The Greek eta 'Η' in the Archaic period still represented /h/ (later on it came to represent a long vowel, /ɛː/). In this context the letter eta is also known as heta to underline this fact. Thus, in the Old Italic alphabets the letter heta of the Euboean alphabet was adopted with its original sound value /h/.
Etruscan and Latin had /h/ as a phoneme but almost all Romance languages lost the sound—Romanian later re-borrowed the /h/ phoneme from its neighbouring Slavic languages, and Spanish developed a secondary /h/ from /f/, before losing it again; various Spanish dialects have developed [h] as allophone of /s/ or /x/ in most Spanish-speaking countries, and various dialects of Portuguese use it as an allophone of /ʀ/. 'H' is also used in many spelling systems in digraphs and trigraphs, such as 'ch' which represents /tʃ/ in Spanish, Galician, Old Portuguese and English, /ʃ/ in French and modern Portuguese, /k/ in Italian, French and English, /x/ in German, Czech, Polish, Slovak, one native word of English and a few loanwords into English, and /ç/ in German.
Name in English
In most dialects of English, the name for the letter is pronounced // and spelled 'aitch' or occasionally 'eitch'. The pronunciation // and the associated spelling 'haitch' is often considered to be h-adding and hence nonstandard. It is, however, a feature of Hiberno-English and other varieties of English, such as those of Malaysia, Newfoundland, and Singapore. In Northern Ireland it is a shibboleth as Protestant schools teach aitch and Catholics haitch. In Australia, this has also been attributed to Catholic school teaching and is estimated to be in use by 60% of the population.
The perceived name of the letter affects the choice of indefinite article before initialisms beginning with H: for example "an HTML page" or "a HTML page". The pronunciation /ˈheɪtʃ/ may be a hypercorrection formed by analogy with the names of the other letters of the alphabet, most of which include the sound they represent.
The non-standard haitch pronunciation of h has spread in England, being used by approximately 24% of English people born since 1982 and polls continue to show this pronunciation becoming more common among younger native speakers. Despite this increasing number, pronunciation without the // sound is still considered to be standard, although the non-standard pronunciation is also attested as a legitimate variant.
Authorities disagree about the history of the letter's name. The Oxford English Dictionary says the original name of the letter was [ˈaha] in Latin; this became [ˈaka] in Vulgar Latin, passed into English via Old French [ˈatʃ], and by Middle English was pronounced [ˈaːtʃ]. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language derives it from French hache from Latin haca or hic. Anatoly Liberman suggests a conflation of two obsolete orderings of the alphabet, one with H immediately followed by K and the other without any K: reciting the former's ..., H, K, L,... as [...(h)a ka el ...] when reinterpreted for the latter ..., H, L,... would imply a pronunciation [(h)a ka] for H.
Use in English
In English, 'h' occurs as a single-letter grapheme (being either silent or representing //) and in various digraphs, such as 'ch' //, //, //,, or //), 'gh' (silent, /ɡ/, /k/, /p/, or /f/), 'ph' (/f/), 'rh' (/r/), 'sh' (//), 'th' (// or //), 'wh' (/hw/). The letter is silent in a syllable rime, as in ah, ohm, dahlia, cheetah, pooh-poohed, as well as in certain other words (mostly of French origin) such as hour, honest, herb (in American but not British English) and vehicle. Initial /h/ is often not pronounced in the weak form of some function words including had, has, have, he, her, him, his, and in some varieties of English (including most regional dialects of England and Wales) it is often omitted in all words (see h-dropping). It was formerly common for an rather than a to be used as the indefinite article before a word beginning with /h/ in an unstressed syllable, as in "an hotel", but use of a is now more usual (see English articles: Indefinite article).
Use in other languages
In the German language, the name of the letter is pronounced /haː/. Following a vowel, it often silently indicates that the vowel is long: In the word erhöhen ('heighten'), only the first 'h' represents /h/. In 1901, a spelling reform eliminated the silent 'h' in nearly all instances of 'th' in native German words such as thun ('to do') or Thür ('door'). It has been left unchanged in words derived from Greek, such as Theater ('theater') and Thron ('throne'), which continue to be spelled with 'th' even after the last German spelling reform.
In Spanish and Portuguese, 'h' ("hache" in Spanish, agá in Portuguese, pronounced [aˈɣa] or [ɐˈɡa]) is a silent letter with no pronunciation, as in hijo [ˈixo] ('son') and húngaro [ˈũɡaɾu] ('Hungarian'). The spelling reflects an earlier pronunciation of the sound /h/. It is sometimes pronounced, with the value [h], in some regions of Andalusia, Extremadura, Canarias and the Americas in the beginning of some words as harina, hartar, herida or hacer. 'H' also appears in the digraph 'ch', which represents /tʃ/ in Spanish and hinterland northern Portugal, and /ʃ/ in oral traditions that merged both sounds (the latter originarily represented by 'x' instead) e.g. in most of the Portuguese language and some Spanish-speaking places, prominently Chile, as well as 'nh' /ɲ/ and 'lh' /ʎ/ in Portuguese, whose spelling is inherited from Occitan.
