April 04, 2008

Yet another "yeah no" note

Following up on "Yeah no" and "'Yeah no' mailbag" (4/3/2008), Russell Lee-Goldman writes:

I was actually about to send a long email to you about yeah-no, but decided just to put it on my blog.

That's "Yeah-no and no-yeah again", Noncompositional (3/4/2008).

But one highlight that might interest you is that I found a token of "yeah no" while trolling through archived NPR transcripts on lexis-nexis: it's Geoff Nunberg in Talk of the Nation, April 2nd 2004. The lead-up to the "yeah no" starts at around 10m:30s into his segment of the show.

See Russell's blog post for a transcript and discussion. If I were breaking into the conversation at this point, I might observe that

Yeah, no, well, in fact "yeah no" is pretty much the thematic idiom of NPR.

That is, if I were the sort of person who makes such facile generalizations, which I'm not.

But here are a couple of random examples anyhow. On Science Friday, 4/30/2005, a caller asks whether math is "part of the structure of our mind and reality". Ira Flatow says "Hang on. I've got to get a reaction from Keith Devlin, if he dares to react to that." And Keith Devlin responds:

Yeah. No, and in fact, that's what my book "The Math Instinct" is all about.

On Talk of the Nation, 10/7/2003, Scott Simon asks Ivo Daalder and Todd Lindberg for reactions to Condoleeza's Rice's appointment as head of the Iraq Stabilization Group, and after each has had a turn, Daalder continues with

Yeah. No, no. I mean, I think that's right, we didn't quite know what was going on, but we had some experience.

Russell's note continues:

I also have to mostly agree with you wrt to this: "The null hypothesis, I think, would be that yeah, yes, no, oh, etc. each has its own function, and speakers emit instances of such words randomly as functionally appropriate." In all the cases of "yeah-no" (and "no-yeah") that I've looked at (mostly switchboard and fisher transcripts, also some multi-party meeting recordings) you can identify a function that each of the yeas and nos has, and they correspond almost exactly to functions that they have -individually-. It just might be that certain situations "call for" combinations of these uses, and so you get more yeah-nos than you might expect. But it's not really much different, I think, from other combinations like "oh no" and "so yeah" - it's just that the canonical meanings of "yeah" and "no" are antonymic, so we might wish to attribute the whole collocation with some special meaning before checking all the
facts.

I'm working on this stuff for one of my qual papers - look forward to all the answers being laid out therein. (he said sarcastically).

Russell added in a follow-up email:

I just noticed your reporting of Justin Levitt's observation: "I'll just end by noting that I hear "I mean" following "yeah, no" a whole lot. Maybe this indicates people are aware of the ambiguity? I certainly say "yeah, no, I mean I liked it, but...""

This is really great, because it corroborates Schegloff's analysis of this particular use of "no" (to introduce corrections of misunderstandings, to put it grossly) - which he says is often followed by some indication of a correction, such as "I mean."

That's Emanuel "Manny" Schegloff, who has written extensively on conversational corrections over the past 30 years. In fact, this is almost the 30th anniversary of Emanuel Schegloff, Gail Jefferson and Harvey Sacks, "The Preference for Self-Correction in the Organization of Repair in Conversation", Language 53(2): 361-392, 1977.

I also need to point out that there's a band named "yeah NO", founded in 1996.

[Update -- Ian Preston writes:

I hope you don't mind uninvited responses from strangers to your very interesting blog, but, given that you point this out, I thought you might be interested to know there was a band called "Yeah Yeah Noh" working out of Leicester between 1984 and 1986, sufficiently well thought of to have had a compilation album issued twenty years later. (I know this since the guitar player is my cousin). I have no idea of the linguistic origins of their name.

]

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 4, 2008 05:25 PM