I’m sorry for two linguistics posts in a row, but I just couldn’t pass this one up.
I’ve been an avid reader of Language Log for several years now – in fact, it’s one of the things that sparked my interest in linguistics and thus led me to take a linguistics minor at Hunter, among other things. A while back, there was a series of Language Log posts about “yeah no” that included thoughts about “yeah no” in English as well as similar sorts of constructions in other languages. The basic gist is that English speakers say “yeah no” or “yeah, no” a lot to mean a number of different things, and it is interesting.
So, let me not bury the lede any deeper: my boss at the Georgian Academy of the Ministry of the Interior uses “yeah no” in Georgian.
I first heard this when he was talking to one of the tech guys. There are American military types from the Department of Homeland Security hanging around the Academy and showing off some technology that they are training the Georgians to use, and while my boss was talking to a Georgian tech guy about what the Americans were showing him, he said “ჰო, არა” (ho, ara) which translates directly into English as “yeah, no.”
Side note: in Georgian there are three distinct ways to say “yes” – there’s formal (დიახ/diakh), regular (კი/ki), and slang (ჰო/ho, alternatively ხო/kho). The last one corresponds to “yeah” in English – it might still be considered rude in certain very formal situations or by certain kinds of elders or superiors, but is in wide use otherwise.
So anyway, here was my boss in casual conversation using a phrase that, for me, is highly marked in English. “Yeah, no.” I asked him about it and he didn’t know what I was talking about, then told me that he had been answering two different questions. I thought I might have been mistaken, and was disappointed, but resolved to go on living anyway. Then, today, he produced a totally unambiguous “yeah, no” in exactly the kind of context in which you would find it in English.
We were talking to two native Georgian speakers who teach English, and someone had just explained something in English. My boss was restating this in Georgian, perhaps for emphasis or to make sure it was clear to the other Georgians. One of the English teachers responded impatiently, in English,
“Yes, yes, I understood what he was saying.”
My boss then said “ჰო, არა, ვითსი, ვითსი, ვითსი,” which means “yeah, no, I know, I know, I know.”
In this case, I believe the “yeah” and “I know” were responses to the content of the statement – that the teacher had understood the English version – while the “no” was shorthand for “I didn’t mean to imply that you didn’t” – in other words, a quick denial of the implication that he might have been questioning her comprehension.
In any case, that’s now twice I’ve heard the same person use this expression, in much the same way as the corresponding words are used in English. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for other Georgians who use the phrase this way.