That’s right, no?

a question such as “This is yours, no?” is not uncommon THIS IS A SIGN OF THE COMPARATIVE LEVELS OF SELF-CONFIDENCE

Regular readers will recall that not that long ago I wrote a column called “The culture of no”, bemoaning the fact that as a customer I am often met with the answer “No” in my adopted culture, an aspect that compares very unfavourably with other cultures I’ve lived in, such as the US and Japan. Well, this column could equally be called “The culture of no”, but for an entirely different reason.

You see, as soon as you start living here you become accustomed to hearing “no?” as a question tag at the end of many a sentence, in the same way that the French say “n’est-ce pas?” or the Japanese “desu neh?” As readers will no doubt be aware, many native English speakers even integrate the “no?” question tag into English after spending a certain amount of time in the local culture, so simple and widespread is its use. In fact, a question such as “This is yours, no?” is not uncommon even among English speakers who do not live in cultures where “no?” is the dominant form.

When asked to translate this, most English teachers will say the equivalent is something like “right?”, as in “This is yours, right?” However, as an English teacher trainer I have also looked on in despair as well-intentioned teachers have attempted to teach their students the incredibly complex English tag question form, as in “This is yours, isn’t it?” – it may look innocent enough, but try breaking down the associated grammar and, more importantly, pronunciation rules attached to it – or even the easily recalled and implemented but socially awkward “correct?”, as in “This is yours, correct?” (I kid you not).

Now, despite the convoluted nature of my preamble, the more perceptive among you will have realised where I’m headed with this... and that is the use of a positive or a negative word to ask for confirmation of a statement, essentially the purpose of a tag question.

I would argue that the English “right?” is an affirmative lexical means of verifying the correctness of our assertion, whereas “no?” is very clearly a negative one. To my mind, and I must tread carefully here so as not to cause cultural offence – as always,take it as a mere observation, dear reader – this is a sign of the comparative levels of self-confidence in the different cultures: native English speakers are essentially demanding agreement with there affirmative use of language, whereas the “no?” question tag displays a certain lack of confidence. Cue outrage at my insolence.

But there you are, you see, the proof is in the pudding: being British, I have few qualms about asserting my rather boorish view of language use onto my unsuspecting readers, so high are my levels of self-confidence. And just to round these musings off with a hopefully humourous anecdote, many moons ago I announced this theory of mine in Catalan on a training course full of Catalans – in fact I was the only non-Catalan in a room of some 20 people. After several seconds filled with frowns and perplexed looks, one man spoke up – in Catalan – and said to the group “Però es que no fem això, no?” Fortunately for me, that broke the tension somewhat.

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