LINGUIST List 8.585

Fri Apr 25 1997

Sum: 'No' and 'man' in South African English

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <>


  1. dave gough, Re: Summary: 'No' and 'Man'

Message 1: Re: Summary: 'No' and 'Man'

Date: Fri, 25 Apr 1997 09:09:15 GMT-2
From: dave gough <>
Subject: Re: Summary: 'No' and 'Man'

Thanks for all the responses. It was really something to get ideas of
such quality and in such numbers.

1. 'No'

My initial query was:

South African English use of 'No' - does this occur in contexts such 

A.How are you?
B.No, I'm fine.

in other English varieties/other languages? Confronted with 
such examples, vistors to the country often comment that in SA 
English, 'no' means 'yes'. This, of course, is not true. 'No' would 
be the response to the question 'Do you have the time?' if the 
speaker didn't have the time.

* Generally: A couple of people commented that 'no' definitely does 
NOT mean 'yes' in these contexts. What it does is rather to negate 
the possibility of a negative belief concerning the answer to the 
question. In the example above, for instance, B. is negating A.'s 
possible belief that B. is not well. Why South Africans hold that the 
possibility of such negative beliefs is so strong they have to be 
denied remains to be seen.

* 'no' in other varieties of English

The use of 'no' in the types of examples cited anyway is NOT recorded 
according to the responses in:

- Australian English
- American English
- English English

It IS recorded in:

-Nigerian and Ghanaian English

There DO appear to be RELATED (but not identical) discourse uses of 
'no' and similar particles in other varieties of English.

Few English responses actually dealt with this usage at all. By far 
the majority were on 'man'

* 'No' in other languages

'No' does seem to be used in a variety of other languages in the same 
way as in SA English. Similar uses are recorded in:

- The Scandinavian Languages
- German ('doch' - similar but not identical)
- Cameroon French
- Bangkok Thai ('plaw' - lit. 'empty')
- Spanish?

It also occurs, incidentally, in Afrikaans.

2. 'Man'

My question here related to the use of 'man' to express a negative 
emotional involvement of the speaker of some sort - irritation, 
impatience or annoyance. Examples given were:

Man it's hot today
Hurry up mom, man
Man, I can't this right

* English

A huge response that showed that 'man' is used similarly in:

- American English (both 'black' and 'white')
- Scottish English
- Tyneside English (in north east of England)
- Jamaican English
- Welsh English
- An 'Americanism' found in other varieties of English.

The American English usage at least does not necessary carry negative 
sentiment and is 'a more general tag ... over which any kind of 
emotional intonation can be laid'. 

Example b. above, an example which typifies SA usage, was found to be 
odd ('weird') by American respondants. The reason for this is that 
'man' although an interjection still appears to 'have the flavour of 
a term of address so that 'mom, man' sounds like two forms of direct 
address in a row'. It seems, then, that 'man' in SAE does not bare 
the feature 'term of address' at all in such contexts. The only 
instance in which similar usages were given was in Tyneside English.
('Shut up man Geoff' 'Those kegs are too tight man Mary'. Here 
though, the actual term of address occurs finally as opposed to the 
use of 'man' finally in SAE. This needs to be explored further, but 
of further interest:

- There is a distinctly 'American' use of 'man' in SAE that is not 
like the South African use of man ('Cool man' type of utterances).

- Other SA examples of man:

 - Daddy, man! (5 year old daughter after I stood on her toe)
 - Man, David, I don't mean that (Wife and self in 'altercation')
 - No man, that's not right.
 - Man! This bloody computer is giving problems.
- SAEnglish 'man' alternates between shwa and full vowel in all 
contexts. (In SAE shwa occurs as a vowel in stressed 
contexts - 'sit' can have shwa for eg):

Related usage in currant American English is the use of 'dude'.

* Other languages

Related uses of 'man' include:

- Dutch
- Swedish ('boy' is used in a similar way)
- Norwegian
-?German use of 'etwa' may have similar function
-German ('usually to indicate weariness')
-?Lhasa Tibetan ('mi' - 'person')

Interestingly in Dutch the 'double address form [ as in 'Hurry up mom, 
man'] is impossible (just "schiet op, man" must do).'

Some interesting stuff came out as you can see. Just for your 
interest, on further SA English item:

- 'Sorry' for 'I beg your pardon'e.g. A drops something 
without knowing. B picks it up and calls out to A 'Sorry, you 
dropped something'

Anyway thanks to:

helen adamson 
geoffrey sampson
elin haf gruffyd jones
celso alvarez caccamo
mai kuha
mark donohue
marek przezdziecki
scott delancey
mats eeg-olofsson
dom watt
hilde hasselgard
nicole nelson
jane a. edwards
sren harder
charlie rowe
nobue mori
adiego lajara
bruce connell
krisadawan hongladarom
frank bramlett
deborah milam berkley
douglas s oliver
larry trask
kristine hasund
paul boersma
m. lynne roecklein
judy l. delin
benji wald
stephen p. spackman
john verhaar
randall major
+ the person who wished to be anonymous for the references.
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