It's "Hammie", not "Ammie"

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"Baby Blues" by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott for January 16, 2023:


(source)

Selected readings

"A shibboleth of gentility: [h] from William Shakespeare to Henry Higgins" (3/1/04)

"John Wells on the pronunciation of the letter H" (6/23/12)

[Thanks to Kent McKeever]



29 Comments »

  1. Arnold Baldwin said,

    January 17, 2023 @ 5:33 am

    Pioneering Australia benefitted from the work of the Irish teaching nuns and their successors (e.g. St Mary McKillop) but the nuns’ and their pupils’ pronunciation of “haitch” became a sectarian marker.

    Postwar immigration seems to have largely wiped away the sectarianism; but for some time now I have been wondering if it is the Irish pronunciation, of whatever dialect, of /eɪ/ that makes /heɪtʃ/ inevitable.

    Are Irish dialects sufficiently aspirated to supply the “h”?

  2. Arnold Baldwin said,

    January 17, 2023 @ 5:49 am

    mea culpa, she is St Mary MacKillop

  3. AussieKid said,

    January 17, 2023 @ 7:05 am

    Is that what happened?! I wondered why, when I’d pronounce it ‘haitch’, my (very Protestant) Nan would tell me to stop it because I sounded Catholic!

  4. mollymooly said,

    January 17, 2023 @ 7:10 am

    @Arnold Baldwin:

    I'm not sure what you mean.

    The Irish pronunciation of the FACE vowel does not demand a preceding /h/ in any phonetic environment. Words like eight, aim, able have no /h/. The /heɪtʃ/ pronunciation is at the level of the lexicon, not phonology or phonetics.

    OTOH:

    It has often been remarked with surprise that the natives of Ireland always apply the aspirate correctly, not only at the beginning of words, but also after w, and in the middle of words. This excellence has doubtless originated chiefly in the national mode of pronouncing the name of the aspirate; for, whereas in England children are taught to call it aitch, in Ireland they learn to call it haitch, in fact aspirating the name of the aspirate. Thus an English child is taught to spell “hat,” aitch, aye, tee, “hat”—a contradiction in sound— while the Irish child learns to spell it, haitch, aye, tee, “hat,” which is philosophically correct, and he consequently early acquires a habit of aspirating in the proper place. I would strongly advise all teachers to instruct their pupils to call the aspirate by its proper name, haitch.

    — Charles William Smith ("professor of elocution") 1866

  5. Andreas Johansson said,

    January 17, 2023 @ 8:20 am

    I guess "aye" [aj] wasn't in Professor Smith's vocabulary?

  6. Cervantes said,

    January 17, 2023 @ 8:27 am

    In Spanish, H has gone completely silent, though you still have to use it in spelling. Nobody misses it.

  7. George said,

    January 17, 2023 @ 9:16 am

    Pace Charles William Smith, we (the Irish) don't pronounce the aspirate after 'w' but before it…

  8. David Marjanović said,

    January 17, 2023 @ 9:33 am

    Prof. Smith was of course mistaken: h-dropping isn't a universal tendency, it's a feature of the dialects of most of England. Being absent from the Irish language, it's also absent from Irish English. See also Spanish, where y and ll are still distinguished in Peru because Quechua makes the same distinction.

    His advice, though, was fairly widely taken up and continues to spread.

  9. Rodger C said,

    January 17, 2023 @ 12:35 pm

    I guess "aye" [aj] wasn't in Professor Smith's vocabulary?

    There are two English words spelled "aye" and pronounced differently. "Aye" meaning "yes" is from the Old English for "forever" and "aye" meaning "forever" is from the corresponding Norse word.

  10. Michael Watts said,

    January 17, 2023 @ 5:20 pm

    h-dropping isn't a universal tendency, it's a feature of the dialects of most of England.

    I tend to think of it a bit differently. In a broad sense it's certainly not restricted to England; I once disturbed a Chinese tutor by dropping the /h/ from 喜欢 xihuan. But in an Anglophone context, usage appears to be more narrow than that – I don't think I (American, with pronunciation mostly drawn from California) would be described as "h-dropping" relative to other English dialects.

    My impression was that "h-dropping" dialects are missing lexical /h/, not that they believe the /h/ is present but often don't realize it.

    Pace Charles William Smith, we (the Irish) don't pronounce the aspirate after 'w' but before it…

    That is the correct pronunciation Smith was referring to. The H only follows the W in an orthographic sense. Compare the famous opening of Beowulf, "hwæt" [what].

