Idea/ideer?
January 18, 2007 2:36 PM   Subscribe

ConfusedYankFilter: What's the deal with the British pronouncing "idea" as "ideer"?

Is it a generally British thing, or does it only occur with certain segments of the UK? I have heard that accents in the UK bear numerous well-defined connotations about class, birthplace and upbringing, but I am ignorant as to what they are.

I have also heard this happen more generally. For example, the chorus of Oasis' "Champagne Supernova" clearly sounds like "Champagne supernover in the sky." Also, on the recent Zep live album, Robert Plant sings "Valhaller I am coming" in "Immigrant Song."

Furthermore, after some Googling, it appears that certain New Englanders say it that way as well. A holdover from colonial times, perhaps? It just seems weird to me, because it always seemed that the British accent tends to convert "-er" to "-ah," such as "water" being pronounced "wootah." Any thoughts from the Filter?
posted by evisceratordeath to Writing & Language (57 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not all New Englanders - but I definitely see it prevalent in native New York City dwellers.

Not sure why they do it, I chalk it up to the general differences in accents and appreciate it for its colorful difference.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:43 PM on January 18, 2007


Intrusive R
Rhotic and non-rhotic accents

I could have sworn this was an AskMe previously.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:46 PM on January 18, 2007


Er, how to Americans say idea? I can't work out how else you would say it..ideeAH? Thats basically the same, isn't it?
posted by Orange Goblin at 2:49 PM on January 18, 2007


"how do", of course...
posted by Orange Goblin at 2:51 PM on January 18, 2007


I'm from the Midwest, and I say it like "eye-dee-uh." That's what I tend to hear here.
posted by evisceratordeath at 2:52 PM on January 18, 2007


I do say "ideer" sometimes and did get teased for it when I was in the States. I think it's an Estuary English thing which means that it will be common across most of the South of England. Apparently this phenomenon is called intrusive R.
posted by teleskiving at 2:54 PM on January 18, 2007


Growing up in New Hampshire we used to take all the "r's" we removed from words like "tractah" "lobstah" and "chowdah" and randomly insert them elsewhere in our vocabulary.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:00 PM on January 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


Well after searching I couldn't find the previous AskMe that I must have been imagining. But there are about 3 or 4 versions of "what does English sound like to a nonspeaker" and it seems the canonical answer there is "rar rar rar", if you were wondering.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:01 PM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


>it always seemed that the British accent tends to convert "-er" to "-ah," such as "water" being pronounced "wootah."

There's no such thing as a "British accent". Did you mean the accent in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester or Glasgow? You can travel for fifty miles and find an accent as different from your starting point as a Maine is from Georgia.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:06 PM on January 18, 2007


"The British accent"

Oh dear. Now Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are going to have to kill you. We'll use our strongest accents.
posted by Robot Rowboat at 3:06 PM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


There's no such thing as a "British accent". Did you mean...

It begins.
posted by Robot Rowboat at 3:08 PM on January 18, 2007


AmbroseChapel - yeah I know, which is why I referred to accents in the plural in the first paragraph of my post. In hindsight, I probably should have replaced "typical" with "stereotypical" in my post. I'm sure you're fully aware of the American tendency to lump everything into one British Accent.
posted by evisceratordeath at 3:13 PM on January 18, 2007


In hindsight again, the word "typical" does not actually appear in the post. But you get what I mean.
posted by evisceratordeath at 3:14 PM on January 18, 2007


The sound is there, you just can't hear it because you're used to hearing it being heavily stressed in your accent.
Same goes when an R is present - when I say "Karl", Many Americans will hear "Kaal", but if I were to genuinely not pronounce the "r" at all and actually say "Kaal", the Americans probably generally won't notice the difference, but it would be heard by people with my accent.

