What is it about?

Jearse and dow are words for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in England and America. They are used in the East of England and were taken to New England in the Great Migration of the 1600s. They are often pronounced jearse, tjeahse, jess and dow, daow.

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Why is it important?

Jearse and dow are emphatic words for ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Neither of these forms was recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary, the Survey of English Dialects or the English Dialect Dictionary. However, in my research I found jearse and dow in a large swathe of Eastern England from the Colne to the Humber. In the East of England, we still use jearse/jess and dow today.


It might seem that ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are simple. We say them hundreds of times every day. However, as well as verbal yes and no, we have vocalised ‘yes’ and ‘no’ (uh huh and uh-uh in English) and gesture ‘yes’ and ‘no’ (nodding and shaking the head in English-speaking cultures). The aim of my research is to investigate this fundamental and probably very old part of human language, namely why we communicate ‘yes’ and ‘no’ trimodally — with language, vocalisation and gesture.

Stephen Howe
Fukuoka University

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This page is a summary of: East Anglian English and the Langue de jearse and dow, NOWELE North-Western European Language Evolution, June 2023, John Benjamins,
DOI: 10.1075/nowele.00076.how.
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