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I'm an American living in California. I was recently watching a C-SPAN broadcast of a British Parliamentary debate about Mr. Trump (I assumed it's Parliament). A lot of men and women with tousled hair alike. (I kinda like that more than the slick haircuts in Washington.) Anyway, I was kinda fascinated with people saying "Hear, hear." More with HOW they were saying it than why they were saying it -- although both were quite new to me. It seemed like there was a nasally intonation and a pronunciation similar to "beer" and "pure" at the same time. Almost like: "hee-yur hee-yur." It sounded very strange to me -- a little cutesy and affected. Is this a real thing that I noticed, or does someone in Parliament have a speech impediment? Is there a history or origin to pronouncing the phrase that way?

EDIT: I found the video and re-watched some of it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVfS5fsAVOI

An example of what I'm talking about is around 41:07. They're kinda scattered all over the place, sometimes more than one person saying "hear hear" with that accent at the same time. But I realize now that it's a dialect that only a handful of people in the room seem to have.

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    Both Hear, hear! and Here, here!, with varying intonations, are fixed interjection phrases in English. Generally the first one indicates agreement and the second does not. – John Lawler Mar 1 '17 at 21:41
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    @Ringo Hear and here are homophones in nearly all dialects of English, including RP, which is what is most commonly spoken in the UK parliament. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 1 '17 at 22:53
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    @JanusBahsJacquet RP and Parliament. I think you'll find that RP is rarely spoken nowadays, even from the Front Benches. Tut-tut. Just ask the 'Beast of Bolsover'. Moreover, speakers of RP do distinguish the pronunciation of "hear" and "here". – Peter Point Mar 1 '17 at 23:30
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    @PeterPoint RP has multiple definitions, for various natural reasons. I'm not talking about what is also known as Received Standard, Oxford English, or Public School Pronunciation (which not even the Queen speaks anymore), nor about what is also known as Conservative RP (what the Queen speaks), but about what is also called things like General British, Non-Regional British Pronunciation, BBC Pronunciation, Standard Southern British, etc. It is very commonly spoken, especially in the media, and I have never, that I've noted, heard anyone distinguish here and hear when speaking it. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 1 '17 at 23:57
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    It stands for "Received Pronunciation". It's not a very informative name, though. It's been seen as the standard form of (southern) British English, but what exactly it encompasses is about as controversial as you'd expect for something people think of as being "standard English" – herisson Mar 2 '17 at 0:29
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+50

The speaker featured at the referenced moment is Kirsten Oswald, a member of the Scottish National Party. Seated near her are other Scottish MPs such as Alex Salmond, the former leader of the Scottish National Party. It is this grouping of Scottish MPs who are calling out "hear, hear" in support of Ms Oswald, and it is the Scottish accent that gives rise to the unusual sounding pronunciation being noted in your question.

An English accent will pronounce hear, hear in a manner more familiar to American ears.

(The debate appear to be taking place in a committee room located in the Palace of Westminster.)

  • I find this answer the most helpful. – aparente001 Mar 8 '17 at 3:18
  • @aparente001 I tend to agree. I find it amusing that there are a bunch of British dialects but apparently only one for all of Scotland. Is this the case? – user83454 Mar 8 '17 at 16:34
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    @Ringo I should have added that, as a nationalist party, members of the Scottish Nationalist Party tend to amplify the already thick Scottish accent in order to highlight their national identity. In other words, they like to really pile it on with a shovel in a similar way to how a cockney will really overdo the East London accent. Also note that there are a variety of Scottish accents, the Glasgow accent probably being the thickest. – Nick Mar 8 '17 at 17:45
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    I immediately recognized the Scottish accents in the video! Rural Scots have an even thicker brogue. This is a funny bit about Donald Trump and his tumultuous relationship to Scotland. youtu.be/3pbTmXsfiYk – M.Mat Mar 10 '17 at 5:17
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    @M.Mat "Brogue"! That was the word I was looking for and couldn't recall, and yes, Donald Trump's relationship with Scotland is a curious one. Alex Salmond certainly has some rather unflattering things to say about him. – Nick Mar 10 '17 at 5:34
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This "hear, hear" is a stock phrase with a very long history (back to the 1700s) of use in the British and Commonwealth parliaments (it is also commonly used in the Australian parliament to this day, where a slightly odd pronunciation is heard here as well). It is short for "hear him, hear him", and apparently became common because to clap/applaud was not permitted during debate in the houses of parliament.

I would argue that, because the long tradition of this phrase, and its very specialised area of use, the pronunciation has drifted a bit from perhaps the common pronunciation out in the broader society.

What is perhaps interesting is that the phrase isn't used in the US. I guess it just happened that the people involved in the early US Congress hadn't been exposed to the UK practices, even though it looks as though the use of 'hear, hear' was already established at that time in the UK.

