h in what and where

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue Mar 19 08:28:42 UTC 2002

>>I heard Sandra Day O'Connor on NPR last week clearly pronounce /hw/
>>twice.  About 68? born in Arizona, I believe, grew up in West Texas (with
>>grandparents).  Dan Rather (east Texas), same age roughly, also has it.  My
>>understanding is that it is rapidly receding, with only the Deep South (and
>>maybe parts of Appalachia) retaining it regularly.  I don't think it's
>>class-based; not sure about race.  Britain, too, has apparently lost the
>>/hw/, even more than the U.S.
>All of Britain, or just England?  I was wondering about Scotland.

My Webster's Third says (as of about 1960, I guess) that "most American
speakers" distinguish "wet" from "whet" while "most southern British
speakers" do not.

I remember reading a technical item about computerized voice synthesis
around 1970 and being surprised to find that (according to the item) /w/
was considered a common alternative for /hw/ at that time. I always
distinguish /hw/ from /w/ (I think) and until that time I had pretty much
thought everybody did (but probably some didn't; I just didn't pay
attention probably).

My Concise Scots Dictionary (1985) shows /hw/ distinct from /w/ in all
cases as far as I can tell; numerous alternative pronunciations are given,
especially with alternative vowels; /hw/ often has an alternative /f/,
sometimes /h/, but never /w/ apparently. So at least some Scottish
lexicographers think /hw/ is distinct from /w/ in Scots.

-- Doug Wilson

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