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A thesis on eh Gibson, Deborah Jean

Abstract

Several linguists have noted that eh is a distinct characteristic of Canadian English, e.g., Allen (1959), Avis (1972), and Love (1973). Despite this common observation, little detailed analysis has been done on either eh's syntactic or sociolinguistic distribution. Avis (1972), for example, discusses a number of the syntactic environments of eh, but based on its occurrence in selected works of literature. Thus far there has been no detailed study on the systematic use of eh as it is found in the spoken language, used by a diversity of speakers. This paper gives a grammatical and sociolinguistic analysis of the use of eh, based on data collected in Vancouver, B.C., over a period of four months. The data consist of more than 550 occurrences of eh from 74 informants of various language and social backgrounds. Most informants were native speakers of Canadian English, with the others being primarily speakers of either American or British English. The grammatical analysis presents the syntactic and semantic characteristics of eh and its uses. It is in part based on research on tags (e.g., Huddleston 1970, Cattell 1973), questions (e.g., Hudson 1975), and conversational analysis (e.g., Sacks 1967). Important properties of sentences that determine the analysis and use of eh include syntactic mood, semantic force, and sincerity conditions. Also, eh can only be understood by extending the analysis to include the relation between sentences within a discourse. The sociolinguistic analysis is based on information about the speakers who use eh and on the social context in which it occurs, i.e., formal versus informal usage. Social variables in the use of eh are age, class, sex, regional and language background of the speaker. [Table on eight types of eh] The sociolinguistic analysis indicates that eh is used mostly in informal speech, that some speakers use eh more than others, and that the variables of class and regional background may determine the use of certain types of eh, particularly the Anecdotal eh, which was found to be the most stigmatized form.

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