  • Completely agree, the "hear hear" sound in parliaments is a unique expression, not conforming to how politicians pronounce hear on its own. "Hear Him" came from the voice in the cloud which endorsed Jesus at the Transfiguration (Luke 9 35), so coming to express endorsement of what somebody said. I was once told it was originally pronounced, in Parliament, in such a way that it could be passed off as a sneeze if investigated, as they weren't supposed to interrupt. Politicians then as now can be very like school children. – davidlol Mar 4 '17 at 13:34
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    "Hear, hear" can and sometimes is used in the U.S. too, and is understood by many. How did you form your impression that it is absent from the U.S.? – aparente001 Mar 6 '17 at 6:27
  • From the comments of the original post :-) – jdpipe Mar 6 '17 at 10:24
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It's just how they pronounce the words (actually 'hear, hear') when using them as an exclamation of approval during a noisy debate in which a lot of privileged people having dined and drunk well get to clap each other on the back for still being able to string together one or more vaguely coherent sentences. I would imagine this dates back to the beginning of Parliament itself.

I'm British, I've peered at them through the t.v. lens a few times.

The rest of us rarely , if ever, use this form of exclamation with such pronunciation for fear of being mistaken for one of them.

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    Power corrupts, even ones pronunciation. Hear! Hear! to that. – Chris M Mar 1 '17 at 22:14
  • actually, one of my favorite ways of mocking (behind your back of course) a certain type of authoritative Brit would be the stereotypical general. You know, a general in the movies with a baton jabbing pointing at a map saying "here, here, and here", crisply and emphatically. (places on the map.) – Tom22 Mar 1 '17 at 23:13
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    @Tom22 I've just done a quick tally and you've left out a "here" and the best one at that! – Peter Point Mar 1 '17 at 23:20
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    What @PeterPoint said! Hear! Hear! – Drew Mar 2 '17 at 2:52
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    It is sometimes used outside politics to agree with something a speaker has just said, but which it is suspected the speaker does not agree with. For example if someone making a speech begins "I'll try to keep this short. I'm sure you all have more important things to do than listen to me." he may be interrupted by a cry of "hear hear". Similarly for statement like "I may not be the best driver in the world." . – davidlol Mar 4 '17 at 10:36
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I think you are probably hearing a version with a semivowel /j/ followed by word-final schwa, which Geoff Lindsey says is a current variant of the "NEAR" vowel in British English. This would not be a speech impediment.

Lindsey's blog post The demise of ɪə as in NEAR (April 21, 2012) says

In the earlier standard/reference accent of British English, Received Pronunciation, words like NEAR contained a centring diphthong, ɪə. This was a vowel which glided from the lax quality ɪ to the quality ə within a single syllable. [...] Although British dictionaries still use “/ɪə/” in their transcriptions, a lax diphthong of this type is now rather old-fashioned.

Contemporary NEAR

In contemporary Standard Southern British (SSB), we hear tend to hear either

  1. a long pure vowel, the monophthong ɪː; or

  2. a form in which the tense FLEECE vowel is followed by schwa, which we could write as ɪjə or, with traditional symbols, as /iːə/; this form can plausibly be considered to comprise two syllables.

Many speakers use both forms. For such speakers, NEAR is what John Wells has termed varisyllabic, and the long monophthong in (1) can be thought of as derived from the disyllable in (2) by ‘smoothing’.

The blog post has a number of audio examples you can listen to.


Edit: I think the audio in the Youtube video linked to in the question does sound a bit like the sound file in Lindsey's blog post, although maybe some of the speakers also have final consonantal /r/. I can't exactly tell. The woman who is speaking most of the time in that section of the video certainly does have consonantal /r/ in this environment, since she seems to have a Scottish accent, but I don't know if all the other people saying "hear, hear" have the same accent she does.

A Scottish accent of course is not "southern British," but I think the / ɪjə/ pronunciation Lindsey mentions may exist to some extent outside of the South as well (or /ɪjər/ with a final consonantal /r/).

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    Very nice explanation – user83454 Mar 2 '17 at 0:26
  • I added a link to the video in my original question above. I think it does sound like the "beer" in the blog post you reference, but wondering if you agree. – user83454 Mar 2 '17 at 3:53
  • Why do non-rhotic Americans consistently perceive an alleged /hɪə̯/ as /'hijə/, and with two syllables divided by a glide no less? This happens when we listen to folks from Alabama or Mississippi just as much as it does when we listen to posh London accents. Is there a /j/ theyah or not? :) – tchrist Mar 4 '17 at 3:10
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    @Ringo: Sorry for the late response--I think it does sound like the sound file in the blog post, although maybe some of the speakers also have final consonantal /r/. I can't exactly tell--the woman who is speaking most of the time in that section of the video certainly does have consonantal /r/ in this environment, since she seems to have a Scottish accent, but I don't know if the other people saying "hear, hear" have the same accent she does. – herisson Mar 4 '17 at 3:37
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    That's not what I was hearing. I was hearing an R at the end of the word, not a schwa. – aparente001 Mar 6 '17 at 6:59