useless letter H in Spanish
Posted: 20 August 2007 07:38 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Maybe in Greek as well.  I dunno.

I just heard Hugo Chavez referred to on the Daily Show as “Ooo go”

Puts me in mind of this quote of Spanish linguist, José Antonio Millán

Le tengo cariño a la H. Es como unos zapatos viejos, que no valen para nada, pero que no te animas a tirarlos porque te recuerdan por dónde has caminado con ellos.

translation: I’m fond of the letter H. It’s like some old shoes — they aren’t worth anything, but you’re not inclined to throw them away because they remind you of where you have walked with them.

So, what’s so comfortable about this letter in Spanish?  How can something you don’t use become comfortable?  where has this guy walked?
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Posted: 20 August 2007 08:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I love that quote! It’s quite true that the <h> in Spanish is mostly kept around for sentimental historical reasons, although it does have a useful role in distinguishing homophones such as a ‘to’ vs ha ‘have.3sg’ in writing (actually, that’s the only minimal pair I can think of. I’m sure there are more though.)

But then most Spanish speakers I’ve met have a pretty poor command of the niceties of Spanish orthography and simply write phonetically, so that <a ser> can easily become <hacer>; it still sounds the same!

For the linguist and foreign language learner, it is useful to know that word-initial <h> corresponds to a lost Latin /f/, e.g. hacer < facere ‘do, make’; hierro < ferrum ‘iron, steel’.

Fun fact: in Spanish-based orthographies for native Amazonian languages the letter <h> is generally used for the glottal stop.

[ Edited: 20 August 2007 08:13 PM by nomis ]
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Posted: 20 August 2007 08:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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nomis - 20 August 2007 08:09 PM

For the linguist and foreign language learner, it is useful to know that word-initial <h> corresponds to a lost Latin /f/, e.g. hacer < facere ‘do, make’; hierro < ferrum ‘iron, steel’.

Thanks nomis.  That’s what I was looking for.  Factory and etc. Great!

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Posted: 02 September 2007 12:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The H, in fact, serves a useful purpose in a relatively few words with two successive letter a’s.  It indicates that each is to be
pronounced, rather than elided into a single vowel. 

Example:

albahaca.

(Del ár. hisp. alḥabáqa, y este del ár. clás. ḥabaqah).

1. f. Planta anual de la familia de las Labiadas, con tallos ramosos y velludos de unos tres decímetros de altura, hojas oblongas, lampiñas y muy verdes, y flores blancas, algo purpúreas. Tiene fuerte olor aromático y se cultiva en los jardines.

source:
Real Academia Española © Todos los derechos reservados

Without the h, it would be pronounced albaca by most people.

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Posted: 02 September 2007 03:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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It indicates that each is to be
pronounced

How would that be done, then?  Glottal stop in between?  Or just an elongated a sound?

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Posted: 02 September 2007 07:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Glottal stop in between?  Or just an elongated a sound?

Neither really. There are two syllables, and each syllable corresponds to a distinct pulse of air through the vocal chords; but there is no glottal stop insertion, so the vowel sound is continuously produced throughout.

It’s similar to the pronunciation of the French sentence Il va à Arles where there are three distinct /a/ syllables.

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Posted: 02 September 2007 08:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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As Arlo Guthrie said, “a third possibility that we hadn’t even counted upon.” OK, that should have occured to me. Like an English speaker would normally do the e sounds in “the evening”, “the east”, etc.  Thanks for clarifying.

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Posted: 02 September 2007 09:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Good thinking, cuchuflete.
Other similar words are “azahar” --- “orange-blossom”, or the surname “Bahamondes”

It might have been a good idea (even though it wouldn’t have contributed much to the debate) if you had mentioned that “albahaca” means “basil”. People on this forum like to have non-English words and phrases translated.

and I disagree with nomis. I don’t like that quote at all. I think this guy Millán was just shooting his mouth off. Notice that he doesn’t actually propose getting rid of “H” (his Spanish-speaking colleagues would probably blow him out of sight if he did), he just non-committally compares it to something useless, for the sake of turning a pretty phrase.

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