Featured Linguist!

Jost Gippert: Our Featured Linguist!

"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more

Donate Now | Visit the Fund Drive Homepage

Amount Raised:


Still Needed:


Can anyone overtake Syntax in the Subfield Challenge ?

Grad School Challenge Leader: University of Washington

Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


What is English? And Why Should We Care?

By: Tim William Machan

To find some answers Tim Machan explores the language's present and past, and looks ahead to its futures among the one and a half billion people who speak it. His search is fascinating and important, for definitions of English have influenced education and law in many countries and helped shape the identities of those who live in them.

New from Cambridge University Press!


Medical Writing in Early Modern English

Edited by Irma Taavitsainen and Paivi Pahta

This volume provides a new perspective on the evolution of the special language of medicine, based on the electronic corpus of Early Modern English Medical Texts, containing over two million words of medical writing from 1500 to 1700.

Summary Details

Query:   Word-initial /h/
Author:  Daniel Sokol
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Historical Linguistics

Summary:   Well, I was wrong. The question wasn't quite so simple afterall and,
from the dozens of replies I received, things aren't much clearer.
The easy answer is this: if the h-word following the indefinite
article has a stressed first syllable (a HIStory), then it's a schwa
that precedes it. If this is not the case, then it's schwa + [n]: an
hisTOrical ... The easy answer is, of course, not the right answer -
at least in 1999. Some people simply expressed quasi-outrage that
someone could write 'an historical...' and others said that they are
perfectly happy saying it. Larry Trask, from the University of Sussex
(England), pointed out that /h/ was, at one point in the history of
English, on the verge of disappearing in word-initial position and
when that word had an unstressed first syllable. So people wrote 'an
historical ...' for the simple reason that it was pronounced
[anistorikl...]. However, the /h/ experienced a revival and so 'an
historical...' is a remnant of this. The majority of you who replied
said that you were 'a' people, as opposed to 'an' people, some of you
replied that it varied from word to word. One of you shrewdly
affirmed that the original King James version had 'an hat' and 'an
horse' but that all these have now been suppressed in modern-day
reprintings. Anyway, I'm glad I asked the question and thank you all
for taking the time to answer it.

LL Issue: 10.1071
Date Posted: 14-Jul-1999
Original Query: Read original query


Sums main page