The German Yo

Yo is certainly one of the most unusual words I come across as an Austrian in Germany. In fact, I am not even sure how it is spelled, because the Duden has nothing to say about either Yo or Jo, and I did not find it in any other dictionaries either. The spelling Yo chosen here is motivated by the fact that the English word Yo (extensively used by Jesse in Breaking Bad) is pronounced exactly as Yo in German, see here. Whether or not the German Yo comes from English I do not know yet. More information about the English Yo can be found here.

While little information about Yo is available in books or online, it is very commonly used by German (but not Austrian or Swiss) native speakers. In English, Yo is used by certain (young) people as a greeting, see here and here. In contrast, in German, Yo seems to be used to either express agreement (instead of Ja, Jawohl) or simply as a filler between or at the beginning of sentences (similar to Na gut, Gut, Okay).

Perhaps this post can inspire a discussion that sheds some more light on the origin, spelling and use of this word in Germany.

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6 thoughts on “The German Yo

  1. I gathered from context that the Austrian ‘Jo’ is a dialect version of ’Ja’. I sometimes hear it with a drawn-out ‘o’ with a sarcastic connotation.

    • Interesting! Is the pronunciation the same in both cases? At least in Styria (where I am from), the dialect “Jo” is usually pronounced as [jɔː] (rhymes with the English “law”), whereas the word “Yo” is pronounced as [jəʊ] (rhymes with the English “no”).

      • Interesting indeed! I wouldn’t know about the German use cases, I would, however, assign the ‘yo’ pronunciation to ‘jo’. Not the hip-hop/rap English ‘yo’, a less accented, “shy” version, perhaps.

        On second thought, I am drawing all this from my own “parroted” Steirisch. I urgently need to listen to some dialect speakers. This is frustrating!

  2. In some parts of northern germany, especially in and around Hamburg, “Jo” or “Jou” is used in the meaning of “Yes” or “Indeed”. It is the lower german variant of the german word “Ja” (“Yes”).

  3. Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” (1969) contains the following passage:

    A man in a boxcar across the way called out through the ventilator that a man had just died in there. So it goes. There were four [German] guards who heard him. They weren’t excited by the news.

    “Yo, yo,” said one, nodding dreamily.”Yo, yo.”

  4. They are (originally) 2 different words, only pronounced similarly, one being much older than the other in the german language. The greeting is “yo” and it does come from the english version of it, probably arrived here in the 90s (in regards of pronunciation, “yo” rhymes with the english “bow” for example) . Then there is “Jo” which means “yes” in many dialects (not just Austrian, also “Pfälzisch” for example) and it has been around for ages. It is pronounced “jooh” and rhymes with the German “Zoo” or “Klo” or “Floh”. It is used a lot in the sarcastic sense mentioned by Olya above. The word entered youth slang for “yes” maybe via the dialects but probably with support from the english “yo” as it helped make it sound cool. Today “yo” seems to replace the much older “jo”, as the pronunciation is shifting more into the english one when saying “yes”.

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