I read this in Kafka on the Shore:

The girl frowns and gives me a hard look. "You don't watch at all?" I shake my head silently. Wait a sec – should I nod or shake my head here? I go with the nod.

I want to know if the author is rconsidering using "shake" or "nod" for concern of them being semantically precise or are they(the author) in confusion themselves whether they watch or not in actual? And also why are they saying that they go with the nod when they actually have shook before?

  • 1
    I can't determine which it is either, but perhaps with more context...
    – user3395
    Sep 2, 2019 at 13:18

2 Answers 2


It would appear to me that the narrator (not really the author) isn't too sure of how to parse the question that was posed - he knows that he doesn't watch, but isn't sure whether to say no to the question as posed, or to agree with the basic sentiment that the girl is saying - he ends up nodding to say that she is correct.

  • That's how I read it, too, although it seems like he maybe starts by shaking his head no first, and then changes the head movement mid-shake.
    – J.R.
    Sep 2, 2019 at 14:42
  • 2
    It can be difficult to know whether to answer negatively phrased questions like 'You don't like chocolate?' in the affirmative or negative. You could answer Yes to inform the correctness of the statement, Yes, that is correct, I don't like chocolate or you could answer No to reaffirm the negative assumption, No, I don't like chocolate.
    – Smock
    Sep 2, 2019 at 15:39

There's an additional layer of interpretive difficulty because most Asian languages have a different response to a negative question.

First, let's look at a positive question.

Q: Do you watch Game of Thrones?

A: Yes (nodding head). This answer in both western and Asian cultures means, "Correct, I watch Game of Thrones."

Next, let's consider a negative question.

Q: Don't you watch Game of Thrones?

A: No (shaking head). This answer in GbE and AmE means "Agreed, I don't watch Game of Thrones."

However, if the question were asked in Japanese, the translated answer

A: Yes

would mean "Agreed, I don't watch Game of Thrones." The "Yes" indicates agreement with the question asked in the negative.

I could imagine how the author or translator would be split on whether to answer (in the narrative) in the way that a Japanese speaker would respond to a negative question posted in English.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .