an historical (pronouncing the h)

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Wed Sep 15 15:24:09 UTC 2010

At 9/15/2010 11:05 AM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>And consider my difficulty when my audiobook readers of the Jane
>Austen novels kept talking about "an hill", "an house", and "an happy
>man".  I couldn't very well damage the cassettes without incurring
>the wrath of our overworked public librarians (one of whom I'm
>married to).

My research into " an h---" in "Pride and Prejudice" yields,
serendipitiously, "an hopeless business", as well as "in an hurried"
and "an husband".  (And also many a "an hour" *and a few "an
honour".)  So that is what she writes, which of course Larry realizes
when he thinks of attacking the cassettes.  I assume that he would
not have the readers on the cassettes change Austen's words.

* Note my automatic (that is, I did not think about it when writing)
"many *a* 'an hour' ...".  Because I hear this when spoken as having
a pause between "a" and "an"?

Or does Larry mean that students who listen to the audiobooks go on
to say "an hill" etc. when they speak and are not quoting Austen?

My inference has always been that those who say and write "an hill"
etc. have at some time seen "an historical" or similar, and have
concluded that an initial H is like an initial vowel and should
always be proceeded by "an".  Rather than thinking about it, and
realizing that one H is not like another.


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