Why do Canadians say "eh" at the end of their sentences?
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Does anyone know how it got started that Canadians say the word "eh" quite often as filler at the end of a sentence? It almost works like a question tag sometimes.
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.
I'm not from Canada originally but have inadvertently adopted the "eh" into my speech. I live on the West Coast and hear it on a daily basis, but it's not ubiquitous here like it is back East (or even in the interior of BC).
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.
It's the same reason California valley girls say "like" and Mexicans say " 'uey."
Don't Scandinavians (etc.?) ask something similar at the end of their sentences ("neh?").
"Eh?" is supposed to be particularly common in Ontario. I used to both hear and say "eh" a lot more when I lived there. Now that I'm out on the west coast, it's comparatively rare.
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." :-)
"Eh?" can also be used as in "what's that?" or "please repeat". Some years ago I was testing fire protection systems at a large industrial plant in British Columbia. It was pouring rain, the wind was howling, and I was out in the weather with the plant maintenance guy.
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?"
>7 margd: & 9
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.
In some parts of England, right, people stick 'right' in the middle of their sentences, right, and it doesn't actually mean anything, right, but I think, right, it's what #8 identified, right, as the reason why Canadians, right, put 'eh 'in their sentences, right?
7, 9, and 10
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.
>9 oregonobsessionz: "Eh?" can also be used as in "what's that?" or "please repeat".
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'd love to hear some other people's perspectives on Mexican Spanish-speakers and "Uey," pronounced "way" and sprinkled liberally in every conversation.
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.
One of my dictionaries says the word, eh, comes from the mid-16th century. I heard eh before I ever heard some one from Canada use it, but it was vrey uncommon. I don't remember it as a very Newfoundland use, however, but I have heard it from Ontario and Alberta speakers. And my French Canadian relatives use it when speaking English, sometimes.
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!"
Indigenous Australians (certainly around the Sydney area) use "eh", and it seems to me it is used in the same way that the French often use n'est-ce pas? Some non-indigenous people now use "eh" in the same way here.
Edited to correct spelling!
An afterthought: I think the French n'est-ce pas usually has a rising intonation, whereas the Australian "eh" has a falling one.
You have to look at the photo.
One of the three supernovas is called SN1999eh, eh :-)
1> "Eh" often functions as a question tag, which is quite interesting as an anomaly of Canadian English grammar.
Local Hawaiians put "yeah" after statements, turning them into questions, much like the Canadians and their "eh".
#23 - we also use it as "pardon" as in "eh?" if we haven't heard something.
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!".
I believe that it's an eastern habit. I live just over the border from Ontario and let me tell you, they do it. I worked with a couple of guys from Ontario - wonderful people, but they did say "eh" a lot. :)
As a Canadian, from Toronto, who is University educated, I hang my head in shame, as I do use "eh" at the end of a sentence, sometimes. I am very self conscious when I do this as I feel I am fulfilling a stereotype. I tend to use it to turn a sentence into a question, or ask for agreement. Not always, but...
Embarrassing eh? (see like that)
Nonsense, I think we should be proud of it. It's an indicator of regional identity, and there's not an overabundance of that these days, especially in university-educated Toronto.
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 it's really useful--in the states, people often change their minds mid-sentence and just raise their tone at the end to make a declarative interrogative. "Eh" adds some much-needed clarity, and as a near-migrant (will be in Montreal for four years starting in august) I plan to "accidentally" pick it up. Shame it's become such a stigma for some Canucks.
It's the equivalent of "nicht wahr?" in German and "ne ces pas" (or however it's spelled) in French. Sometimes people will add "right?" in the same way to incdicate something like "don't you agree?", which is how I've always understood the "eh?"
I have just visited Jersey, and was told that the tag "eh" is also to be found in the local speech there, which is a fairly conservative form of Southern English, influenced by the local dialect of Norman French.
Another country where 'eh?' is found at the end of sentences - partly as a "isn't that right" and partly as a filler - is New Zealand.
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.
#31 - assuming you mean Jersey in the Channel Islands. Many North Americans might scratch their heads at this (re NEW Jersey!).
Really? That hadn't occurred to me. If I wrote of "York" would you think of Manhattan?
If I wrote of "York" would you think of Manhattan?
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.
I don't think anyone said "New Jersey" during the whole run of The Sopranos. But it was always "New York".
Yeah, when I hear "Jersey," I stick the "New" in without thinking. I don't actually call it that, because I don't live close enough to say "Yeah, we're going to Jersey," but I'm sure if I lived in New York (or Stamford, whatever), I would.
I almost always say New Jersey, but I always say the Jersey Shore. Furthermore, I say the North Jersey Coast (Seaside Heights and points north) and the South Jersey Coast (Barnegat and points south) to distinguish between the New York oriented area of the Jersey shore and the Philadelphia oriented portion.
I don't live near NJ - am in Canada, and I would refer to it as New Jersey. And I know where the original Jersey is. However, from pop culture, I underdstand many "locals" refer to it as just Jersey.
#32, zenomax: In New Zealand, the "eh?"at the end of the sentence is often extended to "eh, bro?" - I doubt you'd hear that particular formulation too often in Canada.
"You know?"; "What ever."; and "I don't know." each phrase ending on an up note, might be just conversation markers to keep the interaction continuing.
Naren, I much prefer "eh" to "you know?" or "whatever" ANY day 8-) I believe all of them are functioning just like "nicht wahr?" on the end of a German sentence, but all are used as you suggest.
My uncle lived in California. He came to visit me once and after every phrase he uttered he said, "What?" It was so incredibly annoying! He'd say it, and if I opened my mouth to respond, he'd keep right on talking.
