usage ridicule

Eric Nielsen ericbarnak at GMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 27 11:17:53 UTC 2012

I (dimly) remember being taught a rule that h-words with an accented first
syllable were to use an "a"; those with an unaccented first syllable used
an "an". Monosyllabic h-words also used an "a". Do monosyllabic words have
accent? I always wondered about the British "an house".

Not that I really care much one way or the other, but I am a(n) "an
historical" guy.


On Tue, Mar 27, 2012 at 3:51 AM, Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at>wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM>
> Subject:      Re: usage ridicule
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I had the same impression about US vs. UK usage. I was shocked when I
> found myself saying "an historical" perhaps in my thirties. I'm still not
> 100% sure, but I think "an" reduces to "a" in stressed contexts in my
> speech.
> Benjamin Barrett
> Seattle, WA
> On Mar 26, 2012, at 9:57 PM, W Brewer wrote:
> > RE:  an historic  vs.  a historic.     When I was a student, I mulled
> this
> > problem. The convention of the time seemed to have been:  Americans must
> > write <a historical>. My impression was that British wrote <an
> historical>.
> > Pronunciation-wise, I was unhappy with either [uh historical] or [ay
> > historical], and affected [Anne historical], for which I got negative
> vibes
> > at UC Berkeley. (There was also my malaise at the co-existence of
> > <ahistorical> in the midst of all this.) My problem with [uh h-] and [ay
> > h-] and affinity for [Anne h-] I think has to do with the fact that [h-]
> is
> > merely a voiceless anticipation of the following [small-cap eye] (as
> Ohala
> > later taught me), and my articulators tend to precede it with the
> > prescribed pre-vocalic <an>. And so, as Anne Elephant once famously said,
> > this is my hypothesis, it belongs to me, and is mine.
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