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'H' words

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QiScorpion
563436.  Wed Jun 03, 2009 6:06 pm Reply with quote

what i can't understand is why we use "an" in front of words like "historian" and "hotel"

it seems to make the flow of speech more jerky, and i never use "an" in front of "historian" or "hotel."

 
Sadurian Mike
563444.  Wed Jun 03, 2009 6:13 pm Reply with quote

"An historian" flows better than saying "a historian".

It's like the French using "au" instead of "a le" (I can't get the accent), it just makes the sentence sound smoother.

 
exnihilo
563451.  Wed Jun 03, 2009 6:20 pm Reply with quote

It depends to an extent on one's accent and cadence, but certainly for me "an historian" sounds much better and a lot more natural than "a historian".

 
swanbarly
563482.  Wed Jun 03, 2009 8:02 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
The sound /h/ (i.e. that which is represented by the letter <h> in a word like "house") is voiceless. The voiced equivalent, represented in IPA as /ɦ/, is absent from most people's English, but exists in (for instance) Dutch.


I don't think it need be anywhere near that complicated. I would say that 'to aspirate' simply means to pronounce with a flow of breath. The origin of the word must be from the Latin 'spirare', to breathe.

Dryden said, "Our 'w' and 'h' aspirate." I'm with him.

 
Posital
563490.  Wed Jun 03, 2009 8:47 pm Reply with quote

Sadurian Mike wrote:
"An historian" flows better than saying "a historian".

I think that depends on the sentence.

For me, the following work:
An historian is looking at books.
The person looking at old books is a historian.

 
Sadurian Mike
563495.  Wed Jun 03, 2009 8:54 pm Reply with quote

Nope. For me they both work best with "an".

 
WordLover
563524.  Thu Jun 04, 2009 2:09 am Reply with quote

Sadurian Mike wrote:
"An historian" flows better than saying "a historian".
I beg to differ. I sound the "h" in "historian" (and in "hotel", too). Do you?

I always thought that the use of "an" before words such as "hotel", "historian" and "historic" reflected speech where the speaker didn't sound the "h".

 
WordLover
563525.  Thu Jun 04, 2009 2:19 am Reply with quote

suze wrote:
That, though, is the only part of the traditional phonetic description of /h/ which is accurate. The books will tell you that /h/ is a voiceless glottal fricative, but in fact for most it is not a fricative and neither is it really glottal. In fact, it's entirely possible to argue that /h/ is really a vowel - it just doesn't fit neatly into the usual way of classifying vowels or consonants.
For all I know, there might be languages where sounds that an English-speaker would regard as consonants are best regarded as vowels. However, to restrict the point to the English language, what is there in favour of the argument that /h/ is a vowel? It isn't in the nucleus of any syllable. It is always in the onset (or in the coda, in e.g. Ahmed or Fatah, but these are names, and I don't know of any example which is regarded as an English word) and as such is a consonant.

 
swanbarly
563548.  Thu Jun 04, 2009 3:51 am Reply with quote

WordLover wrote:
I always thought that the use of "an" before words such as "hotel", "historian" and "historic" reflected speech where the speaker didn't sound the "h".


In general, I think you're right but I'm not sure whether that has always been the case. I don't know enough about the historical development of pronunciation and when the rule about using 'an' only before a vowel sound became fixed but I can certainly think of an exception from our literary history.

In the Bible, I seem to recall that David was asked by his future father-in-law to provide a wedding gift before he would allow him to marry his daughter. This suggested gift was, "the foreskins of an hundred Philistines."

No-one's suggested that the 'h' in 'hundred' was not aspirated but that (arcane) use is not unfamiliar. I've a feeling that there are examples in Shakespeare too. Perhaps it was some kind of formal use of hundred that has died out.

Anyway, we're talking about modern English usage so that's really only a digression. Quite interesting though.

But ..., what a wedding gift, eh?

 
mckeonj
563568.  Thu Jun 04, 2009 4:49 am Reply with quote

This may be of interest in the present discussion.
It was extracted from
"A Beginner's Guide to Irish Gaelic Pronunciation"
http://www.standingstones.com/gaelpron.html

Quote:
Aspirated consonants

Some consonants in Irish can undergo a transformation called séimhiú, which is somewhat inaccurately (to a real linguist) translated as "aspiration". In the old Irish script this was shown by putting a little dot above the letter. Nowadays Irish is printed using the standard Western alphabet, and the little dot has been replaced by the letter "h" following the consonant. "h" in Irish is not a letter, it is an operation. That's why there seem to be so many "h"s in Irish.

