Pronunciation: um, erm

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Nunty, May 27, 2010.

  1. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Jerusalem
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    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?
     
  2. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    London
    English - South-East England
    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'?
     
  3. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    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.
     
  4. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This septic isle!
    NW Englandish English
    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.
     
  5. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    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.
     
  6. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    Singapore
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    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.
     
  7. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Jerusalem
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Thanks for the discussion, everyone. :)
     
  8. Kumpel Senior Member

    London, England
    British English
    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
     
  9. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    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:eek:.)
     
  10. Kumpel Senior Member

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

    Lloyd
     
  11. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    <<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 a moderator: Jun 29, 2011
  12. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    New York
    USA - English
    Um, I'm not so sure about that, Parla.:D
    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".
     
  13. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This septic isle!
    NW Englandish English
    Never heard of it:rolleyes::rolleyes::rolleyes:
     
  14. Copperknickers Senior Member

    Scotland - Scots and English
    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.
     
  15. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    Uh, I dunno about that, GWB. :D 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?
     
  16. Copperknickers Senior Member

    Scotland - Scots and English
    Those from the south of England would be the most likely to be non rhotic.
     
  17. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Jerusalem
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    What do you call a rhotic accent, then?
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2011
  18. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Well, I'm one that doesn't - reside in a different part of the country, that is:D.

    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?
     
  19. scrotgrot Senior Member

    English - English
    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.
     
  20. Copperknickers Senior Member

    Scotland - Scots and English
    No, rhotic accents. I mean the r in 'erm' not r in general.

    One where you pronounce the 'r'.
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2011
  21. Cagey post mod

    California
    English - US
    Are you saying that rhotic speakers pronounce 'r' everywhere else but not in erm?
     
  22. Sedulia

    Sedulia Senior Member

    Paris, France
    **Literate** American English
    The British often write "erm" and even though I know they mean "um" it still confuses me every time for a nano-second, since there is no word "erm" and I pronounce my r's....
     
  23. Copperknickers Senior Member

    Scotland - Scots and English
    I think you misunderstand. The word 'rhotic' is linguistic jargon. I'd explain it but it is not within the scope of this thread. A dictionary will tell you what it means, but feel free to start another thread if you want more clarification upon looking it up. :)
     
  24. Cagey post mod

    California
    English - US
    No, I have looked up 'rhotic'; the definition agrees with your post in which you say that people with a rhotic accent do pronounce 'r'. From Wiki:
    A rhotic (pronounced /ˈroʊtɨk/, sometimes /ˈrɒtɨk/) speaker pronounces a rhotic consonant in words like hard; a non-rhotic speaker does not.
    That is why I am asking for clarification of your statement that they would not pronounce 'r' in erm.
     
  25. Copperknickers Senior Member

    Scotland - Scots and English
    A non-rhotic speaker would not pronounce the 'r' in erm. A rhotic speaker would instead write 'ehm' or 'em' because they WOULD pronounce the 'r' were it written in.
     
  26. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    With this particular "word", in parts of the rhotic world where the "r" is not given exalted treatment (as in Scotland), the difference between a rhotic and non-rhotic version is marginal.
    If you don't roll your r's you'll not notice the difference.
     
  27. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    Singapore
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I would say that's true of some Northern English accents as well like a Cumbrian accent.

    I would say that in the UK if you saw 'erm', even if you had a rhotic accent, you would understand that this is a way of writing down a 'vocalised hesitation' and still wouldn't pronounce the /r/, and understand that a non-rhotic accent was assumed here. (I'm slightly disagreeing with Coppernickers. But maybe we should get a response from someone with a UK rhotic accent?)

    In my part of the world, there is also the surname Er (derived from Chinese). Again, a non-rhotic pronunciation is assumed.
     
  28. Glasguensis

    Glasguensis Signal Modulation

    Versailles
    English - Scotland
    I think that Copperknickers is supporting Nunty's original hypothesis, that everyone actually says "um", but that non-rhotic speakers write this as "erm". Rhotic speakers, understanding this, will therefore read "erm" as if it were "um".
     

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