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When I read the words "yea" or "yeah", each spelling can mean two different things.

  • An exclamation of joy, as in,

Yea[h] for ice cream!`

  • Assent, like "yep" or "yes", as in,

Yea[h], Mom, of course I fed the dogs.

The two meanings not only have different pronunciation, but they're also not differentiable using context clues. For example, folks will commonly say "Yeah" as a one-word answer in a chat or a one-word comment in a forum.

Is there a better way to spell these so as to differentiate them without context? Or, perhaps, do these two different spellings have two different meanings, and I just didn't notice?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 17 down vote accepted

They are differentiated by spelling:

  • Yay [ jɛi ] (as opposed to, say, boo) is for joy and exultation;
  • Yeah [ jæ ] (synonym of yes, opposite of nah) is for ordinary assent; and
  • Yea [ jɛi ] (opposite of nay) is for formal assent during a vote.

It's just that many people type yea (or even just ya) when they mean yeah.

Outside of the U.S., yeh [ jɛ ] is also common.

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1  
Yeah! What he said. –  Orbling Jan 22 '11 at 0:59
    
The pronunciation you gave for yeah is not too common, in my opinion. People often pronounce yeah with a diphthong. –  Jimi Oke Jan 22 '11 at 6:41
2  
@Jimi Oke: I was simplifying. I hear /jæ/, /jɛ/, /jeə/, and /jiə/ with roughly equal frequency—and varying degrees of nasalisation—so I just chose one and went with it rather than complicate the matter. Like many of the less word-like interjections, its pronunciation is hugely dependent on accent, context, and emphasis. My interpretation may also have something to do with the fact that I don't merge merry, marry, and Mary. –  Jon Purdy Jan 22 '11 at 10:21
    
Cool. I usually go with the last two: /jeə/ and /jiə/. I also say /jæ/ and /jɛ/, but I'd most probably spell them yah and yeh! –  Jimi Oke Jan 22 '11 at 15:16
    
Yay! The first answer got it right! –  Dan Moulding Jan 22 '11 at 15:56

Yeah without a doubt. I read quite a bit and I've only read "yeah" in any books. "Yea" seems lazy and informal. It also more resembles "yay". Even when spoken into a smartphone the result is "yeah". After all, they don't call it a smartphone for no reason ;-).

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