Why do Canadians say "eh" at the end of their sentences?
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I've lived in Canada for almost 40 years and I've rarely heard anyone do that (in fact, I've found it quite startling on the few occassions that I have heard it). I live out West, so perhaps it is an Eastern Canadian habit? Or perhaps just an old wives tale? The stand-up comics certainly get some mileage out of it.
It guess it probably started out being applied to sentences which required agreement or disagreement - as "eh" is used elsewhere in English - and then broadened into this general invitation to rejoin, or to mark a statement to which a rejoinder might be forthcoming.
It would be good if anyone else could shed more light on this, eh.
Mark M. Orkin wrote a humour book many years ago called Canajun, Eh?, which was devoted to such questions as, What is "eh"? Who exactly says "eh", and when do they say it?
Despite the frivolousness of the treatment, Orkin actually managed to nail the many nuances that Canadians can load into that tiny, interrogative syllable. I remember the author recounting one particular sentence with "eh" in the middle; it was something like "I was going down the road, eh, when I saw my buddy..."). Orkin referred this as "the median position, much prized by collectors."
(In this kind of sentence, "eh" = "You know what I mean" or "I trust you're following me so far." :-)
The valves we were checking were mostly numbered, but in some places they had little clusters of valves, and those had letters, as in 35a, 35b, 35c. I had a map showing all of the valves, but it was really a schematic, and the valves on the map didn't necessarily appear in the same orientation as the actual valves.
I was trying to check off the valves as we went, so I kept asking, "Was that last valve 35b or 35c?" And the maintenance guy, whose hearing problem was aggravated by the wind, kept saying, "Eh?"
Closest thing to a Laurel & Hardy routine I have ever participated in.
>7 margd: margd
I think Scandinavians would be more likely to say "Ja?"
Haven't ever heard any scandinavians (myself included) say "Ja?" or "Neh?" The "neh" just makes me think of Japanese, I think they use it in that sense.
"Va?" is probably what I would say.
Maybe "neh" is like a pause, or "uh" in Scandianavian & e European languages? I don't know many people from those areas, but I'm pretty sure I've heard them use it when speaking English? (But given limited exposure, I could well be wrong.)
As I mentioned in a previous thread, it took an American secretary no more than one month to cure this Canadian newcomer of the "eh" habit. She would pinch my cheek, observing, "That's so cute!" My US coworkers also remarked on my pronunciation of "out" words, and my use of cutlery (fork stayed in left hand). For my part, I noticed that Americans didn't understand some words I used commonly, e.g., my nickname (Marg with hard "g"), chesterfield (sofa), transport (truck), chips (French fries). Though I still have a bit of a Canadian accent (sort of singsong?), Canadian friends and relatives think I've acquired some Michigan pronunciations ("cake"), words ("sprinkles" for "showers"), and habits (acknowledging thanks with "mm hmm" rather than "you're welcome" or "no problem".) Funny, how similar US and Canada are, and yet so different.
That usage is not unheard of in Britain, either :-)
>10 StigHelmer: Haven't ever heard any scandinavians (myself included) say "Ja?" or "Neh?" The "neh" just makes me think of Japanese, I think they use it in that sense.
I'm studying Japanese, and have been taught that the Japanese use ne ("neh") to mean, "Isn't it?" That is certainly the context in which I've always heard it. The word sounds appealingly similar, but "eh" has many more applications than that. It's really multipurpose.
I could try to put all the different meanings of "eh" together, but frankly I'm lazy, eh. Looks like I'll just have to borrow Canajan, Eh? from the library and look 'em all up. Give me a day or two :-)
I heard it was short for "buey," the Spanish word for ox and a slang term for "fool", and it's being used like some English-speakers use "dude," "bro," or "dawg." But I've asked Spanish-speakers who I've heard use it, and none of them seem to know what it means or why they say it.
Eh is kind of a low-key interjectory utterance. It is not like Aha! I remember when I was taking koine Greek, that there was some word used as a clitic or enclitic which seemed to me to be something of a filler word like eh.
