Thursday, 11 June 2009

Yes, sir!

Discussing the weak form of saint (blog, 9 June) reminds me of another word that has a weak form in BrE but not in AmE: sir. As a vocative, it’s sɜː(r) everywhere. But when it precedes a name, in BrE it normally has the weak form sə(r).
So we say Humphrey, Galahad, Professor Howard Fergus.
With a possible linking r, we have sə(r) Alexander Fleming and sə(r) Alan Sugar (star of The Apprentice, recently ennobled and given a cabinet post).
The only circumstance where sir would be strong in this position is if accented for emphasis or contrast. There was a case just today when the Scottish Olympic cycling champion Chris Hoy received a knighthood. Here’s the TV interviewer asking him “How does ˈsɜː Chris sound?”
Note to non-Brits: he’s Sir Chris Hoy or Sir Chris, but never Sir Hoy.

1 comment:

  1. Quite so. However (since you use it in the title), there are actually three forms of "Yes sir" in AmE: as two separate words with a noticeable pause, with /s:/ in the middle, and with /s/ in the middle. The two latter forms, or maybe just the third form, are often written Yessir. I don't belong to any of the subcultures that use this construction (except ironically, in which case the first form is used), so I can't explain the semantic distinctions.

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