Here's another.

SnakI Survived the Great Vowel Shift

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Here's another.

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sep 2, 2009, 10:37pm

Why "an historical"? Every time I read this it drives me absolutely NUTS. Like, I have to put down the book. Historical starts with a consonant! I've been practicing saying it though and seems like half the time it works and half doesn't - depending on the vowel sound in "an." But either way, it seems like in writing it should be "a" because your brain reads "historical" as starting with a consonant. And I generally see it in academic writing...

Please, somebody, find me an explanation!

sep 3, 2009, 3:08am

In many places, English uses "an" instead of "a" before a(?n) aitch (e.g. "an hour"). It was very common, I think, to write "an history" in the 17c. (But it is true that, at that time, there was no official spelling.)

So your question might be replaced by two questions:
- Why "an" before "hour" and not before "history"?
- Who decided it? Johnson?

sep 3, 2009, 4:01am

>1 ambushedbyasnail:
Sounds like you're experiencing considerable dissonance about some (normal) differences between spoken and written language. The usual explanation concerns whether or not the "h" is aspirated.

Unlike most consonants, its pronunciation is variable. When I was a kid I wanted to invent another letter, which I thought looked cool and would make things more precise. But nobody listened to me. It didn't catch on.

>2 Pepys:
As late as 1904, Henry James was writing "an hotel".

Redigeret: sep 3, 2009, 1:18pm

Americans tend to use 'an' before 'h' more than other English speakers. I think that it is a throwback to the first settlers which has remained because of America's relative isolation up unto recent times. Now it is starting to creep back due to the influence of the media.

It probably developed from Norman French.

sep 3, 2009, 12:16pm

I think I'm going to try to start a trend where people use "an" before words that begin with w-

After all, if "h" is "almost a vowel" in many ways, then certainly "w" is nearly a vowel as well, right?


I'm going to go for an walk now...

sep 3, 2009, 1:12pm

#5 - I practically had a seizure reading that.

sep 3, 2009, 1:21pm

#5 *grin* You can say an 'uu' but not an 'double' u, 'd' being a consonant.

sep 3, 2009, 1:39pm

#7 - No, but, you really can't, can you? Because "uu" starts with a consonant, pronunciation-wise... but then you get back into the "sometimes y and w" thing... God, this is getting complicated.

sep 3, 2009, 5:21pm

It's like the overcorrection of "an union" - folks see that it starts with a "u" so they use "an" even though if they actually spoke the words out loud, they would be much more likely to say "a union."

Anyway, I wouldn't have thought "an history" was something American at all. Maybe it's for certain regions that don't aspirate the "h"? That is, if there are any regions where it's common to not do so.

sep 4, 2009, 3:07am

I certainly wouldn't use an with history or historical, and definitely would use it with hour. But I pronounce the H for the first two and don't for the third. I have to intentionally elide the H to make "an 'istory" work, and I wouldn't read it that way. Hour is approximately 'ower' for me (ow like ow that hurts).

It's quite likely to be a regional usage - ambushedbyasnail, where did you see it? What sort of academic writing? I haven't noticed it at all (but then, I don't do much academical reading).

Redigeret: sep 4, 2009, 6:11am

I often see "an historic..." or "an historical...", but I don't know anyone who drops the h in these words: it's just a fossilized written usage.

I presume that at least some Americans write "an herb", dropping the h, where I would write and say "a Herb".

sep 4, 2009, 5:47pm

1) It would seem that the phrase 'dropping an "h"' is less 'dropping' than 'failing to haspirate' it?

2) I've always found the American word "'erb" rather comical, as it usually sounds more like "urb". Do people called Herbert find they are called "urburt"?

sep 4, 2009, 5:52pm

No, in fact, we laugh when we hear an 'erb called a herb because we associate it with people named Herb.

sep 5, 2009, 1:40am

I don't think I can tell the difference between not aspirating an h and dropping it.

sep 5, 2009, 11:12am

Three easy steps:

1. Say "how". That's aspirated.
2. Then, hit your thumb with a hammer.
3. Say "ow". That's not aspirated.

If you like, you can skip step 2.

sep 5, 2009, 11:38am

So an unaspirated h is the same as no sound. That's what I thought, but then msg 12 doesn't make sense.

sep 5, 2009, 11:58am

> 3 : Did you invent another letter?

sep 5, 2009, 3:22pm

#15 - Well yeah, we know that, but #12 suggests that "dropping" and "not aspirating" are different. Which I'd like to hear the reasoning behind.

sep 5, 2009, 8:36pm

An aspirated 'h' in the middle of a word has a sort of huff.

i.e. - Antony / Ant-hony

It sort of softens the 't'

sep 5, 2009, 11:34pm

Hindi and other Indian subcontinent languages have aspirated and unaspirated consonants all over the place.

sep 7, 2009, 9:27am

But we're not talking about aspirated consonants:we're talking about initial h as a standalone consonant. If you don't aspirate it, then it simply isn't there, which is conventionally called "dropping" it. Yes, I know you can't go round after a Cockney speaker and sweep up a litttle trail of dropped aitches from the floor, but that's what we call it! So #12 part 1) doesn't make sense to me either: failing to aspirate an h is the same as dropping it.

sep 7, 2009, 1:06pm

My apologies for the confusion. I wasn't suggesting there IS a distinction. Merely expressing the feeling I have that the word 'dropping' here sounds odd. As though we were carrying words as ordered assemblages of letters, and occasionally found the load too onerous.

