1 6 7 8  10 11 12 14
I quite understand why rhotic people would find the usual BrE "er" as unsatisfactory for representing a neutral vowel, but where did the AmE "uh" come from? Is there any word in the language where the combination "uh" represents this sound?

Good point, "uh" doesn't really appear in traditional English words, does it? Searching on in Onelook gives a list full of exotic things like "fuhrer" and "brouhaha".
Nonetheless, "uh" is the standard way in the US to spell that sound (the one that is also called short-U in the US). The words (if you can call meaningful sounds, words) "uh" and "duh" actually use it. "Uh-huh" isn't quite the same, being a nasal "unh-hunh."
All I can think of is that we got used to that spelling from the sound-spellings that appeared in encyclopedias and the like. Search the Web for "uh pee" I get examples such as:
APOCOPE. (pronounced uh-PAHK-uh-pee)
piazza. (pee-AZ-uh, pee-AH-zuh, pee-AHT-suh)
Jocasta (jo-KAS-tuh). Laius (LAY-yuhs). Merope (MER-uh-pee)

It's the standard way that sound is spelled. Even if that combination isn't used much in official spelling.

Best Donna Richoux
An American living in the Netherlands
I quite understand why rhotic people would find the usual ... in the language where the combination "uh" represents this sound?

Good point, "uh" doesn't really appear in traditional English words, does it? Searching on in Onelook gives a list ... can call meaningful sounds, words) "uh" and "duh" actually use it. "Uh-huh" isn't quite the same, being a nasal "unh-hunh."

"Uh-oh" has the same vowel sound as "uh," although it has glottal stops which "uh" does not have.
All I can think of is that we got used to that spelling from the sound-spellings that appeared in encyclopedias ... Merope (MER-uh-pee) It's the standard way that sound is spelled. Even if that combination isn't used much in official spelling.

I'd say it's a sort of standard spelling, and reminds me of the status of "ain't" as a standard spelling for a nonstandard term.
I wonder how it came about that a vowel plus "h" stands for a "short vowel" (one which would, in the traditional American system, be represented by a breve over the vowel) except in the case of "oh," where it represents a "long vowel" (traditionally, an o with a macron). "Eh" is often pronounced /E/ (the vowel in "bed"), but it comes from Middle English "ey," which I expect was a diphthong, and even today is pronounced /e/ by many English speakers.

I see, as a result of a search in MWCD11, that "eh" is used for /E/ in "Dehra Dun," a city in India, and I expect that the "h" was pronounced in the original language. "Eh" is used in "heh," a type of laugh, and "feh," an originally Yiddish exclamation. "Ah" is sometimes pronounced like a "short 'a'" (the vowel in "cat"), as in some pronunciations of "Ah, shaddup!" but more often pronounced like a "short 'o'" (the vowel in "log"). It is used when representing /A/ in foreign words such as such as "Ahvaz," "Ahmed," and "Ahriman" one or two of those "h"s were probably pronounced originally.

MWCD11 dates "amah" ("a female servant in eastern Asia") to 1839: It comes from "Portuguese ama wet nurse, from Medieval Latin amma. " I can find no word where "ih" is pronounced /I/ (the vowel in "tip") but it also is found in pronunciation spellings. Two found on the Internet via Google: "ah-Bell-ih-Saw-russ" for "Abelisaurus" and "ree-PAHZ-ih-tor-i" for "repository." I've used it myself: It seems to me to be a quite natural representation of /I/, especially when that appears as an isolated syllable.

Raymond S. Wise
Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
E-mail: mplsray @ yahoo . com
Site Hint: Check out our list of pronunciation videos.
Sort of like Boise in the US, which I used to think was pronounced the same as "boys"!

An American friend heard me say Yosemite and told me he'd always thought it was pronounced Yoze-might. I found it ... were both in our early twenties at the time, and he had recently moved to California from Philadelphia, but still...

That does seem odd, if only because any American should be familiar with Yosemite Sam.
I quite understand why rhotic people would find the usual ... in the language where the combination "uh" represents this sound?

Good point, "uh" doesn't really appear in traditional English words, does it? Searching on in Onelook gives a list ... can call meaningful sounds, words) "uh" and "duh" actually use it. "Uh-huh" isn't quite the same, being a nasal "unh-hunh."

Some might pronounce "uh-huh" and "uh-uh" as (V'hV) and (V'V) respectively, i.e., with the same vowel as "uh". (OED2 dates those forms to 1924, by the way.)
I was surprised that the earliest OED2 cite for "uh" as a hesitation particle only comes from 1962 (as opposed to non-rhotic "er" from 1862). "Duh" appeared in a New York Times article on schoolyard slang in 1963.
All I can think of is that we got used to that spelling from the sound-spellings that appeared in encyclopedias and the like.

Another possible source: the pronunciation spellings used since the early 20th century to represent dialectal AmE speech, particularly black speech: "yuh" for "you", "suh" for "sir", "yassuh" for "yes sir", etc.
Areff premed:
An American friend heard me say Yosemite and told me ... he had recently moved to California from Philadelphia, but still...

That does seem odd, if only because any American should be familiar with Yosemite Sam.

I'm familiar with Yosemite Sam, but for many years I thought the name rhymed with Vegemite Sam.

Peter Moylan peter at ee dot newcastle dot edu dot au http://eepjm.newcastle.edu.au (OS/2 and eCS information and software)
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
} Areff premed:

}>>
}>>> Sort of like Boise in the US, which I used to think was pronounced }>>> the same as "boys"!
}>>
}>> An American friend heard me say Yosemite and told me he'd always }>> thought it was pronounced Yoze-might. I found it rather odd that an }>> American would not know how to pronounce it. We were both in our }>> early twenties at the time, and he had recently moved to California }>> from Philadelphia, but still...
}>
}>That does seem odd, if only because any American should be familiar with }>Yosemite Sam.
}
} I'm familiar with Yosemite Sam, but for many years I thought the } name rhymed with Vegemite Sam.
I was familiar with Yosemite Sam since I'm a kid, but I didn't see it in writing until much later. We used to go out to the Commack Drive-In to see all the cartoons before the first movie. I think that Commack is where the one-legged guy from the first Big Brother show was from.

R. J. Valentine
Areff premed:

That does seem odd, if only because any American should be familiar with Yosemite Sam.

I'm familiar with Yosemite Sam, but for many years I thought the name rhymed with Vegemite Sam.

If that were the case, Bugs Bunny would call out, "Yo, Semite Sam!"
Dena Jo premed:
I imagine that's also the reason why Americans usually mispronounce "Melbourne" and "Brisbane"

So how do Australians pronounce Brisbane?

('[email protected]). Accent on the first syllable, and the second doesn't get much of a mention at all.
It's similar for Melbourne ([email protected]), now that I think of it.

Peter Moylan peter at ee dot newcastle dot edu dot au http://eepjm.newcastle.edu.au (OS/2 and eCS information and software)
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
I think that Commack is where the one-legged guy from the first Big Brother show was from.

He was from the Tri-State Area, TFS.
Did you watch any of the subsequent Big Brothers? I sure didn't.
Show more