After discussing the language used in mixed-culture relationships in a previous post, I realized that there are more nuances than are immediately noticeable. There’s one syllable in particular that can’t be ignored. It’s the question-word noise. The “word” that means “what?” in any of its forms of incredulity.

In America, it’s “Huh?!”.  In fact, the New York Times recently dubbed “huh” the “syllable everyone recognizes,” saying that a recent study deemed it a universal word.

“We think of this as the core of language: managing common understanding as we talk,” Dr. Enfield said in an interview. Confirming and checking with other people, he added, “are really fundamental to the use of language.”

And it’s true. How natural is it to add a “huh?” at the end of a sentence to illicit a response or to grunt a quick “huh?” when you didn’t hear or understand what the other said. However in my mixed-culture household the word is slightly different.

I say “huh:”
[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/123947884?secret_token=s-vQhU6″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

but Marco says “Eh:”
[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/123894286?secret_token=s-6HvdG” params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Effectively they’re the same word, used in the same ways and with a similar sound. Despite this, Marco and I can’t seem to ignore the gulf of difference between the popular sound.

For me, “Eh?!” sounds like a shrill scream meant to express disbelief and the idea that the other interlocuter has no idea what he or she is talking about.

Exhibit A: [soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/123816851?secret_token=s-ObXwg” params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

For Marco, my “huh” sounds like a 700-pound smoker grunting a response to any discussion he or she is too ignorant to understand.

Exhibit B: [soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/123817154?secret_token=s-pkfqD” params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

And its naturalness means neither of us notice when we use it, only when the other uses it. A cheery, “That was a really good dinner huh?” Will illicit a, “HUUUUUUH” as a response from Marco, teasing me. (see exhibit B). Vice versa an incredulous “Ehhhh?!?!” will grate on my nerves enough to snap back “eehhhhhhh?!” (see exhibit A)

It might be a “core of language” but in my house it’s also the cause of much irritation, teasing and/or laughter, depending on the mood or situation.

Just one more cultural difference that needs to be understood and overcome – huh?

Bloopers:
[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/123950972?secret_token=s-yVWiS” params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/123951128?secret_token=s-BU4bk” params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Written by ginamussio

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