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Thread: Pronunciation: um, erm

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    Pronunciation: um, erm

    Just a stray thought. I've noticed that BE (British English) speakers write "erm" and AE (American English) speakers write "um". It occurs to me that a non-rhotic "erm" could sound pretty much the same as "um".

    Are "erm" and "um" the same sound?
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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    These were no doubt both originally intended to convey a mere syllabic nasal [m], or a variant with a schwa in front of it. However, with these, as with the non-nasal hesitation noises 'ah', 'er', 'uh', I for one tend to distinguish them depending on how they're written. I often say (read out, anyway) 'um' as if it's a word with a full vowel, rhyming with 'bum': [am] in my accent, a long way from a schwa. The spellings 'er' and 'erm' tempt me to say the long vowel with that spelling. And I never know what to do with 'uh', because that doesn't correspond to anything in English spelling: do I make it a schwa, or do I make it [a] as in 'strut'?

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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    The BE version is (at least sometimes) pronounced like the end of hem.
    The non-rhotic are likely to write this as erm.
    The rhotic will then pronounce the /r/, seeking to reproduce what the writer intended.
    The end result is a noise rather like the end of worm.
    It doesn't matter which end of worm.
    Though it does, to the worm.
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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    I believe I may write the word erm on the odd occasion*, Nunty I pronounce it like the end of a worm (the ormy end), with no [r] present.
    Um rhymes with bum ~ no r's in that either.


    *The reason I write erm so often is that I actually say it all the time.
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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    Quote Originally Posted by Nunty View Post
    I've noticed that BE (British English) speakers write "erm" and AE (American English) speakers write "um". It occurs to me that a non-rhotic "erm" could sound pretty much the same as "um".

    Are "erm" and "um" the same sound?
    Actually, when I write "erm", I'm not really thinking about a sound. It's just a set of letters which mean "I'm hesitating ..."; I could just as easily write it "um".

    In practice, my pronunciation of the 'word' is, I think, somewhere between "erm" and "um" - sometimes closer to one, sometimes closer to the other.
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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    I deal with transcriptions in my work. Generally, BE er is the same as AE uh. Similarly erm and um. Voiced hesitation with a schwa sound. The problem of course is that in certain parts of the UK like Scotland the vowel sound is more like that in hem, as mentioned by panj. In this case, you might see eh and em instead.

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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    Thanks for the discussion, everyone.
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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    Sometimes, if I'm hesitating for an extremely long time, and there're more than just the one 'erm,' I might intentionally roll the r, but that's just me being silly.

    Lloyd

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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    Quote Originally Posted by Kumpel View Post
    Sometimes, if I'm hesitating for an extremely long time, and there're more than just the one 'erm,' I might intentionally roll the r, but that's just me being silly.

    Lloyd
    There's no /r/ in my "erm" for me to roll, since I'm non-rhotic....

    (Gosh - that sounds like some sort of dreadful disease.)
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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    Yeah, I put the r in because it's written in erm. Normally, it's got no r, yeah.

    Lloyd

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    "Erm", meaning/pronunciation

    <<Moderator note: this question has been added to a previous thread on the same topic>>

    I've noted the use of "erm" in a number of posts by BE speakers. Despite e-mail correspondence with a number of people in the UK and Australia over the years, I'd never seen "erm" before joining this forum.

    Is this something you use in speech, perhaps equivalent to AE "uh—" or "er—"? Is it pronounced with the "m", to rhyme with "germ"? Do you often use it in writing?

    I guess it's mainly the "m" that seems strange to me.
    Last edited by Loob; 29th June 2011 at 5:40 PM.

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    Re: "Erm", meaning/pronunciation

    Quote Originally Posted by Parla View Post
    I guess it's mainly the "m" that seems strange to me.
    Um, I'm not so sure about that, Parla.
    I think what is unfamiliar is the spelling. "Erm" is used because it presumes a non-rhotic accent, and it really does sound like "um", which is how Americans would tend to spell the same sound. In the same way, "er" is pretty much the same thing as "uh".

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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    Never heard of it
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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    It should be noted the 'erm' is specifically English. In Scotland we'd say 'em' or 'eh', like Americans would say 'um' or 'uh'. The r is never pronounced in British rhotic accents.

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    Re: "Erm", meaning/pronunciation

    Quote Originally Posted by GreenWhiteBlue View Post
    Um, I'm not so sure about that, Parla.
    I think what is unfamiliar is the spelling. "Erm" is used because it presumes a non-rhotic accent, and it really does sound like "um", which is how Americans would tend to spell the same sound. In the same way, "er" is pretty much the same thing as "uh".
    Uh, I dunno about that, GWB. If I say "er" I pronounce the "r", rhyming with the last syllable in "better". "Uh" is the "u" in "bug".

    A further question (for the BE people) occurs to me: My prior native-speaking correspondents, who have never written "erm", have all been in the southern part of England, Bath and the general area around London (one as far north as Birmingham, but not a native so that doesn't count). Do those here who write "erm" in their posts reside in a different part of the country?

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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    Those from the south of England would be the most likely to be non rhotic.

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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    Quote Originally Posted by Copperknickers View Post
    It should be noted the 'erm' is specifically English. In Scotland we'd say 'em' or 'eh', like Americans would say 'um' or 'uh'. The r is never pronounced in British rhotic accents.
    What do you call a rhotic accent, then?
    Last edited by Nunty; 29th June 2011 at 8:30 PM. Reason: Left out an important word.
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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    Quote Originally Posted by Parla View Post
    A further question (for the BE people) occurs to me: My prior native-speaking correspondents, who have never written "erm", have all been in the southern part of England, Bath and the general area around London (one as far north as Birmingham, but not a native so that doesn't count). Do those here who write "erm" in their posts reside in a different part of the country?
    Well, I'm one that doesn't - reside in a different part of the country, that is.

    I grew up in Yeovil, around 30 miles south of Bath; spent a good chunk of my life in and around London; and now live near Gloucester, around 40 miles north of Bath and 50 miles south of Birmingham.

    Quote Originally Posted by Copperknickers View Post
    The r is never pronounced in British rhotic accents.
    Erm....

    Did you mean British non-rhotic accents, Copperknickers?
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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    Just to throw it out there, the reason the hesitance syllable is usually a schwa or a similar central vowel is because from the middle the tongue can most efficiently move to any part of the mouth to enunciate whatever word is eventually said.

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    Re: Pronunciation: um, erm

    Quote Originally Posted by Loob View Post
    Well, I'm one that doesn't - reside in a different part of the country, that is.

    I grew up in Yeovil, around 30 miles south of Bath; spent a good chunk of my life in and around London; and now live near Gloucester, around 40 miles north of Bath and 50 miles south of Birmingham.


    Erm....

    Did you mean British non-rhotic accents, Copperknickers?
    No, rhotic accents. I mean the r in 'erm' not r in general.

    What do you call a rhotic accent, then?
    One where you pronounce the 'r'.
    Last edited by Copperknickers; 29th June 2011 at 9:53 PM.

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