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white_angels_2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sat Dec 1 22:02:37 UTC 2001
The 1998 Canadian Oxford Dictionary - based on K.
Barber's five-year-long research project - offers
recent scientific evidence of how current "eh" is,
classifying it as an informal Canadianism.
This "kind of articulated question mark" (as W. Avis
previously defined it) serves to (I'm quoting here)
"ascertain the comprehension, continued interest,
agreement, etc. of the person/s addressed."
Interestingly, the attention-getting function seems
to be the only distinctively Canadian usage of the
interjection , since all other uses (e.g., inviting
assent, expressing inquiry or surprise, asking for
repetition or an explanation) are common to other
Commonwealth countries and, to a lesser extent, the
According to the Cdn sociolinguist Jack Chambers,
"eh" is a politeness marker which reflects Canadians'
friendly attitude (e.g., "It's a lovely day, eh?" [my
In "Guide to Canadian English Usage" (published in
1997), it is said that Canadians apparently use this
question word more widely and more often than other
anglophones, which is itself a typical feature of the
English spoken in Canada. Context-wise, the guide's
editors concur that the most stigmatized use of the
word is the anecdotal one (à la McKenzie).
My own field research has led me to think that it
may be used more often by women (including teenagers
and college students), and that it may be more
commonly heard in Eastern Canada (Ontario and the
Atlantic provinces) than it is out west (British
Columbia, Alberta, and the Prairies).
In summary, "eh" is still alive in Canadian English
and can be considered to be a true Canadianism in
terms of frequency and contextual distinctiveness.
Dr. S. Roti
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