herb; /hw/

Nathan H Brown natebrown1 at JUNO.COM
Tue Jan 30 20:38:37 UTC 2001

Here in Schenectady New York, I've heard a few people saying "herb" with
the "h;" it seems to be a half-educated spelling pronunciation. The
majority of people say "erb." Most well-educated people here say "erb;"
some people seem to be conscious that saying /h3Rb/ is "wrong," and
correct people who say it. Apparently the high-priced garden club
influence hasn't helped disseminate the "h" pronunciation here. I can
remember, as a child, that I said "erb" before I learned to read. Around
age six or seven, I started to sound the "h;" I had seen it in writing
and I thought that it was more correct to say the "h." But then my mom
corrected me, and I went back to "erb."

As for the /hw/ cluster, in Schenectady and Utica NY, and in New York
City, as far as I can tell, everyone of all ages uses a plain /w/ in all
styles of speech. Most people aren't even conscious that it's possible to
say these words with /hw/, and many people can't hear the difference.
Further north, in the Adirondacks, there's some generational
differences--older people say /hw/, younger ones say /w/. I've noticed
that ex-President Clinton usually sounds the /h/ in these words. However,
with "what," he often just uses /w/. Hillary just uses /w/, as do (or
did) all of the Kennedys. Most Californians I've talked to or heard talk
also use a plain /w/; almost all of the younger ones do. I can't really
speak for northern California, though; almost all of the Californians
I've listened to are from southern California.

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