Basically, when someone is beating you over the head with a baseball bat, it's really beyond you to notice if someone is touching you with a feather. It works both ways of course - there are sounds to which your accent is much more sensitive than mine, because I use a baseball bat and you use a feather :)
posted by -harlequin- at 3:19 PM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


probably generally

Typo. Should be "generally", as I've tested this. Not exactly on a stastically significant sample of people, but nonetheless it's not pure conjecture :)

posted by -harlequin- at 3:21 PM on January 18, 2007


When Americans refer to a "British accent" they're talking about the BBC accent.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:21 PM on January 18, 2007


Merriam-Webster seems to say ideer too. So how else would you say it?

/Australian.
// apparently I say oi-deer (according to the Simpsons at least)
posted by b33j at 3:31 PM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]



Merriam-Webster seems to say ideer too. So how else would you say it?


This statement has me completely baffled. You must be hearing a vastly different a) sound file and b) sound in your head when you read the pronunciation guide provided than I am.
posted by tigerbelly at 3:37 PM on January 18, 2007


Merriam-Webster seems to say ideer too.

Uh... that's not what I see or hear there.
posted by grouse at 3:37 PM on January 18, 2007


Good lord, I'm not sure what the hell kind of typo I made up there to make that abomination happen, but suffice it to say I merely meant to ital b33j's comment in my response.
posted by tigerbelly at 3:39 PM on January 18, 2007


I could imagine a non-American English speaker hearing an R in that M-W pronunciation, but it's definitely not there to my ears.

It's the same principle at work as when UK folk put an R in the word love, right? Lurve? Or "Um" (US) and "Erm" (UK)?
posted by emelenjr at 3:49 PM on January 18, 2007


Another odd one I've heard occasionally in the US is "warsh" for "wash". I asked one person why he said it that way, and he insisted most vehemently that he didn't. He seemed completely incapable of hearing it in his own voice. He didn't have a weird accent or anything, it was just California standard English.... plus "warsh". I never have figured that one out.

I think maybe the Wiki article refers to that sound as 'hypercorrection', but their phonetic alphabet is entirely mysterious and untranslatable.
posted by Malor at 3:52 PM on January 18, 2007


Or arse and ass?
posted by Robot Rowboat at 3:53 PM on January 18, 2007


When Americans refer to a "British accent" they're talking about the BBC accent.

I believe this is more formally known as "British Received Pronunciation".
posted by spaceman_spiff at 4:13 PM on January 18, 2007


I grew up in Maine. I also add an R to the end of "saw," especially if the next word begins with a vowell. "I saw it" sounds like "I saw rit." It never occurred to me that was adding a sound until I moved out of New England. That and idea are probably the two biggest examples.

Why do we do it? It's easier to say. Also, that's how we heard our families say it growing up.
posted by lampoil at 4:23 PM on January 18, 2007


You know that when UK people say 'lurve', they're deliberately invoking a reference to Barry White, right? Right?

If we're using Oasis saying 'Soopanoverr' and connecting that to 'idea-r' then it could be an expression of something which happens to several English accents from points-north-of-Birmingham. Manchester and Yorkshire both have it - South Yorkshire quite pronounced-ly.

There's a very different thing going on down south across that swathe of places and accents Den Beste might hear on the BBC. In London, 'idea' simply has a much less pronounced dipthong, to the extent that the speaker only gets a short way towards the 'a' sound before stopping.

Aaand then you've got Somerset, where they just chuck Rs in all over the place for fun. "Tomarto", for example. (As distinct from 'tomah-toe', which is of course how that word is pronounced by all civilised nations.)
posted by genghis at 4:25 PM on January 18, 2007


Merriam-Webster seems to say ideer too. So how else would you say it?
This statement has me completely baffled. You must be hearing a vastly different a) sound file and b) sound in your head when you read the pronunciation guide provided than I am.
posted by tigerbelly

Merriam-Webster seems to say ideer too.
Uh... that's not what I see or hear there.
posted by grouse


