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Spanish words beginning with hue-

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by francisgranada, Apr 6, 2014.

  1. francisgranada Senior Member

    When a Spanish word begins with the stressed diphtong ue (from Lat. o) then it is normally written with a non-etymological initial "h". Examples: huérfano, huevo, huelo (< oler), hueco, etc.

    My question is, if this is a pure orthographical convention, or it is supposed that this initial "h" was once also pronounced in these cases?

    Thanks in advance.

    (Excuse me if this question has already been discussed, I couldn't find no thread about it ...)
  2. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    No, it was never pronounced. It is merely a spelling convention. Same with "hie" as in hielo, hierba.

    The only /h/ that have ever been pronounced in Spanish are the words that etymologically had /f/ originally such as hacer, horno, hablar.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2014
  3. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    This is just a guess on my part, but perhaps the preference for writing initial "hue-" is based on a generalization from instances where there actually was an initial consonant present: for example, huésped "guest" is from Latin hospitem, huerto "vegetable garden" is from Lat. hortum and so on.
  4. CapnPrep Senior Member

    Last edited: Apr 7, 2014
  5. Cenzontle

    Cenzontle Senior Member

    English, U.S.
    When I studied the history of Spanish it was explained as follows:
    In the handwriting of the medieval manuscripts, the vowel "u" and the consonant "v" were written the same.
    With the word that was pronounced "wevo" (egg), if you wrote "uevo", the reader might misread it as "vevo".
    (Well, there wasn't a word such as "vevo", but you get the idea.
    Take the verb form that sounds like "welo", from "oler"—a spelling of "uelo" would have been indistinguishable from "velo".)
    The silent "h" serves to say the following letter represents a (semi)vowel, not a consonant.
    The same goes for "hie-": In the old handwriting there wasn't a reliable distinction between vowel "i" and consonant "j".
    Gavril, with regard to Lat. hortum, hospitem, herba—my understanding is that the original Latin [h] sound disappeared well before the breakup into Romance languages.
    I don't think any Romance language preserves that sound.
  6. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    There are a number of Spanish words that begin with the same sounds in "hie-", but are not written with initial "h": e.g., yerno "son-in-law", yeso "gypsum", yergo "I straighten" (infinitive erguir).

    Other than maybe hielo, are there any Spanish words with initial hie- where the h- doesn't reflect an earlier consonant?

    Right, I wasn't saying that the "h" was pronounced within the history of Spanish, but the writers who developed the "hue-" spelling probably had some knowledge of where there had originally been an "h" sound in Latin.
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2014
  7. CapnPrep Senior Member

    On the topic of the spellings "hie" vs. "ye" and potential differences in pronunciation, I can add the following threads to the list above:
    hiendo / yendo
    ye- vs. hie-, etc.
    Why do you except hielo (< gelum)?
  8. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Because I don't know to what extent the choice of h- in hielo had to do with the presence of earlier g-.

    However, yerno and yema (also from words with initial ge-) suggest that the h- in hielo is just a case of "random" orthographic variation. Is there reason to think otherwise?
  9. CapnPrep Senior Member

    It's not random, it maintains the link with other words containing the same root but without the diphthong (helar, helado, helero, etc.).
  10. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    OK, I see. In any case, the point I was making is that the hie- spelling seems to occur mainly (or only) where an initial consonant such as f-, h- or g- has been lost, whereas the hue- spelling seems to occur anywhere where a word begins with the diphthong ue from earlier o.
  11. francisgranada Senior Member

    I've been "speculating" for a while if a secondary h (or semivowel/aspirate near to h) could not appear in the pronounciation in case of the initial stressed ue that lead to this spelling. I've thought e.g. of a process similar to what happend in case of Germanic loanwords (*warda > guarda, welf >güelfo ...).
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2014
  12. CapnPrep Senior Member

    I think you are right for modern Spanish, but one would have to look at older texts to see if the use of "hie" (alongside "ie-", "je-", "ye-", etc.) paralleled the introduction of "hue-" for "ue-".
    Some of the previous threads I referred to above mention the pronunciation (and sometimes spelling) of "hue-" as "güe-" in many varieties of Spanish (see the DPD entry). I don't believe that this was the reason why the "h" was added in the spelling of these forms (or conversely, that the presence of the orthographic "h" causes this pronunciation, as the DPD seems to suggest), but I don't have any direct evidence either way.
  13. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    Hielo, hierro
    Huelga, huerta, huérfano

    Besides the "h" serving to keep the words from starting with a diphthong, ie or ue (arising from open e and o), these sounds were and are still vocalic in Spanish. The pronunciation is exactly the same as the diphthongs in cielo, cierra, suelo, tuerta. "H" is silent but it is the consonant giving overlying orthographic support to the syllable, as the "c, s, t" do in the other examples.

    Yeso, yema, yerno
    Guarda, guante

    The y, gu are consonants, and do not arise from any vocalic process forming diphthongs. Indeed, as you have said they arise from various consonants in origin "g", "w" "f" etc. and that is still apparent. The pronunciation is that of a consonant "y" or "gu" followed by a vowel, not of a diphthong "ie, ue".

    Listen to the pronunciation of hielo and hierba, and compare that to yeso and yema.
    Also huelga and guante
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2014
  14. francisgranada Senior Member

    Yes, I've read them and thank you :).
    (For some reasons I couldn't reopen all of the threads, so I prefered not to mention this explicitely, but it is not important.)

    This DPD entry is interesting for me, as until the opening of this thread, I haven't read about any possible (or impossible :)) explanation of this spelling.

    In a thread you refer to, the distinction between "ve" and "ue" (as the letters u and v didn't represent different sounds) is proposed as the reason for this spelling. For example, to indicate the clear difference between "uelo" and "velo" at the absolute beginning of a sentence (or after n/m etc.)

    Now, do these two approaches (necessarily) contradict to/exclude each other? ...
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2014
  15. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    But there are many words with initial ye- that *do* arise from diphthongization: yegua "mare", yerro (< errar), yergo (< erguir).

    Also, doesn't the hie- in hielo reflect the same initial sequence (ge-) that yerno does? Is there a reason why hielo is written with hie- rather than ye-, other than to indicate a connection with words like helar?

    I do hear a slight difference between ye- and hie-, at least in some of the samples, but I wonder how consistently this difference is maintained (especially in regions that don't have "šeísmo" or "žeísmo"): when I went to Wordreference's entries for hierro and yerro (noun) and listened to the recordings, they sounded pretty much the same to me.

    (I hope this isn't getting too far off-topic, since Francisgranada's initial question was about hue- rather than hie-.)
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2014

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