þriðjudagur, ágúst 30, 2005

já, já

"Já" is Icelandic for "yes" but in daily usage it can mean so much more than yes. When combined with a second "já" it can take on hundreds of subtle shades of meaning. Icelanders say "já, já" (roughly 'yow-yow' in English phonetic spelling) so much that the inhabitants of the nearby Faroe Islands refer to Icelanders as "Jau'ari": literally, People Who Say 'Já'.

It seems that as Icelanders grow older, both the tendency to say "já já" and the number of repetitions of the syllable increase. In any pairing of old men in an outdoor Reykjavík hot tub, there are usually two distinct conversational roles. One man is the storyteller, the relayer of fact. As the details of the story slowly unfold, the second man encourages the storytelling with interjections of "já já" or "já já já" or even "já já já já" at the appropriate pauses, often at the end of each sentence in the saga. For variation and effect, the jájá-er can optionally speak on the inhale, making for an airy and more softly encouraging "já já" experience.

Saying "já já" is such a staple of Icelandic conversation that there are of course variations within the "já já" family of expressions. For example, "jæja" can be used to fill in the pause in a conversation that has faltered. It can also be used as the signal that the speaker is about to strike off on a new activity. My friend's farmer grandfather told him when he was little, "Some days you sit up in bed, say 'jæja' and that's the last thing you say that day."

Of course, I'm not really complaining. As someone new to trying to speak the Icelandic language, "já já" is a brilliant linguistic feature. Because I can always fall back on saying "já já" when I either don't have the vocabulary for a proper response, or I have no idea what it is the other person just told me.

When my mom was here I promised her some jájá-ing and she didn't leave Iceland disappointed. As we walked around downtown on her second-to-last day there were a couple old dudes talking together on a street corner. After a 6-or-so-word sentence from the first guy, the second came back with "já.... já... já.. já já já já já já".


Blogger Eyjolfur said...

For some strange reasons the last quotation reminds me of a scene from "When Harry met Sally"

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Já, já


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