Norwegian: Answering 'ja' to a negative question?

QuinnFox

New Member
English
A negative question in Norwegian is usually answered either 'jo' or 'nei' -- what happens when you answer it 'ja'?

In André Bjerke's De dødes tjern, a husband asks his wife, "Du er vel ikke overtroisk?" and she replies, "Ja, Gud vet." Any Norwegian speakers here, do you read this as, "Yes, I'm superstitious" or "Yes, you're right, I'm not superstitious"?

Thanks!
 
  • Svenke

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    I read it as 'Well, I'm not sure myself'. It's neither a denial (No, I'm not) or an assertion (Yes, I am).
    I'm not sure why ja is used, but it sounds very natural here. I feel it may work as a recognition of the question: 'Yes, that's a reasonable question. God only knows (I don't)'.
     

    raumar

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    Many Norwegians tend to start answers with "ja" or "nei", even when it isn't a yes/no question.

    For example:
    - Hva skal du gjøre i sommerferien i år?
    - Ja, jeg skal reise til Finnmark.

    Or:
    - Hva skal du gjøre i sommerferien i år?
    - Nei, jeg skal bare være på hytta.


    In such cases, "ja" and "nei" don't add much substantial meaning, and could be translated as "well" - as Svenke did with your sentence from De dødes tjern.
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Many Norwegians tend to start answers with "ja" or "nei", even when it isn't a yes/no question.

    For example:
    - Hva skal du gjøre i sommerferien i år?
    - Ja, jeg skal reise til Finnmark.

    Or:
    - Hva skal du gjøre i sommerferien i år?
    - Nei, jeg skal bare være på hytta.


    In such cases, "ja" and "nei" don't add much substantial meaning, and could be translated as "well" - as Svenke did with your sentence from De dødes tjern.
    After almost 40 years in Norway I still can't get used to it, and perceive it as disturbing. I classify it as a sloppy language if used in public (radio, television, etc.). Something like "du vet" and "lissom", or "eeeee" in every sentence.
     

    bicontinental

    Senior Member
    English (US), Danish, bilingual
    After almost 40 years in Norway I still can't get used to it, and perceive it as disturbing. I classify it as a sloppy language if used in public (radio, television, etc.). Something like "du vet" and "lissom", or "eeeee" in every sentence.
    Interesting, I assumed these 'filler words' were part of most, if not every (spoken) language, including your native Polish. They are exceedingly common in Danish and English, too. In some contexts they are arguably helpful in expressing doubt or hesitation, i.e. ja, jah, tja, tjah, jamen at the beginning of a sentence.) That said, I agree with you that they can be a distraction, especially when used in excess.
     

    winenous

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Interesting, I assumed these 'filler words' were part of most, if not every (spoken) language, including your native Polish. They are exceedingly common in Danish and English, too. In some contexts they are arguably helpful in expressing doubt or hesitation, i.e. ja, jah, tja, tjah, jamen at the beginning of a sentence.) That said, I agree with you that they can be a distraction, especially when used in excess.
    I think one of the aspects that people find annoying, is that they seem to change a lot. And when new ones arrive they seem to grate.

    In Britain at the moment, the use of "yes", or "no", and sometimes "yes, no", at the beginning of a sentence seems to be growing in use. It is not clear where it came from, but apparently it is a lot more common in Australia and New Zealand as "yeah, nah".

    The other relatively new arrival was "like", but I wonder if that is dying now. You used to regularly hear some people speak whole sentences where every other word was "like". Maybe they still do that, but I don't hear them so much due to Covid restrictions - every cloud has a silver lining.

    At the moment, my finger-of-blame is pointing in the direction of Norway for those imports. (Also, incidently, for the use of "can I get X" rather than "I would like X, please")
     
    Last edited:

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Interesting, I assumed these 'filler words' were part of most, if not every (spoken) language, including your native Polish. They are exceedingly common in Danish and English, too. In some contexts they are arguably helpful in expressing doubt or hesitation, i.e. ja, jah, tja, tjah, jamen at the beginning of a sentence.) That said, I agree with you that they can be a distraction, especially when used in excess.
    Imagine up to 30% of speech being "filler words". It is annoying, especially if the speaker is a professional giving an opinion about something on radio or TV. I don't mean teenagers babling about trivial matters in private.
    "Nei" and "ja" used as a filler are a special case. These words MEAN something, you expect them to carry an important message, but suddenly you realize that they mean nothing, just the same as "uhm.." (English) or "eeeee" (Norwegian). It is rally annoying. Imagine for example expressions like "definitely" ("definately" as is it is increasingly often spelled by native speakers), or "absolutely" used as a filler. You just feel cheated when you find out that they mean nothing.
     
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