”Yeah nah, she’ll be right” : an attitudinal study of ‘yeah nah’ in New Zealand English. (2021)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameMaster of Linguistics
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
This thesis is a study into ‘yeah nah’ in a New Zealand English context and how linguistic items become part of a culture and identity. ‘Yeah nah’ appears frequently within New Zealand media and is pegged as ‘distinctly kiwi’ and sometimes with a variety of meanings. Many products are also available for purchase featuring ‘yeah nah’, including t-shirts, mugs, phone cases, and vape juice. Despite this, there is a lack of research into this discourse marker. This study utilises a questionnaire to answer the following questions:
1. Who uses ‘yeah nah’? 2. What kind of stereotypes surround the usage of ‘yeah nah’? 3. What context does ‘yeah nah’ appear in, and therefore, what does it mean?
Participants of the questionnaire were asked to answer demographic questions about themselves, then were asked to imagine a typical user of ‘yeah nah’ and answer the same demographic questions accordingly. Finally, participants were asked to give the context(s) and meaning(s) of ‘yeah nah’. A quantitative approach was used for the first two parts of the survey, followed by a qualitative analysis using a phenomenology method for the last part of the survey.
According to the 122 responses, the person who is most likely to use ‘yeah nah’ is strictly male, aged 26-35 and Pākehā. Participants who answered they used the term themselves however revealed no gender difference. Participants believed it to strictly belong to New Zealand English (NZE) and not any other variety of English. By analysing ‘yeah nah’ in the Quake Studies, MAONZE and ONZE spoken corpora, however, Māori men were more likely to actually use the term in reality.
This strong distinction for participants opens the central debate of the thesis into how gender and national identity are intertwined and whether ‘yeah nah’ is enregistered. According to Agha (2007, p.81), enregisterment refers to the processes and practices where performable signs become recognised and regrouped as belonging to distinct, valorised semiotic registers by a group of people. I argue that ‘yeah nah’ is enregistered and signals that it belongs to the ‘kiwi’ culture and local New Zealander identity. This identity has a strong male stereotype, especially as the word ‘kiwi’ has male connotations and there’s a lack of a salient female ‘kiwi’ stereotype. ‘Yeah nah’ is split into several functions to capture its context according to participants, and key to this is its ‘kiwi’-centric and thus male-centric stereotypes. These functions were also applied to examples from the three corpora, showing that in context, ‘yeah nah’ provides cohesion and topic-focusing, demonstrating contemplation, and to show various levels of agreement.
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