("h" sometimes appears at beginning of a word before a vowel, or in words borrowed from English. It is pronounced the same as in English when used by itself before a vowel.)

The operation of aspiration changes the pronunciation of the consonants, and naturally there is both a broad and a slender version for each.

Aspirated consonants
Broad consonant, Pronounced, Slender consonant, Pronounced
bh, Eng. "w", bh, Eng. "v"
ch, As in "loch" or "chutzpah", ch, Like the broad version
dh, Like "ch" but based on a "g" sound, dh, Eng. "y"
fh, Silent, fh, Silent
gh, Like "ch" but based on a "g" sound, gh, Eng. "y"
mh, Eng. "w", mh, Eng. "v"
ph, Eng. "f", ph, Eng. "f"
sh, Eng. "h", sh, Eng. "h"
th, Eng. "h", th, Eng. "h"

There are a few exceptions to these rules. Broad dh or gh in the middle of a word is usually pronounced "y", such as fadhb "fibe" ("problem"). Sometimes broad bh or mh ("w") can result in a combination which is hard to say, like mo bhróga ("my shoes"). In that case, a "v" sound is used instead. Also, sometimes a "v" sound occurs when bh or mh is at the end of a word, such as creidimh "krej-iv" ("belief").


The pronunciation table did not copy well; I have inserted commas for justification.

 
mckeonj
563569.  Thu Jun 04, 2009 4:56 am Reply with quote

It is relevant to this discussion that the name of the letter H - aitch - lacks the selfsame initial letter; and is pronounced as often with the H sound as without. This really annoys some English speakers - I wonder why?

 
swanbarly
563575.  Thu Jun 04, 2009 5:38 am Reply with quote

mckeonj wrote:
It is relevant to this discussion that the name of the letter H - aitch - lacks the selfsame initial letter;


A good point. Making a pun out of the idea then, we can identify another 'h' word that is not aspirated - an aitch!

 
exnihilo
563576.  Thu Jun 04, 2009 5:39 am Reply with quote

WordLover wrote:
Sadurian Mike wrote:
"An historian" flows better than saying "a historian".
I beg to differ. I sound the "h" in "historian" (and in "hotel", too). Do you?


Yes to both. Nevertheless, an flows better.

 
themoog
563582.  Thu Jun 04, 2009 6:01 am Reply with quote

I would never use an before either historian or hotel. I think I would also pronounced the a as 'uh' rather than 'ay' as well. Perhaps this is where another difference lies.

 
suze
563781.  Thu Jun 04, 2009 11:54 am Reply with quote

WordLover wrote:
However, to restrict the point to the English language, what is there in favour of the argument that /h/ is a vowel?


In terms of the way we use /h/ in English, I'd absolutely agree that we use it in the manner of a consonant, rather than in the manner of a vowel.

But strictly in terms of articulatory phonetics, the point is arguable either way. A "normal" consonant has a place of articulation within the mouth or glottis; /h/ has none. Similarly, a "normal" consonant has a manner of articulation; English /h/ has none. (Yes, I know it's conventionally classified as a fricative, but as pronounced in most varieties of English it isn't one.)

With appropriate instructions, it's generally pretty easy to reproduce a consonant not found in one's own language. To reproduce a vowel is generally found rather harder - note that few English people can get French or German vowels absolutely right. Then note that French speakers - used to a language which lacks /h/ - do, in general, find /h/ difficult when learning English.

These are among the factors which lead some to consider it a vowel.

On the flip side, some argue that because it's voiceless, it can't possibly be a vowel. That argument is rarely made in France, Canada, or Japan though; French (not for all speakers) and Japanese have voiceless vowels, although few other major languages do. (In fact, I believe that in Japan it is conventional to regard /h/ as a vowel.)

One can go on ad infinitum - any dichotomy between "consonant" and "vowel" that you may care to construct runs into trouble with /h/.

 

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