge than Mie about the subject, but Mie’s jerh ‘yeah’ on line 9 only expresses confirmation towards the statement, not that she has more knowledge of the subject. Following this, Jens produces a negatively formulated question on line 11 which shows that he wants his statement confirmed. Mie confirms in line 12 with joh han havde ’yes2 he did’.

Jo is also used to confirm utterances which are negatively formulated by virtue of the tag ikk ‘right’ at the end of the utterance. This is the case in the example below where Lis’ claim that Asta had a common car in the garage is finished with ikk ‘right’:


Samtalebanken | Sam2 | samfundskrise| L494 ((ansigt-til-ansigt))

01 AST:    jamen   ▔vi▔ fik ikk bil før    i  halvfjerds jo↘  
            yes.but 1.PL got not car before in seventy    JO
            ’but we didn’t get a car before ‘70 you know’
02         (0.6) 
03 AST:    °enoghalvfjerds°↗  
            'seventy one'
04         (1.0)
05 LIS:    amen    i      havde da den fælles   der  holdt
            ’yes.but you.PL had   DA the communal that held
            ’but you had the communal one that was parked’
06         herude   i  garagen    ikk↗
            out.here in garage-DEF right
            ’out here in the garage right’
07         (0.4)
08 LIS:    holdt [den ikk her] hos jer↗
09 AST:          [jo::      ]   
10         (0.2)
11 AST:    øh: jo
            'uh yes2'
12         (.)
13 AST:    det  gjorde den↘
            that did    it
            ’it did’
14 LIS:    ja[:  ]→
15 AST:       men  det  var ikk sån  vores egen jo 
            [but] that was not such our   own  JO↘
            ’but that wasn’t, like, our own you know’
16         (0.8)
17 LIS:    det  var ikk en  i      måtte køre  i  t(h)il århus∾
            that was not one you.PL may    to drive in t(h)o århus∾
            ‘it wasn’t one you were allowed to drive to århus’
18         huhuh°huh° ∙hhhh
19 AST:    jo   men vi  gjorde det jo ikk↗
            yes2 but 1PL did    it  JO not
            ‘yes2 but we didn’t do it you know’

The first jo ‘yes2’ uttered by Asta, in line 9, is quite delayed (see the pause in line 7) but clearly functions as an answer to Lis’ utterance in lines 5-6 where the tag ikk ‘right’ is placed at the end of the utterance. Yes2 can thus be used to confirm positively formulated utterances when they end with the tag ikk.

Perhaps due to Asta’s delayed answer, Lis reformulates her utterance to a negative question in line 8, which expresses her expectation that the car was parked in Astas garage. Again, Asta confirms this with jo in line 11.

Finally, this last example also shows that yes2 can disconfirm or contradict negatively formulated sentences. In line 19 jo is a part of the turn-initiating particle jomen, in which jo disconfirms the negatively formulated expectation (that Asta ‘was allowed to’ drive the car to Aarhus, but only partly, hence the but-part of the utterance).

Soruces and further reading

Heinemann (2003) is a ph.d.-thesis which describes the use of nej ‘no’ in a variety of situations, and also includes a chapter on jo ‘yes2’. The thesis has since been published in Skrifter on Samtalegrammatik 2(12) as Heinemann (2015).

Heinemann (2005) is about the ’perfect polarity system’ in Danish and therefore describes the use of ja, nej og jo.



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