Canadian, eh?

Lynne Murphy lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK
Sun Dec 2 15:26:37 UTC 2001

--On Saturday, December 1, 2001 2:02 pm -0800 "Angels Of Light Int'l Music \"Æ\"" <white_angels_2000 at YAHOO.COM> wrote:

> 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.

I've probably mentioned this before, but South African "hey" is pretty much
the same as Canadian 'eh' in its use.  Here are the definitions from the Oxford _Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles". I'll give a couple of examples with each, but there are lots more in the book.

1.  Added to a statement or a question:  a request for an utterance to be repeated; a request for confirmation of what has been said; used to turn a statement into a question; inviting agreement.

1929 He's quite an intellectual, hey?
1961 Isn't it a small world, hey?
1971 But life's funny, hey?
1986 You're in standard nine, hey?

2.  Added to an instruction or command to soften it, by implying that the assent of the one addressed is being sought.

1953 You must drive slowly, hey, so that they can keep up...
1975 Ag goodbye my boy ... come again hey!

3.  Added to a question to insist on an answer, or to indicate that the question refers to something which the one addressed ought to take note of,
or pay attention to .

1956  What do you think of that -- hey?
1966  Donder, now what's the matter with the thing, hey?

4.  Added to a statement to give it emphasis or to retain the attention of the one addressed, through an implied request for a reply of some sort (when no reply is, in fact, required).

1985  He takes one look at ou Shirley -- you know Clint hey -- sommer in the bath, guns and all!
1987  'How many chaps do you want?' 'Five or six.  Thanks hey.'

Now the entry also says 'cf. hoor'.  'Hoor' is Afrikans 'hear' and is used in some of the same senses as 'hey' (short for 'hoor jy my?'--do you hear me?).  So, that seems a likely etymology for 'hey'.  What about 'eh'?  And is this sort of discourse particle very common cross-linguistically?  Are there similar things in other dialects of English?


Dr M Lynne Murphy
Lecturer in Linguistics
Acting Director, MA in Applied Linguistics
School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

phone +44-(0)1273-678844
fax   +44-(0)1273-671320

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