In French, the name of the letter is pronounced /aʃ/. The French orthography classifies words that begin with this letter in two ways, one of which can affect the pronunciation, even though it is a silent letter either way. The h muet, or "mute h", is considered as though the letter were not there at all, so for example the singular definite article le or la, which is elided to l' before a vowel, elides before an h muet followed by a vowel. For example, le + hébergement becomes l'hébergement ('the accommodation'). The other kind of 'h' is called h aspiré ("aspirated h", though it is not normally aspirated phonetically), and does not allow elision or liaison. For example in le homard ('the lobster') the article le remains unelided, and may be separated from the noun with a bit of a glottal stop. Most words that begin with an h muet come from Latin (honneur, homme) or from Greek through Latin (hécatombe), whereas most words beginning with an h aspiré come from Germanic (harpe, hareng) or non-Indo-European languages (harem, hamac, haricot); in some cases, an orthographic 'h' was added to disambiguate the [v] and semivowel [ɥ] pronunciations before the introduction of the distinction between the letters 'v' and 'u': huit (from uit, ultimately from Latin octo), huître (from uistre, ultimately from Greek through Latin ostrea).
In Italian, 'h' has no phonological value. Its most important uses are to differentiate the spellings of certain short words that are homophones, for example some present tense forms of the verb avere ('to have') (such as hanno, 'they have', vs. anno, 'year'), in short interjections (oh, ehi), and in the digraphs 'ch' /k/ and 'gh' /ɡ/.
In Irish, h is not considered an independent letter, except for a very few non-native words, however 'h' placed after a consonant is known as a "séimhiú" and indicates lenition of that consonant; 'h' began to replace the original form of a séimhiú, a dot placed above the consonant, after the introduction of typewriters.
In most dialects of Polish, both 'h' and the digraph 'ch' always represent /x/.
The Russian language has no /h/ sound and there is no letter to represent this sound in the Russian (Cyrillic) alphabet. In transliterations the letter 'x' (pronounced as /x/) is used, as in Хэмпшир for "Hampshire", although in some longer established names 'г' (pronounced /ɡ/) is for 'h', as in Генрих for "Henry".
Use in science
As a phonetic symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet, variations of the letter are used to represent two sounds. The lowercase form, [h], represents the voiceless glottal fricative, and the small capital form, [ʜ], represents the voiceless epiglottal fricative. A superscript [ʰ] is used to represent aspiration.
Related letters and other similar characters
- Н н : Cyrillic letter En. The similarity is purely graphic, since Cyrillic En is derived from Greek Ν ν
- Η η : Greek letter Eta. It is the source of another Cyrillic letter, И
- Һ һ : Cyrillic letter Shha
- Ĥ ĥ : Latin letter H with circumflex
- Ħ ħ : Latin letter H with stroke
- h : Planck constant
- ℏ : reduced Planck constant
- ʰ : marker for aspirated consonants
- ẖ : ẖ, h with macron below
- ḥ : Ḥ, h with dot below
|Unicode name||LATIN CAPITAL LETTER H||LATIN SMALL LETTER H|
|Numeric character reference||H||H||h||h|
1 and all encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.
- "H" Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989); Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (1993); "aitch", op. cit.
- A dictionary of Hiberno-English, Terence Patrick Dolan page 119, Gill & Macmillan Ltd, 2004 A form of English developed on the Waterloo Estate in Poole
- Corbett, John (2000). "Literary Language and Scottish Identity". ASLS. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
- Ab(h)ominable (H)aitch by Frederick Ludowyk, Australian National Dictionary Centre
- Todd, L. & Hancock I.: "International English Ipod", page 254. Routledge, 1990.
- John C Wells, Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, page 360, Pearson, Harlow, 2008
- 'Haitch' or 'aitch'? How do you pronounce 'H'?, BBC News, 98 October 2010
- Liberman, Anatoly (7 August 2013). "Alphabet soup, part 2: H and Y". Oxford Etymologist. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
- In many dialects, /hw/ and /w/ have merged
- Russian “H”, JewishGen
- Media related to H at Wikimedia Commons
- The dictionary definition of H at Wiktionary
- The dictionary definition of h at Wiktionary
Letter H with diacritics