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Concessive markers in Swedish conversation: A contrastive analysis of the turn-inital particles nåja and okej.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Languages, Department of Linguistics and Philology.
2014 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Turn-initial position is a strategic place for managing alignment. Agreements are typically contiguous with prior talk while disagreements are non-contiguous (Sacks 1987 [1973]). In English, the particle "well" can break the contiguity between the first and second pair part of an adjacency pair sequence thus foreshadowing disalignment with the action implemented with the first pair part. Recipients may reclaim the floor upon hearing "well" to revise their prior action so that it is aligned with the stance projected by the prior speaker (Pomerantz 1975; 1978; 1984). By attending to the social discord projected by the turn-initial particle in this manner, speakers can restore social solidarity (Heritage 1984). This study develops research on how turn-initial particles figure in the negotiation of alignment by comparing how two different Swedish discourse particles, nåja and okej are deployed in turn-initial position of responsive turns where an aligning action is due.


 In Lindström's (2008) overview of discourse particles in Finland-Swedish and Sweden-Swedish, , ja, and okej are classified as dialogue particles. Other dialogue particles include mm, a, jo, nej, , aha, jaha, nähä, jassåhördu, and va. Nåja is a cluster of the particle and the affirmative response token ja [yes]. The Swedish Academy Dictionary categorizes as an interjection that is comparable to the Danish naa, the Norwegian and the Icelandic .  Its etymological origin is not certain but it is a likely variant of nu [now]. is well documented in historical texts from as early as the mid 1600:s. Today, and nåja are recurrently used as translation equivalents for the English "well" in fictional texts (Aijmer & Simon-Vandenbergen 2003) but it is almost extinct from contemporary spoken Sweden Swedish (Lehti-Eklund 1992; Lindström, 2012). In modern Finland Swedish by contrast nå is quite prevalent (Lehti-Eklund 1992). Given the paucity of cases in contemporary Sweden Swedish corpora, Lindström based the analysis of on recordings of interactions from the 1950:s. The analysis showed that the particle calibrates the stance of the ensuing parts of the turn by framing it as a concession. According to the Swedish National Encyclopedia, the first Swedish usages of okej dates to the late 1930:s. Originally okej was only used to mark acceptance but in the 1960:s it could also be used as a positive assessment according the same encyclopedic entry. Okej appears to have gained ground around the same time that started to decline and today okej is one of the most frequent discourse markers in spoken Swedish.


In this paper I examine okej-prefaced responses in slots where alignment is due.  The data is drawn from a range of recordings of interactions in mundane and institutional settings. Preliminary analysis suggests that okej like nåja can be used to mark the action enacted within the larger turn as concessive. This is illustrated in the example below which is drawn from a call to Swedish Board for Study Support (SBSS). The caller is still a student and he is inquiring about the details of the payback of his student loan once his studies have been completed. After briefly explaining the repayment system the call taker advices the caller to visit the SBSS web page (line 01) for further information.


CSN 120111058


01  CT:   Ja:, .hh Så a:tte- Du  kan gå in å  göra en berä:kning    på

          Yeah .hh so that   you can go in to do      a calculation on

          Yeah .hh so that You can go into my pages and do a calculation


02        mi:na sider om du  vill titta  hur din  å:terbetalning blir,

          my    pages if you want to see how your repayment      will be

          if you want to see what your repayment schedule will be like


03       (0.4)


04  C: ->Å:kej [de   ska  ja göra,

         Okay   that will I  do

         Okay I will do that



05 CT:         [pt (A:  nä då:,)

                pt  Yes no then

                pt Yes well then


06 CT:   För d-  Där   se:r du  då  °e° hu:r de kommer bli under

         For th- There see  you then e  how  it will   be  during

         For then there you can see how it will be during


07       romhär     å:ren  enligt          progno:sen,

        these here years according to the prognosis

         these years according to the prognosis


That the caller's okej-prefaced turn is a concessive acceptance of the unsolicited advice by the call taker  (line 4) is evident in the preturn delay in line 3 as well as the call taker's further detailing of the information available on the web in lines 6–7. In the paper I will examine the bit-by-bit development of sequences like this in more detail and contrast concessive uses of okej with the concessive uses of nå. I will also contextualize my findings in relation to research on the use of the English okay as a transition object (Beach, 1993).



Aijmer, K., & Simon-Vandenbergen, A.-M. 2003 The discourse particle "well" and its equivalents in Swedish and Dutch. Linguistics, 41(6): 1123–1161.

Beach, W. A. (1993). Transitional regularities for casual "Okay" usages. Journal of Pragmatics, 19, 325–352.

Heritage, J. 1984 Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lindström, Jan (2008) I tur och ordning. Introduktion till svensk samtalsgrammatik. [Introduction to the grammar of Swedish conversation]. Norstedts Akademiska förlag.

Lindström, Anna (2012). Nå in Swedish conversation. Unpublished manuscript.

Lehti-Eklund, H. 1992 Användningen av partikeln nå i helsingforssvenska samtal [The use of the particle nå in Helsingfors Swedish conversation]. Svenskans Beskrivning 19, Lund: Lund University Press: 174–184.

Pomerantz, A. M. (1975). Second assessments: A study of some features of agreements/disagreements. University of California, Irvine.

Pomerantz, A. M. (1978). Attributions of responsibility: Blamings. Sociology, 12, 115-121.

Pomerantz, A. M. (1984). Agreeing and disagreeing with assessments: Some features of preferred/dispreferred turn shapes. In J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis (pp. 57-101). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sacks, H. (1987). On the preferences for agreement and contiguity in sequences of conversation. In G. Button & J. R. E. Lee (Eds.), Talk and social organisation (pp. 54-69). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.


Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
National Category
General Language Studies and Linguistics
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-280347OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-280347DiVA: diva2:910627
International Conference on Conversation Analysis
Samtalspraktiker i service och myndighetsutövning: En studie av hur Centrala Studiestödsnämndens myndighetsuppdrag hanteras och omsätts i handling i telefonsamtal mellan handläggare och låntagare.
Swedish Research Council, 2010-1736
Available from: 2016-03-09 Created: 2016-03-09 Last updated: 2016-03-09

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