Uh, sorry, I wasn't talking about the pronunciation guide, I was talking about the sound file. Perhaps I should ask, how do you say "deer" that's different to the ending of "idea"?
posted by b33j at 4:34 PM on January 18, 2007


BTW what is it about the american accent that makes 'mirror' sound like mee-ur?
posted by dash_slot- at 4:36 PM on January 18, 2007


Oh my mistake - i just heard "deer" via M-W. That sure has a lot of R's in it. I can't say that I think people from England say i-deer that way.
posted by b33j at 4:37 PM on January 18, 2007


For those interested, a speech accent archive. There are about 650 samples of people over the world saying the same paragraph which contains all of the phonetic sounds in the English langauge. You should be able to get a good idea(-er) of how different folks in the Isles and America pronounce the soft A at the end of a word.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:41 PM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think I say 'I-dee-ah', but I have no comparison to a yank pronunciation.
posted by dash_slot- at 4:44 PM on January 18, 2007


My college sweetie, a third generation Boston (Newton, actually) Irishman, was known to drawr pictures but stored his socks in a draw. I later learned he moved to Warshington.
posted by acorncup at 4:58 PM on January 18, 2007


Barry White would not mispronounce the word love. Adding an R to it is a pretty crazy way to (erm) receive that pronunciation, I'd say.
posted by emelenjr at 5:05 PM on January 18, 2007


They don't say "ideear" by itself, they say it when idea is followed by a word starting with a vowel: "The idea(r) is..." It's comparable to French liaison (les = /le/, but les oiseaux /lezwazo/).

When Americans refer to a "British accent" they're talking about the BBC accent.

Not true.
posted by languagehat at 5:14 PM on January 18, 2007


Fun fact: two of the main actors on the TV show Without a Trace are originally from England or Australia, but both have used an American accent professionally for years. I always notice when they close off an -ah word with an -r sound because it's a dead giveaway in otherwise good accents. I, personally, say eye- dee- ah. I guess I've always seen the i-deer thing as a way of closing off the vowel sound, if that makes any sense, but I've never felt the need.
posted by MadamM at 5:30 PM on January 18, 2007


As genghis and languagehat have said, you'll hear the canonical "r" appended to a final vowel from Northerners working their way to a word beginning with a vowel. My Sheffield-born father-in-law is a poster boy for this feature.
posted by rosemere at 5:40 PM on January 18, 2007


Australians have a tendency to add in the "r" too. It always cracks me up to here the TV announcer say that "Lore and Order" is on next.
posted by web-goddess at 5:41 PM on January 18, 2007


They don't say "ideear" by itself, they say it when idea is followed by a word starting with a vowel

Not exclusively, in my experience. I don't say it with the "r," but I'm familiar with the (New England) use, and I've heard "that's a good idear she's got there."
posted by booksandlibretti at 5:51 PM on January 18, 2007


JFK famously had an intrusive R. Think of his talking about the things going on in "Cuber."

"Warsh" is heard in many regional US dialects, Pittsburgh among them.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:54 PM on January 18, 2007


Howard Dean does it too.
posted by delmoi at 6:14 PM on January 18, 2007


In Champagne Supernova, you hear the -r at the end of supernova when it's "in a champagne supernova in the sky", but not when it's "in a champagne supernova" alone, without the "in the sky" bit. The added -r is a sort of bridge there, between the two vowels.

However, Oasis being from Manchester, it's not exactly the only way anyone from other parts of the country would say it. Here's a slightly tongue in cheek demonstration of the differences between "British accent" aka posh RP/BBC News accent, and Mancunian. madferit!
posted by pleeker at 6:27 PM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Exploring the Australian connection a little further. I remember reading about a lingustics tutor who could tell what state of Australia someone lived in by how they pronounced the word 'here'

Apparently in Victoria, people generally speak with a slightly more non-rhotic accent "hee-ya", whilst in New South Wales they pronounce it 'heeeer'.

