The letter H
Posted: 28 September 2013 10:43 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Now, after after a close shave with certain other members on another topic, I wonder if I dare bring up the pronunciation of the letter h.

Growing up as I did in the UK more than half a century ago, the pronunciation of the letter h was commonly and universally ( my universe at least ) pronounced ‘aitch’. I wasn’t aware of any other way to pronounce this letter until I had occasion to speak with some Irishmen employed digging the roads. Surprisingly to me at the time, they pronounced the letter with a strong h in front of the aitch sound to form ‘haitch’. Not thinking too much about it, I continued with my life until meeting a family born in the UK but descended from Irish stock who also used this form of pronunciation. Apart from these few people, I rarely, if ever came across others who used the ‘haitch’ form.

Fast forward some years to life in Australia. Within days of reaching these balmy shores, I encountered the self same ‘haitch’ pronunciation and subsequently heard it regularly from time to time. Not all Australians pronounce the letter this way, and in fact the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) use newsreaders and others who pronounce the letter as in the UK. It occurred to me that a large Irish contingent emigrated to Australia in the nineteenth century, presumably bringing their ‘haitch’ pronunciation with them.

There are two things that puzzle me here. America also had its fair share of Irish immigrants, yet I am not aware of this pronunciation over there. Admittedly, I have not lived there but these days it is practically unavoidable to escape American English and their forms of pronunciation (am I on thin ice again?). I’ve also met Americans of Irish origin who definitely don’t use the ‘haitch’ pronunciation. Also, I’ve met Irish folk of more exalted birth who use the ‘aitch’ form. Can it be that ‘haitch’ comes from Irish people who were not so fortunate in terms of education, and it was precisely these people who left their homeland for pastures greener, thus causing a more widespread use of the form. This, however, still doesn’t answer the question why Americans of Irish origin apparently don’t use it.

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Posted: 29 September 2013 12:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I have no personal knowledge, but I’m given to understand that this is a shibboleth in Northern Ireland; that Ulster Protestants (and Ulster Protestant schools - remember that education in Northern Ireland was segregated for generations) pronounce the letter aitch, while Catholics and Catholic schools pronounce it haitch.

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Posted: 29 September 2013 03:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The OED entry for what it’s worth:

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.

And Wikipedia, also for what it’s worth:

The non-standard haitch pronunciation of h has spread in England, being used by approximately 24% of English people born since 1982[6] and polls continue to show this pronunciation becoming more common among younger native speakers. Despite this increasing number, careful speakers of English continue to pronounce aitch in the standard way, although the non-standard pronunciation is also attested as a legitimate variant.

Wiki also cites this BBC show.

Haytch is a standard pronunciation in Irish English and is increasingly being used by native English-speaking people all across the country, irrespective of geographical provenance or social standing. Polls have shown that the uptake of haytch by younger native speakers is on the rise. Schoolchildren repeatedly being told not to drop Hs may cause them to hyper-correct and insert them where they don’t exist.

[ Edited: 29 September 2013 04:42 AM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 29 September 2013 06:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Syntinen Laulu - 29 September 2013 12:53 AM

I have no personal knowledge, but I’m given to understand that this is a shibboleth in Northern Ireland; that Ulster Protestants (and Ulster Protestant schools - remember that education in Northern Ireland was segregated for generations) pronounce the letter aitch, while Catholics and Catholic schools pronounce it haitch.

Some Catholic schools in Australia also went with “haitch”, for some reason.

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Posted: 29 September 2013 05:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Thanks to those who took the trouble to throw more light on this subject.

I imagine that since the use of ‘haitch’ has been on the rise in England since the early eighties, it must be down to television and film etc. that has caused the more widespread use. I notice that so many other pronunciations, figures of speech, etc, have hurried into the English vernacular in recent years, something that wasn’t the case before these forms of media were so ubiquitous.

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Posted: 30 September 2013 05:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I notice that so many other pronunciations, figures of speech, etc, have hurried into the English vernacular in recent years

While this may be the case for some of them, we are all subject to the recency illusion, and it is a good idea to keep it in the forefront of one’s mind when thinking about these matters.  You’d be surprised how often something that seems brand new in fact goes back decades or centuries when you actually do the research.

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