One other interesting variant is the use of O vs. Oh. Oh is the interjection. O is used as a kind of indicater that you are addressing or calling the follwoing word or, more usually, name. "O Robert, did you see the mail today?" is what is used when you get bills and other common stuff. "Oh! Robert, Did you see the mail today?" means that there is something special in the mail, and the inflection of the voice carries the meaning. I sometimes think of the word o as a vocative marker. (Vocative is one of eight Indo-European cases, that has carried forth into a few more modern languages. In Latin, the famous vocative use is by Julius Caesar calling 'Brute' (in lieu of the nominative case, Brutus), just before his murder by Brutus. "Et tu, Brute!"
Edited to correct spelling!
One of the three supernovas is called SN1999eh, eh :-)
As an Anglo who grew up in Quebec (though I do prefer the term English-speaker), I heard it here a lot among les anglais - and the French Cdns. have a similar more nasal sound that they use. Of course, this may have drifted into French from English, as the use of "okay" has.
Not to be a snob, but I have observed over the years that "eh" is less used by the educated, more moneyed crowd.
Just wanted to add, when I visited western Canada and western US many years ago I was amused by their response to "Thank you" was not "you're welcome" or even the modern "no problem" - but "You bet!".
Embarrassing eh? (see like that)
Besides, it sounds much better than using "huh?" for an interrogative marker as so many American midwesterners do, eh?
(If I recall correctly, that would generally correspond to the "pardon?" usage of #23.)
I think the native Maori people started using it first but it has now become part of the vocabulary for many New Zealanders of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
No, but very often the "New" is left off of New Jersey in everyday speech in the US. Probably not a majority of the time, but enough that the state is thought of before a small Channel Island.
For convenience, "hijo de puta" got abbreviated to "'jo 'e puta" (sounds like "hway pootta"). Then the "puta" got dropped to make it milder and more presentable. That's how you end up with nothing but the vowels: "'o 'e" or "uey."
It's a theory. My friend claimed that "uey" sometimes gets altered back to "¡juey puta!" in circumstances of strong emotion.
Edited to show whom I was responding to.
Then, too, it could be relevant in Costa Rica but not in Mexico.
Also why does Obama start his sentences with "look"?
Yes, on Japanese, Ne is a common tag.
I have spelled it "neigh" to translate a poem about a horse.
SOV languages tend to allow for various emotive tails on sentences and I think English and other SVO languages make us lonely for lacking them. It also means we are less skillful at talking with other animals. Here is the first paragraph of the "Conversing with Cats" chapter of The Cat Who Thought Too Much.
If you would understand cats, learning a little Japanese or Korean would be a good start. Why? Both put their entire emotive force, or tone, into the tip of the tail of the conjugation or adjective-as-verb at the end of the sentence, rather than dispersing it here and there in the manner of our more complex stressed sentences. English tone, while more important for the overall syntax, is, on the whole, not obvious enough to teach us the language of tonal change. With Japanese and Korean, the length of the last vowel, or vowels – they almost always end in one – is about the same length as a cat’s meow and equally variable in tone. In English, expressive, or shall we say, musical, phonemes are pretty much limited to song: (“Glo-o-o-oria in Exce-elsis”).
It gets more complex, touching upon rising and falling tags and accents in the same, but I am afraid I have spent no time in Canada and cannot exactly translate the Canadian "eh" into Felinese.
As in, "I don't know if that's the best idea, but." Or, "It's not my greatest work ever, but." Sort of implying but not committing to a qualifying phrase.
A lot of younger New Zealanders are now saying "like" as like every second like word they like say. I guess this is because of TV, and I hate to hear myself sometimes say it too.
>67 TineOliver: I was really confused about the "but" at the end of sentences in Australia when I lived there, I didn't get it at all!
Or: ʻThe Red Sox wonʻt win (vs. Cleveland) tonight: Siebert, there." They do say these things, but not as often as Higgins indicates. He is, however in a class with Ring Lardner and mark Twain for catching the nuances of dialect, in fact superior to Lardner on the nuances.
*there: pronounced, more or less: "theah" (one syllable), but Higgins doesnt try to spell variant
accents phonetically. Only dialect.
On the NJ front, I heard someone at a rest stop say she was from Jersey. My dad said there was an SNL character who helped popularize Joisy. Do any of you older folks remember it?