  11. JoshR said,

    January 17, 2023 @ 7:37 pm

    There is some possible evidence of h-dropping even as far back as Beowulf, at least to the early 11th century when it was transcribed in form we have today.

    Beowulf is written in an alliterative meter, and there are several places where a word starting with "h" occurs in the manuscript where one would expect a word starting with a vowel. Editors typically amend these to variants of similar meaning that start with a vowel, or even just remove the "h" outright.

    Exemplary of the latter is seen in the character of Unferth, the member of the Danish court who tests Beowulf's mettle by taunting him. His name occurs four times in the poem, and in the three times when the name is alliterated, it alliterates with a vowel-initial word. However, in the manuscript, it is written as "Hunferth" in all four instances. Therefore editors amend the name as "Unferth."

    This suggests that, either at the time of composition or the time of transcription (or both), the pronunciation of initial "h" was either considered weak enough to alliterate with vowels, or it was acceptable to drop the "h" to fit the meter.

  12. Chris Button said,

    January 17, 2023 @ 10:44 pm

    @ David Marjanović

    h-dropping isn't a universal tendency, it's a feature of the dialects of most of England

    Further to @ Michael Watts point …

    I tend to think of it a bit differently. In a broad sense it's certainly not restricted to England…

    … it's common cross-linguistically. You're interesting comment regarding "ll" being retained in Peruvian Spanish because of Quechua also makes me think of h-dropping in Spanish.

    Spanish not only drops it in onset position (earlier f- as in Portuguese becomes h-), but in some varieties also debuccalizes the -s coda to give -h as aspiration to then often lose it altogether.

    Incidentally Andre Haudricourt's famous proposal for the evolution of Old Chinese "qu-sheng" tones from -s is another classic example of debuccalization to -h in Middle Chinese, which was then dropped to leave a falling tone in Mandarin.

  13. Chris Button said,

    January 17, 2023 @ 10:44 pm

    *your interesting comment

    (I miss that edit feature)

  14. Andrew Usher said,

    January 17, 2023 @ 11:00 pm

    Rodger C:

    I think your comment is a bit mixed up. 'Aye' meaning yes is _not_ related to the meaning 'forever' and is, I believe, of uncertain origin. The word meaning '(for) ever' is traceable directly to Norse and is better spelled 'ay'.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo dot com

  15. RP said,

    January 18, 2023 @ 2:00 am

    I think we're allowed to rehash the joke about Mme de Gaulle at this point.

    Lunching with English friends at the time of her husband's retirement, Madame de Gaulle was asked what she was looking forward to in the years ahead.

    "A penis," she replied without hesitation.

    The embarrassed silence that followed was finally broken by the former president. "My dear," he murmured, "I think the English don't pronounce the word quite like that. It's 'appiness.'"

  16. Chris Button said,

    January 18, 2023 @ 7:47 am

    "In ‘ertford, ‘ereford, and ‘ampshire, ‘urricanes ‘ardly hever ‘appen.”

  17. Philip Anderson said,

    January 18, 2023 @ 8:10 am

    @JoshR
    The Roman poet Martial described a character whose h-dropping led to over-compensation, including *Hadriatic.

    S>h is not uncommon: Gerald of Wales noted the similarity of the Greek and Welsh hal- words for salt.

    In Brazilian Portuguese, initial h- is silent, but initial r- and medial -rr- are pronounced as ‘h’.

  18. Taylor, Philip said,

    January 18, 2023 @ 9:14 am

    Chris — as well as 'urricanes, there is the apocryphal story of the sergeant in the Royal Engineers who was instructing a new intake on the merits and otherwise of various native timbers. After expounding on 'hash' and 'helm', he finally turned his attention to 'hoak'. "Hoak", he said, "is the finest of all of our native timbers. Indeed, it can even be used for constructing piles for piers. And when I says 'piles for piers', I don't mean the 'æmmorhoids wot 'angs off the harseholes of the haristocracy !".

  19. Rodger C said,

    January 18, 2023 @ 12:58 pm

    Andrew Usher: My comment may be based on obsolete information, like a number of things I've said here. But I grew up singing, "Gladly for aye we adore You."

  20. ulr said,

    January 18, 2023 @ 3:05 pm

    @Philip Anderson : The Roman poet is not Martial, but Catullus (poem 84); and the point of the poem is not Arrius' h-dropping, but his hypercorrect h:

    … subito affertur nuntius horribilis,
    Ionios fluctus, postquam illuc Arrius isset,
    Iam non Ionios esse, sed Hionios.

