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It seems to me that "tja" is more a typo for "ja" than a word by its own.

I have looked in a number of websites, the only satisfying one was Wiktionary but it has nothing about its etymology as a German word.

How did the word "tja" originate?

  • Probably a Dutch origin. I've heard it more in the Netherlands than here in Germany. But perhaps I'm just being biased. – Rudy Velthuis May 24 '18 at 21:18
  • Hmmm... it could be I guessed right. "Tja" comes from "ja", when you stress the "j", like "Dschungel" from "jungle". In Dutch, there are other examples, e.g. "tjonge" and "sjonge" from "jongen" (boy), meaning: "oh boy". The meaning of "tja" then also changed to the current one ("nun ja", "nou ja", "well yes"). It could even come from an Indonesian Dutch dialect, where people spoke Dutch "ja" as "tja". In Dutch, it is often repeated, like tja-ja or tjonge-jonge. – Rudy Velthuis May 24 '18 at 21:39
  • @RudyVelthuis Pure Lautähnlichkeit kann auch irreführend sein - Demnach könnte das Wort auch aus dem Schwedischen kommen, wo es ein Tja gibt, das ganz einfach "Hallo" heißt (eine Verkürzung von "Tjänare", was soviel wie "bin dein Diener" bedeutet). Und ich gehe eine Wette ein, dass es die Laute in Mandarin auch gibt ;) – tofro May 24 '18 at 21:54
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    Im Niederländischen hat "tja" die exakt gleiche Bedeutung. Und die Herleitung ist nicht von mir, sondern aus einem Wörterbuch. Und die da gegebene Erklärung ist enorm plausibel, vor allem weil das auch mit anderen j-Wörtern passiert ist, z.B. tjonge, tjeminee (von jeminee = herrje), etc. Es kann übrigens auch ein S ein: sja, sjonge, sjeminee, was wieder von der französichen Aussprache von J kommen könnte (wie in "jeune", "juge", "Jules", etc.) – Rudy Velthuis May 24 '18 at 22:49
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    Da "Tja" in mündlicher Rede viel häufiger als in schriftlicher ist scheidet ein Typo aus, wie auch die hier gängigen Tastaturlayouts keinen Ansatzpunkt für eine Tippfehlerhypothese bilden. – user unknown May 25 '18 at 2:54
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"tja" is an interjection (Interjektion). Like "oh", "ah" or "pst". I wouldn't consider it as a word which has developed from something.

You could also say "nun ja", but what does that really mean? Just filling words or a filling sound to bridge the silence till your thoughts caught up.

I doubt it originated from a typo, because it is used mainly in spoken German. It get from there into the literary language. And it sounds better as "uhm" "ähm" or "äh", but fulfills the same purpose.

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  • Note that the word is also found in other languages, especially Dutch. – Rudy Velthuis May 24 '18 at 21:34
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"Tja" is more than a typo for "ja", Like when somebody lost her mobile:

Her : "Ich hab mein Handy verloren."
Me : "Tja da kann man nix machen"

You can't put in "ja" there. Mostly used when expressing "Schicksal/Kismet"

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  • Thank you for you answer, I know "tja" and "ja" cannot be used interchangeably, I just guess "tja" was made of a typo when talking about its origin. – user508 Nov 29 '11 at 9:08
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    Ok. I still don't think tja originated from a typo. ;-) – Portree Kid Nov 29 '11 at 10:20
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    While I also don't think it originated from a typo, ja could be used in this example. Maybe this becomes clearer when the comma that belongs there is added: "Ja, da kann man nix machen" / "Tja, da kann man nix machen". – fzwo Nov 29 '11 at 12:47
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    Ja doesn't transport the implication of tough luck. Ja, da kann man nix machen = Yes you can't do anything about it.Tja, da kann man nix machen. = Yes you can't do anything about it, it's just tough luck/Kismet/Schicksal. – Portree Kid Nov 30 '11 at 6:57
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    @PortreeKid Add a shrug of the shoulders, and even the ja can be used in a resignative way. – fzwo Nov 30 '11 at 9:32
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My opinion: tja = shortened 'Du, ja', whereas both 'du' (= you) and 'ja' (= yes) are used as stresses.

For example:

'Du – Krieg ist halt schrecklich!'

'Ja – weißt du – Krieg ist halt schrecklich!'

= 'Tja – Krieg ...'

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