The SNL character referred to by your dad was named Paulie Herman, and was played by Joe Piscopo in the 1980-81 season. He had a scrunched-up perpetual grin, and was always saying "I'm from Joisey! Are you from Joisey? I'm from Joisey!". Eventually, Piscopo stopped doing the character because people from New Jersey didn't like it. I can't find any video of the character online, but the SNL Transcripts web site has transcripts of a couple of the sketches:
In this area, "whatever" is employed to end the conversation or argument. I have seen several "whatevers" as bumper stickers, which, I presume indicates "Things are not all that serious".
In the UK, "whatever" is generally a reference to the catch-all response of bored teenagers to adult conversational gambits. As it originates in Estuary English (the eroded Cockney of south eastern England), the "t" is not sounded, and the final syllable is an enervated drop of the jaw: wha'evah, as memorably popularized by comedian Catherine Tate. I would take a bumper sticker to be an ironic comment: "I could have a slogan here, but I can't be bothered to support any causes".
The word has an attractive sound to my ears, and indeed Canadians are as likely to disparage "huh" as Americans are to mock "eh". The goofy sound attributed by comedians doesn't actually convey the way the word is quite commonly used, a lightly emphasized sound as opposed to a lampooned drawn out and deeply emphasized one.
Eh is used for a number of reasons. Most frequently:
Stand-alone: "Eh? I didn't hear you."
Eliciting agreement or confirmation of understanding: "She's a great singer, eh?"
As a way of reconnecting with the listener -- you are not just droning on and listening to yourself speak, but you make eye contact and keep the person aware that you are talking with them, not just to yourself.
Can be used as "hey" in circumstances such as: "Eh!! Stupid cat! Watch where you're jumping!"
"Eh" is used in Ireland and England, where the ancestors of many English speaking Canadians originally came from.
The only usage of eh? that is exclusive to Canada, according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, is for "ascertaining the comprehension, continued interest, agreement, etc., of the person or persons addressed" as in, "It's four kilometres away, eh, so I have to go by bike." In that case, eh? is used to confirm the attention of the listener and to invite a supportive noise such as "Mm" or "Oh" or "Okay" This usage may be paraphrased as "I'm checking to see that you're listening/following/in agreement so I can continue." Grammatically, this usage constitutes an interjection; functionally, it is an implicit request for back-channel communication.
"Eh" can also be added to the end of a declarative sentence to turn it into a question. For example: "The weather is nice." becomes "The weather is nice, eh?" This same phrase could also be taken as "The weather is nice, don't you agree?". In this usage, it is virtually identical to the Japanese "ne?". This usage differs from the French usage of "n'est-ce pas?" ("Isn't that so?") in that it does not use a (technically double or emphatic) negative.
It can also be used as a sarcastic remark or insult, which mocks a grunt.
As elsewhere, "Eh?" is also used by itself and yourself to ask a person to repeat what they said, either because it was not understood or not fully heard. In this usage, it is similar to "Huh?" found in parts of the United States.
Wikipedia goes on to mention the use of Eh in England, Wales, New Zealand, Australia, parts of the US, etc. It seems to me that it is in common use in some form or other through much of the Commonwealth. So the question isn't so much why Canadians say Eh, but why so few Americans do...
Interestingly, re New Zealand:
"Sounds pretty ethnic, eh?: A pragmatic particle in New Zealand English"
Department of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305
A social dialect survey of a working-class suburb in New Zealand provides evidence that eh, a tag particle that is much stereotyped but evaluated negatively in NZ English, may persist in casual speech because it plays an important role as a positive politeness marker. It is used noticeably more by Maori men than by Maori women or Pakehas (British/European New Zealanders), and may function as an in-group signal of ethnic identity for these speakers. Young Pakeha women, though, seem to be the next highest users of eh. It is unlikely that they are using it to signal in-group identity in the same way; instead, it is possible that they are responding to its interpersonal and affiliative functions for Maori men, and are adopting it as a new facet in their repertoire of positive politeness markers. (Gender, ethnicity, politeness, New Zealand English, intergroup and interpersonal communication)
I'd say that this origin is about as likely as saying that people use 'Hmm?' because of the genetic material we share with bees ...
- Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, scene 2
Australian linguist Roly Sussex did a short radio show on the subject (phatic communion) back in March: http://www.abc.net.au/local/audio/2013/03/28/3726177.htm