6

Inspired by a German pastiche of Sherlock Holmes:

Watson: Hören Sie das auch?

Holmes: Ich bin ja nicht taub.

What if we replace "ja" with "doch":

Holmes: Ich bin doch nicht taub.

Would it change the meaning of Holmes's reply and/or its connotation?

4

As far as I can tell, there is no difference in the meaning of both phrases.

While "ja" means more a form of approval, "doch" is commonly being used to express some form contradiction. So in terms of connotation I would say there is a slight difference between the words. "Ja" does seem to explain an obvious fact, for example Holmes not being deaf, and it implies that he said this or proved this before in some way whereas "doch" is more an explanation of a fact that hasn't been proven, but can be realized without any form of explanation.

Even though this difference is so tiny that both words can be used in all occasions more or less equally and I would the sound of the sentence has more influence on the right usage than the meaning of the word you use.

  • 1
    Some people might consider "...ja nicht..." sounding just a slight bit more annoyed/offensive than "...doch nicht..." (I do) – tofro Jun 18 '16 at 8:26
  • 1
    @tofro indeed, this can sound offensive from the fact that "ja" implies the explanation was so obvious and not required for "smart people" – 0liCom Jun 18 '16 at 8:59
  • I think you missed a "think" in "and I would the sound". – hkBst Jan 11 at 7:37
3

Yes, the implication changes subtly.

"Ich bin doch nicht taub" implies that perhaps the asker does believe that Holmes is deaf and half-expected the answer "no". Holmes denies this somewhat testily.

"Ich bin ja nicht taub" implies that the asker doesn't really believe that Holmes is deaf, and was making sure that Holmes wasn't distracted. Holmes merely assures him that he wasn't distracted and did hear.

  • Strange. As a native german, I would see it exactly opposite. "Ich bin ja nicht taub" just means what it means, that he isn't deaf. "Ich bin doch nicht taub" strongly disagrees with the asker and implies that the question itself was an insult. – Polygnome Jun 19 '16 at 18:37
  • @Polygnome I thought that's what Kilian Foth said? At least that's what I understood from the 'Holms denies this somewhat testily' part... – Numeri Jun 20 '16 at 4:28
1

Most likely, the difference is just a matter of regional preference. I (born in Munich) would only say "ja", but recognize "doch" to mean exactly the same. In written language I may tend to "doch" because I perceive it as more standard, but as such it may also appear to be weaker. Both imply that the question was deemed inappropriate because of the obvious answer.

An even stronger contradiction would be non-standard "fei", in regions that have it. Other regions may make a similar distinction between "ja" and "doch", but I'm not aware of it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.