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There is a response in Australian English that means "Yes I hear you and empathise with your situation, but no this course of action won't work for me." [Yeah-Nah]

I assumed this was a normal part of the English language, until I saw other discussions claiming this to be unique to Australian English. That didn't seem to hold water for me.

My question is: Is 'yeah-nah' a uniquely Australian idiom?

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    I have never heard that expression in the United States, nor in my traveling to London, Kenya, or Canada.
    – ScotM
    Jun 21, 2015 at 4:08
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    a similar expression is found in US English but not with the same meaning.
    – user31341
    Jun 21, 2015 at 4:32
  • that's fascinating @jlovegren - do you have any further experiences of that?
    – hawkeye
    Jun 21, 2015 at 4:34
  • "I hear, but don't agree." Is that the same as "Whatever"?
    – Hugh
    Jun 21, 2015 at 5:42
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    I've never heard it in British English, which is strange as a lot of 'Australianisms' make it here.
    – Greybeard
    Jun 12, 2020 at 16:40

8 Answers 8

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Expanding on @jlovegren's comment:

It turns out there are similar idioms in American, Indian, South African and New Zealand English.

This concept has popular culture references in How I Met Your Mother and Punch Drunk Love.

There is a study on this by the University of Pennsylvania.

In the Australian case - there is a study: [K. Burridge and M. Florey, "''Yeah-no He's a Good Kid': A Discourse Analysis of Yeah-no in Australian English", Australian Journal of Linguistics, 22(2): 124-171, 2002. Here's the abstract:

Yeah-no in Australian English is a relatively new marker which serves a number of functions, including discourse cohesion, the pragmatic functions of hedging and face-saving, and assent and dissent.

Also on the Australian side, there is this article in the Age.

So in conclusion, there seem to be similar phrases across dialects of English, but not with necessarily the same meaning. (One might add, their meaning seems sufficiently context-specific and flexible that there are few established rules on this. )

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    Additionally, I'm familiar with an American English idiomatic use of this phrase that's slightly rude; you'd probably only say it around people you know well. Example: Child: "Can't I watch some TV? I'm almost done with my homework!" Parent: "Yeah, no." This usage carries a meaning of "I see your argument, but I'm still saying no."
    – Caleb
    Jun 21, 2015 at 22:18
  • I have also heard "sí pero no" in Tex-Mex / Mex-Mex Spanish.
    – shoover
    Aug 5, 2019 at 16:55
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Yeah Nah is not really Australian at all and is far more prevalent in New Zealand. In fact Australian's visiting New Zealand often state they find our use of Yeah Nah baffling.

It's usually used to mean yes but no in a manner such as:

Q) "Do you want to go for a pint after work?" A) "Yeah Nah. I can't today." Translation: I'd love to go for a pint after work but I've got to get straight home today so I can get to parent teacher interviews on time."

Or:

Q) "Is xyz activity dangerous?" A) "Yeah Nah" Translation: XYZ activity is dangerous if you're an idiot.

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  • I'm Australian and am used to hearing it here in Australia, but perhaps we got it from you. I say "yeah, no" myself.
    – nnnnnn
    Oct 17, 2019 at 11:45
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Yeah nah is a kiwi (New Zealand) slang. We have said it for decades. It is not Australian. Kiwis say yeah... acknowledging what the other person is saying but nah, don't agree or not gonna do that or just meaning no thanks. It's very very common here in NZ. There are even T shirts at our airports with yeah nah written on the front. It's as common as getting up in the morning.

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Kay is correct, "Yeah, nah" and "yeah, no" (varies with speaker's pronunciation) are used in London in general; as is the reverse of "no/nah, yeah" e.g "nah, yeah I was telling him, but he didn't want to hear it."

I use both myself, "yeah, nah" a lot more frequently than the reverse, and so do many of my friends and peers. I had no idea this was seen as a chiefly Australian speech habit until very recently. This is the only post I've found on the internet acknowledging that it is used in UK speech, and for some reason it doesn't seem to have been acknowledged even though it is accurate.

I couldn't tell you who "came up with it" first, but I wouldn't be surprised if it developed independently, as the thought process underlying it is apparently the same in both my usage (which I will generalise to <30-year-old "Multicultural London English" users) and this Australian reddit user's usage

the first word indicates 1 of 2 things

if they start with yeah = I hear what your saying and

if they start with nah = In all seriousness though

and how they end it is the answer

translation

nah, yeah = in all seriousness the answer is yes or in all seriousness i agree with you

yeah, nah = i hear what you are saying and i dont agree or yeah i am aware but the answer is no

Literally, the way he described it is a perfect transcription of what's going on in my head when I use it. I don't remember "learning to speak this way" from anyone in particular, or putting it on deliberately. I wouldn't have been talking that way in primary school. I'd say more around mid-to-late secondary is when my speech would have developed that bit further to start verbally acknowledging the other person's point of view, for example, with a "yeah" before saying "no/nah" and giving my opinion. I don't think I would need to have heard that off someone to have started doing that, which is why it wouldn't surprise me if it developed independently in both UK and Australian/New Zealander English. I wonder if it's used in South African/Zimbabwe English as well?

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I'm American (East Coast, mid-Atlantic) and have heard "Yeah nah" used by numerous friends over the course of the last few years. "Yeah nah" is used to indicate regret that the listener can't agree with the speaker, and "yeah no" is used more sarcastically or as in, "Yes, I hear you, but no, are you out of your mind?" My family doesn't know what I'm trying to say when I use it, as it really is that new to the zeitgeist.

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It might originally, but that is just an assumption, come from the german language where you can use the word 'jaein' which is the combination of 'ja' and 'nein'.(yeah and nah)

Probably through immigration this concept were transferred into the the English language(not necessarily from the german language but it is just an example)

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Estuary London, street and cockney speaking brits use this- yeah nah - sometimes yeah, no or no, yeah depending on how they pronounce it, for example, yeah, no, of course, I will - yeah, no bruv that wasn't happening.

Maybe Australians picked it up originally there. Or maybe the other way around. I'm Brit. I use it. Some of my relatives immigrated to Australia back in the 50s.

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“Yeah nah” is a term that Was Originally From Central Europe (Germany) obviously spoken differently, and it somehow came popular in many English Speaking Countries such as, Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. This saying would most commonly be used in Australia, although New Zealand Tend To share Lots of Trends with the Aussies and call it theirs. This Saying Is Dominated By Those Australian’s

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    Welcome to our site, Jack. Please edit this so it makes sense, as your post seems to have been cut-off mid-sentence. While editing, please also fix up the curious over-capitalization, and if you can, add documented references in support of your answer.
    – tchrist
    Jun 12, 2020 at 14:35

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