Tags: The Canadian-English “Eh” vs. The American-English “Huh”

Alexandra Raymond

University of Vermont

 

The analysis of the frequently used Canadian English tag, “eh”, as in “How’s school going, eh?” (SH, 10/22/11) cannot be reduced to an analysis of the frequently used American English tag, “huh”. In this talk I will show that although the two tags are alike in many respects, they differ in important ways. I collected the following naturally occurring instances of both tags:

 

Naturally Occurring Data on Eh:

(1) How’s school going, eh? (SH, 10/22/11)

(2) Is that right, eh? (SH, 10/23/11)

(3) Ohh, that looks so yummy… thank you, eh. (SH, 10/22/11)

(4) Look at them, eh. (talking about the dogs playing) (SH, 10/23/11)

 

Naturally Occurring Data on Huh:

(1)   “She said that, huh?” (TL, 10/22/11)

(2)   “Huh, I’m not sure if that works…” (JH, 10/20/11)

(3)   a: Your new picture is hung up  b: It looks nice, huh? (EJ, 11/2/11)

 

Previous work also illustrates that “eh” has a number of usages and appears in several distinct constructions (Wright 2006). Wright (2006) argues that no only is “eh” uniquely Canadian, but that it has ten distinct meanings, which she outlines in a chart. These ten uses derived from Gold (2004) in which Gold surveyed Canadians from Ottawa and Vancouver to determine the contemporary use of “eh”. Gold’s data and findings suggest that the multiple uses of “eh” can be understood as equivalent to other tags such as “isn’t it?”, “doesn’t it?”, “are you?”, etc. (Gold, 2004).

 

As far as methodology goes, I would like to first establish a clear definition of the Canadian word “eh”, including its known uses. Using the sources listed above and by collecting my own naturally occurring data, this can be easily accomplished. Next, I would like to establish a clear definition of the American word “huh”, including its known uses (Torres I Vilatarsana). By comparing the two lists of known uses, I hypothesize that an argument can be made that the widely accepted (not amongst scholars, but widely accepted amongst normal people who don’t study this) definition of “eh” as just the equivalent of “huh” is incorrect. By establishing a full understanding of tag questions and comparing this to the understanding of “eh”, a parallel might be able to be drawn that is stronger than that between “eh” and “huh”.

 

Mark Liberman asks whether the American “huh” is transitioning to look more like the Canadian “eh”, and gives an example of an American airport employee saying, “Thanks, huh” as a Canadian would say, “Thanks eh”. While there are other possible interpretations of this data, such as that the American may have been misunderstood (perhaps saying, “Thanks, hun”), it introduces a new linguistic feature worth looking into.

 

References:

Gold, Elaine. “Canadian Eh?: A Survey of Contemporary Use.” Annual Conference of the Canadian Linguistic Association. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2004. 1 November 2005. <http://http‑server.carleton.ca/~mojunker/ACL‑CLA/pdf/Gold‑CLA‑2004.pdf>.

Liberman, Mark. “Huh.” Web log post. Language Log. 4 Feb. 2010. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. <http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2097)>.

Torres, i. V. (2004). What was that, huh? questions and answers in (in)formal registers. Revista De Llengua i Dret, 41, 13-38.

Wright, Kailin. “Eh Is Canadian, Eh? Usage, Functions, and the Identity Crisis of Eh.” 2006. Web. 2011.