Colorado Research in Linguistics
Colorado Research in Linguistics -- ISSN 1937-7029

Volume 23-1, 2012

Affiliative and Epistemic Functions of Turn-Initial 'No'

Joshua Raclaw

Abstract for data session presented at the 17th Annual Conference on Language, Interaction, and Social Organization (LISO) Conference

Numerous studies within the conversation analytic literature have shown that the response particle "no" is only rarely used to mark outright disagreement or rejection (e.g. Pomerantz 1984; Kitzinger and Frith 1999; Schegloff 2001). As Schegloff additionally notes, even in cases where "no" is used to do a dispreferred second pair part, it generally does not appear in turn-initial position (being instead preceded by silence, hedges, or other dispreference markers). As these examples show, studies of "no" within CA are often situated in discussions of preference, and one result of this has been that work in this vein has paid far more attention to the absence of "no" than to its presence. There is comparatively little research on the varied interactional and pragmatic functions performed by "no" across interactional settings. One notable exception to this trend has been Jefferson's (2001) comparison of the uses of "no" in both British and American English. Her analysis argues that the particle serves as a "continuer" in British varieties, while functioning as a possible "affiliative" in the American. However, Jefferson's discussion focuses primarily on the production of "no" as a minimal response token, comprising the sole content of an utterance, rather than as part of a larger turn.

The present analysis turns to the use of "no" in American English occurring in turn-initial position, focusing on instances in which the particle precedes a partial clausal repetition of the prior turn. An illustration of this practice can be seen in the following excerpt:

1   Nora: Well it's a good bargain
2 John: No it really is.

The function of "no" in these sequences is one of affiliation, though as the previous example shows, it does not accomplish simple agreement with the previous utterance. John's response in line 2 additionally inserts the adverb "really," thereby upgrading his epistemic stance toward the prior assessment. In their discussion of assessments and epistemic authority, Heritage and Raymond (2005:16) argue that first position assessments "carry an implied claim that the speaker has primary rights to evaluate the matter assessed." Within this analysis they present a set of practices by which second speakers can upgrade the initial assessment within their own turn, asserting the independence of their own response. Through the data analyzed within this paper, I show how turn-initial "no" not only functions as an affiliative within assessment sequences, but may also mark turns that achieve this type of epistemic independence. The analysis ultimately argues that "no" is an underexamined interactional resource for speakers of English, and would benefit from the critical examination that response particles have received in the CA literature on other languages (e.g. Sorjonen 2001).

Joshua Raclaw is a PhD student in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Colorado, Boulder.   He can be reached at

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