@14: A friend who lived in Costa Rica explained "uey" as deriving from the exclamation "hijo de puta," which is similar in meaning to the Elizabethan English "whoreson" and, like that word, applicable to things and situations other than children of uncertain parentage.
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.
@48: It may well be wrong. The most convincing evidence to him (and me) was the occasional "uey puta." But that could be either a coincidental resemblance to "uey" or a back-formation by someone who believed in the folk etymology!
Then, too, it could be relevant in Costa Rica but not in Mexico.
"Folk etymologies are valid indicators in pursuing studies in linguistics." Seth Lerer, professor of linguistics, Stanford University.
When doing linguistic research, who sets standards of what is "wrong" and what is "valid"?
#54: People who have years of experience in the field generally set standards, whether spelled out or "understand" among experts. Nothing new there.
To quote King James (in tha black book of his) "yeah and verily; Selah!"
You could as easily ask why do people in the USA end sentences with, "you know".
Also why does Obama start his sentences with "look"?
#52 In etymology, "valid" means the same as it does in most academic subjects: "most likely to be true, given the evidence and the application of logical reasoning".
#41 It might be "Joisey" in parts of New York, but not in New Jersey. Well, at least not in any parts I usually find myself. I've lived in New Jersey my entire longish life, and have only heard "Joisey" when traveling from Midwesterners who think they are being funny. Must have been something they saw on television.
Empirically speaking, Television SUCKS (in the most obscene manner)!
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.
Seth Lerer, Professor of Linguistics, at Stanford University, in the Teaching Company lecture series, "The History of the English Language", has identified that as "up talk", where each statement ends on a higher note, thus implying a question.
Some Australians end their sentences with "but". I've never worked that one out.
I do that. I'm Canadian. I... can't really articulate what purpose it serves, exactly, but it's not arbitrary. I guess it's like a shortened form of "but whatever"?
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.
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".
I'm Australian, and I don't use "but" at the end of a sentence, but in my experience, it is usually used: (a) at the end of the sentence where the qualifier is either self evident or is otherwise well known to the receiver of the discourse; or (b) to imply that the sentence qualifies something previously said in the discourse.
>32 zenomax:, 42 New Zealanders also say "ay" at the end of sentences, but usually in a rising intonation. They reckon it's to elicit a response. I know a guy who says it after almost any sentence, which is funny. But I say it a lot too. We are often compared to Canadians for this- as well in other ways.
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!
One of the few mistakes George V. Higgins makes in re-creating the dialect of Bostonians, is to exaggerate their use of "there"*. His characters say "there" at the end of just about every sentence in which the last word is a personal or place name. For example: "I got a new apartment: Coolidge Corner, Brookline, there."
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.
Perhaps a lot of this sort of quirkiness is simply individual; several recent examples above would support this. I (rather dimly, now) remember an early talkie - was it the first 'Aces High'? - in which characters kept adding 'is all' to sentences. I found it irritating is all. The practice seems very rare these days.
Interesting thread, since I'm going to Canada this weekend and I live in Central Jersey, which is the middle part of New Jersey. I would not say Central New Jersey. Mostly I have heard Jersey alone used by New Yorkers making fun of Joisy.
That's sort of like Northern Californian's identifying themselves as such to differentiate from L.A. and below or Oklahoman's identifying Texas as Baja Oklahoma.
After spending the weekend in Toronto, I did not hear "eh" but I did hear a lot of "yeah". I went with my dad who said he heard a lot of "eh", especially from one guest from Montreal who I spent a nice amount of time talking to...so either it's a gender thing or I'm tuning it out.
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:
Uh! We are not older folks! They are in the Home. We are still out stumbling around.
#2 ->I was born and lived in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland in Western BC all my 70 (well, by October) years, and my mother always said eh!, although sometimes it was used more like hey! at the start of the sentence... Eh! to catch the attention, then the sentence. I think my grandfather used it, too, but he was from Wisconsin and moved to Vancouver as a teenager. I always thought when I was young that it was just my family! I was quite surprised when I found out it was widespread in about the 1960s, I think it really took root with SCTV. I moved north in 2006 and I don't think I've heard it here yet. I wonder if it originated with the British?
After spending time in Germany, I rather miss using "nicht wahr?" when I come back to speaking English 8-) I have heard "right?" added to a sentence end used the same way, but I don't think it's common.
British speakers (depending on dialect) may also use "yeah?", "y'know?", or "innit?" in this way.
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".
Re the ending of a sentence with 'right?' - John Lydon uses this form quite often.
I think it's a bit of a myth that Canadians' say eh at the end of sentences. Perhaps some do, but it's not considered to be an educated / classy way of speaking.
Perhaps this is equivalent to: "It's your turn to say or do something." In some parts of the U.S. south, it would be "ya hear" or "hear". Military radio communication: "over".
I am a Canadian, raised in Manitoba and Vancouver, and "eh" is a regular part of my speech, as with those of many people around me. Some people may think it is not "classy", as #83 suggests, but those same people probably would not use the word "classy", and we should not concern ourselves with them.
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)
My guess is that it originated from the French verb "voulez" (pronounced vous les; translation-want to?) and then shortened to the last syllable "ez" prounced "eh." The expression "eh" IS a useful part of linguistics because it induces a response from the listener (verbally, or using body cues). "Eh" is also very catchy; one syllable long and easy for your mouth to enunciate. This could also explain why the use of “eh” is directly proportional to the amount of French influence in the area (Montreal and Quebec where early French colonies).
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 ...
The "eh" should probably be defined as a form of phatic communion. It maintains the social connection between speakers but doesn't carry semantic content.
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
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