English /hw/ > /w-/

John Hewson jhewson at morgan.ucs.mun.ca
Tue Sep 17 19:13:12 UTC 1996

On Mon, 16 Sep 1996, Richard M Hogg wrote:
> The cluster vs single segment argument about <hw,hl,hr,hn> is less
> open and shut than Mark Hale suggests. Fundamentally, he cannot
> dismiss the evidence of alliteration so easily. That all vowels
> apparently alliterate with one another is explicable as alliteration
> of zero onsets (ie, vowels don't alliterate, initial consonants do,
> even when they're zero). And the ability of, say,< hw> and <hr> to
> alliterate with one another is in sharp contrast to the behaviour of
> <sp, st, sc>.
The orthography of Ancient Greek supports Richard Hogg's analysis.
Initial [h], described as "rough breathing", was marked as a
diacritic _c_, not with a letter of the alphabet. Zero onset before a
vowel, described by the ancient grammarians as "smooth breathing", was
likewise marked with a diacritic, not with a letter of the alphabet.
The orthography indicates that the Greeks considered initial aspiration vs.
zero as onset phenomena, not as regular phonemes. Since [h] only occurred
initially (although it prompted sandhi phenomena) this is an appropriate
way to treat it. (J.R.Firth is probably sitting up in his grave saying "I
told you so"!)
Initial [h] therefore constitutes a variety of problems. I suspect that
with the loss of post vocalic [h] in EMnE we are looking at onset
phenomena in MnE, with [hj] and [hw] showing the possibilities of onset
before semi-vowels as well as before full vowels.
John Hewson
Memorial University of Newfoundland

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