It is also worth nothing that it is incorrect the say all British people say 'ideer' - it very much depends on what their regional accent is. For example Yorkshire people would indeed pronounce it 'ideeer-ya'
posted by TheOtherGuy at 6:45 PM on January 18, 2007


Another odd one I've heard occasionally in the US is "warsh" for "wash" ... I think maybe the Wiki article refers to that sound as 'hypercorrection'

It's just another intrusive R.

but their phonetic alphabet is entirely mysterious and untranslatable.

It's the standard IPA alphabet, which I cannot claim to have mastered, but I know the common vowels and such. I had a smidgen of it in one textbook in college, and a French-English dictionary that used it, so it exists outside of formal linguistics.

There's no such thing as a "British accent".

When Americans say "British accent", they generally mean a "British, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Australian, South African, and Falklander inclusive" accent. About the one Commonwealth accent that isn't included is Canada's, which just sounds like Minnesotan to most of us. ;-)

A holdover from colonial times, perhaps?

One of the interesting things about modern British English is that it's less like Elizabethan English than certain American dialects such as Appalachian.
posted by dhartung at 6:58 PM on January 18, 2007


When Americans say "British accent", they generally mean a "British, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Australian, South African, and Falklander inclusive" accent. About the one Commonwealth accent that isn't included is Canada's, which just sounds like Minnesotan to most of us. ;-)

As a Canadian, I know that when I say "British accent" I mean (a very stereotypical) England, and in no way include any of the other UK or commonwealth countries. They all sound very different to me.
posted by aclevername at 8:48 PM on January 18, 2007


For those interested, a speech accent archive.

Also, this one, coincidentally called 'IDEA', which uses a different set of sample passages that really bring out the characteristics of an accent.

I think the different forms of intrusive-r reflect the different roles of a limited set of vowel sounds -- vowels being the sounds that count most in defining accents.

It always cracks me up to here the TV announcer say that "Lore and Order" is on next.

Or Laura Norder. Though that reminds me of the ongoing joke about 'The Rural Juror' in 30 Rock, which comes out more like 'The Rrrrjrrr'.
posted by holgate at 9:29 PM on January 18, 2007


Listen to "Till There Was You" by the Beatles:

There were birds in the sky
But I never sawr them winging
posted by Phatty Lumpkin at 9:52 PM on January 18, 2007


I agree with languagehat and everyone else saying it mostly happens before a vowel sound. Another Beatles example is "A Day in the Life":

I sawr a film today, oh boy...

But less than a minute earlier in the same song:

I saw the photograph....
posted by Acetylene at 10:07 PM on January 18, 2007


The quibbles about 'British' accent are relevant in that you assume that ideer is a useful guide to what you mean, unfortunately, deer can be pronounced 2 ways (de-ah, dee-rrr - not sure that quite gets it across, the second does not have the the 2 distinct syllables of the first, more a rolling r) which also reflect the 2 ways that idea can be accented. The distinction probably occurs both geographically and by class.
posted by biffa at 12:58 AM on January 19, 2007


There could be a lot of confusion introduced here, because of the fact that written 'r' is very often *not* pronounced in UK English - but, like the New Englanders, we often re-insert it elsewhere, like at the end of a word like 'idea' - but only if the following word also starts with a vowel. Considering the word in isolation is probably not very helpful.

'Lurve' as pronounced by a British speaker (from the South, for the sake of argument), does not contain an 'r' - the letter is there to indicate that the vowel is lengthened (and the quality is changed) with respect to the normal vowel in 'love'.