  21. Tom Dawkes said,

    January 19, 2023 @ 4:46 am

    The comment by "professor of elocution" Smith betrays the common view that the name of the letter should begin with the sound (most commonly) represented. But this does not apply in any consistent way: we have 'c' for 'cat', and so on as well as 'eff', 'ess', and so on. The OED entry for 'aitch' has this explanation:
    — The name aitch, which is now so remote from any connection with the sound, goes back through Middle English ache to Old French ache = Spanish ache, Italian acca, pointing to a late Latin *accha, *ahha, or *aha, exemplifying the sound; cf. Italian effe, elle, emme, etc. (The earlier Latin name was ha.) The plural occurs as aitches, aches, hs, h's.

  22. Terry K. said,

    January 19, 2023 @ 2:29 pm

    I don't think the quote from Charles William Smith in mollymooly's comment displays a view that the name of a letter should begin with it's sound, or one of it's sounds. As noted, F, S, etc don't. But there's an idea that the letter name should contain it's sound. Or one of it's sounds. And that aitch doesn't have an H sound. I suppose one can argue that since H is used in the ch and tch spellings for the /ʧ/ sound that H has an H sound. But it's not particularly intuitive, to my mind to think that way. Not quite the same as C and G and the vowels; h we association with one specific sound.

    (And, yeah, no W sound in "double U", but that one's kind of a visual description.)

  23. Philip Anderson said,

    January 19, 2023 @ 5:20 pm

    @ulr
    Thank you. My memory failed me.

  24. JoshR said,

    January 19, 2023 @ 8:21 pm

    Terry K said,
    "(And, yeah, no W sound in "double U", but that one's kind of a visual description.)"

    Given the inroads that "haitch" has made into mainstream acceptance, I fully expect "double u" to become "double-woo" in my lifetime.

  25. David Marjanović said,

    January 21, 2023 @ 8:35 am

    There is some possible evidence of h-dropping even as far back as Beowulf, at least to the early 11th century when it was transcribed in form we have today.

    Beowulf is written in an alliterative meter, and there are several places where a word starting with "h" occurs in the manuscript where one would expect a word starting with a vowel. Editors typically amend these to variants of similar meaning that start with a vowel, or even just remove the "h" outright.

    This phenomenon is entirely limited to poetry. The first hypercorrect h in prose, or other evidence for h-dropping, only show up in Early Modern English or maybe a bit earlier, IIRC.

    Spurious initial h in Old English poetry is thought to be an attempt to spell out the consonant that actually alliterated here: [ʔ]. There are a few lines of evidence that Old English, like northern German today and unlike Middle English, placed a glottal stop in front of every stressed syllable that phonemically began with a vowel. This is why all vowels are allowed to alliterate with all vowels, not just with the same vowel.

    … it's common cross-linguistically.

    Yes, it is! But you can't just expect it to happen for sure, as Prof. Smith evidently did.

    @Philip Anderson : The Roman poet is not Martial, but Catullus (poem 84); and the point of the poem is not Arrius' h-dropping, but his hypercorrect h:

    There's yet another poem mocking hypercorrect h, the example being in hinsidiis; I forgot who wrote it and who is mocked in it.

  26. Michael Watts said,

    January 22, 2023 @ 10:26 pm

    Catullus 84 doesn't say in hinsidiis, but it does say

    Chommoda dicebat si quando commode vellet
    dicere et insidias Arrius hinsidias

    [Arrius would say chommoda when he wanted to say commode, and [for] insidias hinsidias]

    It seems possible that this is the same one you're thinking of.

    It's interesting to me that Arrius' hypercorrection extends to altering initial c- to initial ch-, since the second sound is not native to Latin. It does make sense that uneducated speakers would have no idea which words are secretly pronounced with weird foreign sounds, but somehow that doesn't feel like "h-dropping" to me.

  27. Michael Watts said,

    January 22, 2023 @ 10:33 pm

    (Also, the scansion of the poem requires hinsidias to begin with a vowel. This appears to be normal for Latin – a consonant followed by /h/ is treated the same as a consonant followed by a vowel, failing to make its own syllable long – but in my mind it undermines the mockery. The whole point is that a consonant has appeared where it shouldn't be!)

  28. Kai Dainichi Christensen said,

    January 23, 2023 @ 12:57 am

    > no W sound in "double U"

    There is in "Y", however, which only has the diphthong y sound, not the consonant one. For a period, my son, logically enough, called W Y and Y U.

  29. David Marjanović said,

    January 24, 2023 @ 8:22 pm

    I forgot to mention that real h doesn't alliterate with spurious h in Old English, only with itself (including hl, hr, hn).

    It seems possible that this is the same one you're thinking of.

    Oh! I'm pretty sure it has to be.

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