[ae:::h], or, English needs more interjections…

My last post, a frustrated shriek concerning the now seemingly complete acceptability of cell phone use in public indoor spaces, ended with the well-known non-word “aargh.” This reminds me of the relative poverty-strickenness of our language with regard to interjections.

Yes, seriously.

Two cases in point. There’s a word I say all the time that doesn’t exist, but sounds rather like the IPA symbols given in the title to this post. For those unacquainted with the IPA, the symbol “ae” indicates a near-open front vowel, unrounded (like our “a” in the word “hat”), and the colons after it indicate lengthening (“h” is like our ordinary unvoiced “h”). I say that a lot, although more precisely the vowel is somewhat in-between an [ae] and the slightly “closer” (tongue higher) [ɛ].

But we have no word for this, so I can’t type it! “Eh” doesn’t work: this nearly always is used interrogatively, meaning “huh?” So I end up typing something like “ugh” or “aargh,” but that’s not what I mean.

The other “word” I say a lot has a vowel sound like the i in “is,” though slightly more central, followed by a sound somewhere in-between our English “h” and German “ch.” When I use it it means something like: “what can ya do?” or like an abbreviated alternative to “oy vey,” or something like that. But again if you were to try and write that you’d get something like “ihh,” and no one would understand it at all.

And come to think of it, we all say a lot of “words” which basically consist of just a single, often in-between kind of vowel, sometimes with some kind of optional “h” at the very end. And they are all very expressive. The only problem is they don’t happen to be words…

I always used to devalue interjections as a part of speech. When you begin studying a new language you become gradually more and more immersed in all the semantic intricacies and profundities of Verbs, find yourself engulfed in the endless sea of Nouns. You master the various classes of Pronoun, pick up comparative and superlative forms of Adjective and Adverb along the way, learn those basic twenty or so Prepositions, and bow at the feet of the mighty Conjunctions and Particles which structure and clarify larger units of thought. But Interjections? I always used to think: why are they even a part of speech? Grammars and vocabulary books only ever give you, like, two of them! What’s the point?

Our word “interjection” comes from the Latin “interiectiō,” literally meaning “throwing something in.” The idea is that there are no structural ties there to the rest of the sentence. In any case, I’ve decided they do need their own part of speech after all, because I’ve realized we need more of them. However … “ihh” just isn’t going to catch on, I understand this. Or [ae:::h]. Oh well. Who’s in charge of all this anyway? Someone should write a letter…

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