Redigeret: sep 7, 2009, 4:56pm

>22 CliffordDorset: As though we were carrying words as ordered assemblages of letters, and occasionally found the load too onerous.

You mean they aren't?

I listen to some people who seem to leave whole clumps of letters out of their speech, out of laziness, apparently, or unfamiliarity, perhaps. So your image makes some sense. Just today, I heard someone pronounce "nickname" almost as if it were spelled "nee-name." Too much trouble to put in the "k" sound? This was a person whose first language is (Latin American) Spanish. Else, it may have been a choice between the "k" and the "n," as some Romance languages don't have very many consonant clusters.

sep 7, 2009, 5:33pm

This conversation is suddenly reminding me of this photo, which I'm sure is staged, but which reminds me of how some of my family members (rural, Northeast Florida) sound when leaving their phone numbers on answer machines. Link to the image, because it's a bit large, but it's basically a wooden panel with "For a good time call Shaniqua Na Fa Fo Fo Fo Na Fa" written in black marker.

Also, on the topic of "carrying words as ordered assemblages of letters, and occasionally [finding] the load too onerous" - I can easily imagine people doing that when faced with my given name, which is five syllables long and 17 letters when written. They inevitably shorten it to one syllable and three letters, which causes me no end of irritation (so I ended up picking my own, preferred nickname, of course).

sep 7, 2009, 5:51pm

So now I'm going to try all the area codes with that number! Cuz it's not a local number.


sep 7, 2009, 7:31pm

Note: it's not LETTERS people leave out of words, it's sounds 8-) And it's very often a matter of dialect which sounds are left out--or in some cases added. Look at the different syllables we and the Brits leave out of some words we share, often the result of varying stress.

Redigeret: sep 8, 2009, 2:28am

Of course, there are sounds that are left out, but don't we represent those sounds with letters or some combination of letters? I was having fun in my post above. Should have included ;-)

I do not remember not being able to read, and so I have this image, if you will, of all speech somehow being spelled out, often even as I am listening.

Oh! The pronunciation of "corollary" is an example of the difference varying stress makes. Neither the British nor the Americans seem to leave anything at all out, but the pronunciations, at least to me, are startlingly different. I can hardly imitate the British pronunciation, and am brought up short "translating" when I hear it. "Laboratory" not so much.

sep 8, 2009, 3:55pm

There's ANYone who says "laboratory"?? 8-) We usually say "LABratory" and the Brits usually say "laBORatry", it seems to me.

sep 8, 2009, 7:00pm

This 'Brit' says 'laBORatorry'! But then I would say 'LAVatorry' rather than 'LAVatree'!

One Americanism that annoys me - because the Brits are slavishly adopting it - is 'research'.

Increasingly we hear 'REsearch', when English English always used to say 'reSEARCH'. The American pronunciation goes severely against the grain: in Italian it's 'riCERca' and in French 'la reCHERche'. Why this word for special treatment? I never hear 'REpeat', or 'REtire' (unless the latter is where English English says 'Re-tyre'!

sep 10, 2009, 6:25am

#4: "It probably developed from Norman French" is an interesting remark. I don't know if Norman-French developed it first, but there might be some relationship with the similar problem there is in French with the initial h. Although it is never really aspirate in the French pronounciation, the Larousse dictionary makes a difference between, say, histoire and *haricot. (So listed in the dictionary, with a star before.) With the first, you should say "des z-istoires" (with a liaison) when you use plural; with the second, never say "des z-aricots" unless you insist on passing for uneducated.

I notice that histoire is of Latin origin, *haricot of Frankish (Germanic) origin. The great majority of French words with an aspirate h are indeed of Frankish, Germanic, English, etc. origin. (But it seems to me that there are also many exceptions...)

So I'm just wondering if this doesn't simply apply also to English, where your Saxon, Norsk and Scandinavian words would get an aspirate h and the other words not.

By the way, I think that things have changed now in France and that it is tolerated to say "des z-aricots". But "des aricots" with no liaison is much posher and more stylish.

sep 14, 2009, 7:08am

That reminds me how much a French-speaking friend laughed when I referred to a Paris metro station as "Chatelet-leZ-'alles": apparently you're not suppose to do the liaison here. The problem with French is that, as far as I know, the h is always silent, never aspirated, but some silent h's are more silent than others: l'herbe but la hache. Like English spelling, Ithink it's just designed to confuse foreigners.

sep 14, 2009, 9:51am

No: very simple with my rule (er, I'm not a linguist, so I should be humble!):
- herbe is of Latin origin, so l'herbe (silent)
- hache (just as halle) is of Frankish origin, so la hache, la halle (aspirated).

Of course, you have to be quick enough to guess the origin...
And, as I said, there seem to be quite a number of exceptions.

sep 14, 2009, 2:24pm

> 29

Yes, but that stress alternation does fit in with an English-internal pattern, where verbs and nouns that have the same base form differ in where the stress lies:

a REcord -- To reCORD
an ADdress -- to adDRESS
a PRESent -- to preSENT
a SUSpect -- to susPECT

There's heaps of examples like that. Of course, many others, like a/to reward still have the same stress pattern for both noun and verb. But the pair a reSEARCH - to reSEARCH shifting its pronunciation to become, well, more regular, if you like, in some way, doesn't really bother me. (For the record, I say reSEARCH in both cases.)

sep 14, 2009, 11:02pm

Me too. I also say adDRESS, never ADdress

Redigeret: sep 18, 2009, 5:59am

There's even one instance (at least in UK English) where the same word may have different stress according to sense: to surVEY is to look over something; to SURvey is to conduct a formal assessment (a SURvey).