Pronunciation: um, erm

Nunty

Modified
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?
 
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    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'?
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    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.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English 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.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    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.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    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.
     

    Kumpel

    Senior Member
    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
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    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:eek:.)
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    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.
     
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    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    I guess it's mainly the "m" that seems strange to me.
    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".
     

    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.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    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".
    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?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    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: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:).

    The r is never pronounced in British rhotic accents.
    Erm....

    Did you mean British non-rhotic accents, Copperknickers?
     

    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.
     

    Copperknickers

    Senior Member
    Scotland - Scots and English
    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?
    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'.
     
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    Sedulia

    Senior Member
    **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....
     

    Copperknickers

    Senior Member
    Scotland - Scots and English
    Are you saying that rhotic speakers pronounce 'r' everywhere else but not in erm?
    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. :)
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    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.
     

    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.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    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.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    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.
    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.
     

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    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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