Mark Lieberman over on Language Log has been seriously considering the deployment of the Canadian interjection 'eh' in his recent posts, which I have been reading with interest. I think he's misinterpreted one of his examples from Hansard, though, repeated below:
The Chair: You have about seven more minutes you can use. Mr Duncan, do you want to say anything? No. Very well. Third party, Ms Lankin.
Ms Lankin: I'd gladly use that extra time. No, eh? I'm going to speak very briefly on the disability income support program and then turn it over to my colleague to address the Ontario Works bill.
Mark says, "This seems to mean something like "No, actually, I'm going to speak briefly and then turn the rest of time over to my colleague". I don't know whether eh can be used this way in general."
Actually, eh, I think this use of 'eh' isn't as mysterious as that. The exchange is a rules-of-debating-engagement moment. The members of the second party (in this case, the Liberals) have not used up all their allotted response time, and have seven minutes left. The chair offers it to the other member of that party who's involved in the debate, Mr. Duncan, who turns it town. Ms. Lankin, as a member of the third party (the New Democrats), doesn't have any rights to that remaining time, but (probably jokingly) says she wouldn't mind using it, and (I imagine) looks inquiringly toward the chair, who shakes her head negatively. Lankin echoes the response verbally, "No," and puts a standard exclamative/statement of fact/discourse acknowledgement 'eh?' tag on it, ending up with "No, eh?". I can just hear the falling tone on 'No' and the rising tone on 'eh?' in my head. She then goes on to announce how she plans to use the time allotted to her party: she'll make just a short response to the previous debate, then allow her colleague to discuss a new topic. In the relevant session, they've been clarifying who has a right to how much time already, and they get into it again later. In the world of parliamentary politics, prestige is measured in minutes of speaking time.
In other news from that series of posts, Mark notes that Homer's Canadian! Must be why he's so endearing despite being an alcoholic, angry, gluttonous, clumsy, abusive, lazy, stupid, thoughtless jerk. We all know his heart's in the right place.
Update: Before I wrote this post I checked in at pilokok and phonoloblog to see if Bob Kennedy had weighed in yet (coz I knew he would). He hadn't then, but now he has, and with considerably more info -- check it out. We seem to be on the same wavelength re post titles, the relevance of untranscribed nonverbal interactions to eh-deployment, and intonation.