Eh! Non! 

I remembered something. In a village in Turkey, people communicate with each other by whistling.

Languages, gestures are ways of communicating with each other. Humans and other species have been communicating with each other since old times. Now things have supposedly evolved, but there are some words and gestures which may have a long history or may have a history about which we do not know. How and when the terms get to mean what really means today, is sometimes difficult to understand.

Non is a word used in French, which means Not in English. It is said that the French appear to be negative in their approach to everything in life. For most of the discussions, if a query gets raised or a question comes up, the answer is most of the time Non. For some questions like a son asking his mother, “Can I start taking drugs?” The answer Non means a firm No! But in most other cases, Non is the first volley of opening-up of further discussion. Why does this happen? French as a language is not a clear language like English. English has absorbed hundreds of thousands of words from other languages, over a period. Jungle and Bazzar are common words that English has absorbed from Hindi. Has it diluted the language? Non! It has made English more vibrant. French has only seventy thousand words, whereas English has five hundred thousand words (5 Lacs). In French, since there are not many words, some sentences can become vague. The Fench cannot sometimes precisely explain what they want to say as there are words which have a double meaning.

The problem starts here. Suppose there is a situation which can be resolved by discussions, the French feel that it best to say Non with an intonation that can mean different things. One could be, I have not understood what you have said. Another could be, tell me more about what you are saying. Instead of Non if they say Oui, then the discussion is over, and you cannot change again as you have accepted something. Non is a starting point of further discussions, or an open-ended invitation to discuss further. At the end of many “Non” will come out a real “Oui”! Do you get what I am saying? Non? 🙂🙂

It is similar when Canadians use the word, Eh! What does Eh mean? As a word, it is just an exclamatory word! But it has a different meaning again with context and intonation! How did it become associated with Canada? In languages, there is what known as a tag. A tag, in linguistics, is a word or sound or short phrase added after a thought which changes that thought in some way. The most common tags are question tags, which transform a thought into a question. “It’s a nice day, isn’t it?” would be one example. The tag “isn’t it” turns that statement of fact into something that could prompt a response; the speaker is asking for confirmation or rejection. “Eh” is known as an invariant tag—something added to the end of a sentence that’s the same every time it’s used.

But “isn’t it” is a variant tag. If used in the plural, it will become “aren’t they”. If you talk about something that was in the past, you will say, “wasn’t it”. But usage of Eh will never change with anything; hence it is called an invariant tag.

There are different ways a Canadian could use “eh.” The first is while stating an opinion: “It’s a nice day, eh?” Another would be as an exclamation tag, added to a sentence to indicate surprise: “What a game, eh?” Or you could use it for a request or command: “Put it over here, eh?” And then there’s the odd example of using it within a criticism: “You messed that one up, eh?”

The beauty of all this is that as a word, Eh does not mean anything. Is it like some spice that we use while cooking? We can make the food to taste differently by adding various spices! Like the simple word Eh, you add a dash of that spice in your food, to give different culinary experiences.

According to some linguists, these “Ehs” a word by itself. “All of these uses have one pragmatic purpose in common: they all show politeness,”. Using “eh” to end the statement is a way for the speaker to express solidarity with the listener. It’s not exactly asking for reassurance or confirmation, but it’s not far off: the speaker is saying, hey, we’re on the same page here, we agree on this. So instead of saying all this, he just says, “Eh” in the end!

These different ways of saying, Eh, bring out different meanings. We can compare it with various methods which are used to prepare a food item. In India, we have chutney as a side dish. It can be slightly hot to very hot, but always tasty. We make groundnut chutney by putting the mixture in a grinder. It makes finely grated chutney but is the least delicious. Then we make the same chutney in a manual device called Khalbatta.

Okay, I am not a culinary expert, but I know a few things. Chutney made in a mixer had groundnuts in finely flaked, chopped format.

Eh1

The chutney made in Khalbatta brings out some oil out of the nuts because of stomping action.  Those used for making chutney are much larger.

eh2

Pata-Warvanta brings out the most oil from the nuts. It is used for crushing the nuts multiple times. The taste and the aroma of the chutney are best when the oil from the nuts is brought out. In the mixer-grinder, only the chopping action takes place; hence no oil is brought out.

An unusual Indian way of saying yes, without uttering the word, Yes! When we mean yes, we always give our neck a lateral movement, from left to right and back. Internationally, it is an action to say NO! Many times I have seen non-Indians who are confused by our No-Yes!

The stereotype of Canadians saying “eh” is so strong that Canadians have ended up reclaiming the word for themselves, even those Canadians who don’t use it very often. Eh is now part of Canadian culture. Citi-bred Canadians don’t use Eh! A popular children’s book about Canadian culture is titled “From Eh? To Zed.” The first prime minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald, is often referred to as “Sir John Eh.”

Probably this is the reason Harry and Meghan have chosen Canada to live in future. They got fed up of impolite tabloids in Britain and chose a polite Canada.

Friends do you know such interesting titbits from other languages from other culture or language?