The Letter H

HThe Letter H is such a versatile letter, yet so often overlooked. When used at the beginning of the word it’s very often silent – in honour, honest and strangely in hotel for example. And ‘commonly’ it’s often ignored in everyday speech – ‘ello, ‘ow are you? Wikipedia tells us that H-dropping or aitch-dropping is the deletion of the voiceless glottal fricative or “H sound”.

Voiceless glottal fricative! Really? What a dreadful term for a beautiful letter. And there’s a reverse phenomenon, H-insertion or H-adding, is found in certain situations, sometimes as a hypercorrection by H-dropping speakers, and sometimes as a spelling pronunciation or out of perceived etymological correctness. And of course (one of my ‘pet hates) many people incorrectly pronounce the letter as haitch rather than aitch.

It’s the effect that H has on other letters that I find so interesting. Put it after a P and we get an F sound, as in alphabet and the very fine and noble name Ralph.

When H teams up with C we get two very different sounds – compare chug with chianti for example. Ok, so chianti is cheating slightly being Italian really, how about comparing charm and charisma. And a softer third sound comes of the partnership in words such as cheroot and charabanc.

H has a far more faithful relationship with S, simply swapping a hissy sibilant for a more gentle shushing sound – shipshape and shiny. However, sometimes this sound is achieved without the use of an H, in sure and sugar for example.

When paired with T, H can give a harder there and then, as well as a softer think and thistle.

H’s relationship with W is quite interesting and I think sadly being neglected and forgotten as our language evolves. Few people pronounce when as hwen rather than wen anymore or hwere or hwy.

It’s probably when alongside G that H produces the greatest number of variations in sound. Consider tough, though, thought, trough and thorough for a start, and then there’s plough (couldn’t think of one that starts with a T!). Then we have weight and height (don’t start me on I before E).

It’s a beautiful and fascinating language, one that must be very difficult for Johnny Foreigner to come to terms with.

We have to be very careful in our use of language when designing our questionnaires. Speling mitsakes, and bad grammer give a very poor impression, make us look uneducated and can take away confidence in the survey. At The Survey Initiative, question and answer text as well as intro blurb and instructions are thoroughly scrutinised by our Quality Control team. In addition, we are very careful to avoid leading (or misleading!) questions, double questions and ambiguous questions. It sounds simple, but they are traps which the inexperienced often fall into and which can be very difficult to spot.

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