Much fuss has periodically been raised, because the British were responsible for transcribing the name 'Myanmar' out of the Burmese language (in which the word ends in an 'a'). This is unremarkable in UK English, as we wouldn't pronounce the 'r' anyway, but causes problems for US speakers.
posted by altolinguistic at 1:46 AM on January 19, 2007


AH! I just remembered my favorite example of this ever. I was at pub trivia here in Sydney a year or so ago, and one of the questions was like: "Which word can be both a member of the clergy and something you eat?" I was sitting there puzzled, trying to think whether cardinals were edible. And then my Aussie husband picked up the pen and matter-of-factly wrote down "pastor." PASTOR. As in PASTOR = PASTA = HOMOPHONES IN THIS BLOODY COUNTRY. I'm still coming to grips with that.
posted by web-goddess at 2:25 AM on January 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


My friend's mother is from New England. I still don't know if her name is Amanda or Amander.
posted by sephira at 5:05 AM on January 19, 2007


Your New England google results are wrong, I am a New Englander (New ehnglandah) and only know one person in the entire region who says "idea" the way you describe (he was from New Hampshire, where many people say "arnt" instead of "aunt" -- or is it "ant"? ha!). What's more, any of the Massachusetts-complex accents (the ones that people seem to associate with all of New England) neglect to even pronounce the 'R' at the end of any word. There was a pretty neat treatment of some of this in the November 1998 National Geographic, as well as a short column in the same magazine in the past two years (my google-fu fails me here). The gist of it is that New England actually has the most varied accents over a VERY small area. Also, apparently, according to the short column I mentioned, the Virginia accent is closer to the way the English actually spoke when they arrived in North America than English-folk speak today! Weird.

Another thing occurred to me as well... above Chrysostom claims JFK "famously had an intrusive R" but, as a kid growing up in Massachusetts (don't worry, I actually don't have much of an accent) I always heard his pronunciation as a stronger, longer "eh" ending, like "Cubeah" not "Cuber." It may be for some of these "intrusive Rs" there is something else going on that just gets tossed in the same category (to me there seems to be quite a difference between the way JFK said "cubeah" and some folks say "idear").

Right now I live in the Mid-west and people can't say the words "milk" (they say "melk") or "bag" (they say "baeg") right here.

As for the English pronunciation of "idea", I'm no expert, though my roommate who is from Northern england definitely says "idear."
posted by sablazo at 5:33 AM on January 19, 2007


Right now I live in the Mid-west and people can't say the words "milk" (they say "melk") or "bag" (they say "baeg") right here.

Well, actually they can, since you understand them. Anyway, I'm probably in 'idear' territory (the latter pronounced 'territry') but mainly through liaison with vowels. Which goes back to my earlier point: my ear for phonemes isn't as good as it once was, but I suspect that if you isolate cases of terminal and medial intrusive-r from both sides of the pond, you'll find similar culprits.
posted by holgate at 5:59 AM on January 19, 2007


Not exclusively, in my experience. I don't say it with the "r," but I'm familiar with the (New England) use, and I've heard "that's a good idear she's got there."

The question was about Old England, not New.
posted by languagehat at 6:20 AM on January 19, 2007


JFK famously had an intrusive R. Think of his talking about the things going on in "Cuber."

In the Simpsons episode "Little Girl In The Big Ten" the ghost of JFK appears to Lisa and a dream and refers to her as "Liser".
posted by teleskiving at 6:23 AM on January 19, 2007


Maybe languagehat could clear this up, but I think we're running into phonetic difficulties here. When British people read "idea" and "ideer," they're seeing them as close to homophones because the 'r' sound is much more subdued or pronounced more like "awh" than it is in my midwestern United States accent.

To my ear, the Bostonian JFK-type accent doesn't add an 'r' sound to the end of words -- it adds an "awh" sound. JFK's ghost on The Simspons (who I would imagine was Mayor Quimby-like) would sound like "Lees-awh" when pronouncing her name, not like "Leees-err" as teleskiving mentioned. The dilemma is that to him, "err" and "awh" are probably the same sound.
posted by mikeh at 7:59 AM on January 19, 2007


When I lived in New Zealand my name was transformed from Susanna to Susanner.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 12:40 PM on January 19, 2007


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