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Swedish 'h' in words like hjärta, hjärna, hjälp etc.

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by robbie_SWE, Feb 6, 2013.

  1. robbie_SWE

    robbie_SWE Senior Member

    Sweden
    Swedish (have three "mother languages": SWE, ROM, ENG)
    Hi,

    When I woke up this morning, a thought occurred to me; why is the 'h' in words like [FONT=&quot]hjärta[/FONT], [FONT=&quot]hjärna[/FONT], [FONT=&quot]hjälp[/FONT], [FONT=&quot]hjässa[/FONT], [FONT=&quot]hjälm[/FONT], [FONT=&quot]hjort [/FONT]and so forth, voiceless?

    'H' is "usually" voiced in Swedish, but somehow combined with 'j' it goes silent.
    How, when and why did this change happen?

    In comparison with cognates in English and German, the 'h' is voiced.

    E.g.


    (Swedish - English - German)

    hjärta [jæʈːa] - heart [hɑː(r)t] - Herz [hɛʁʦ]
    hjälp [jɛlp] - help [hɛlp] - Hilfe [ˈhɪlfə]
    hjälm [jɛlm] - helmet [helmɪt] - Helm [hɛlm]

    Hope that someone can enlighten me!


    Robbie
     
  2. myšlenka Senior Member

    Norwegian
    Hi,
    in Proto-Norse, short and stressed [e] was subject to vowel breaking, a process that changed it into [jɑ].

    *hertan --> hjarta
    *helpan --> hjalpa

    The [h] was probably pronounced right after the vowel breaking, but later developments reduced the consonant cluster [hj] to [j]. Although we don't pronounce the "h", we still keep it in the spelling of these words to retain the historical link.
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2013
  3. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    London
    English - South-East England
    Icelandic still retains the /hj/ sound, so the change presumably happened after the split between East Norse (ancestor of Swedish and Danish) and West Norse.

    By the way, 'voiceless' does not mean 'silent', and 'voiced' does not mean 'pronounced', which is how you seem to be using them. The sounds [t f s] are voiceless, and [d v z] are voiced. An aspirate /h/ can be voiced or voiceless, but it is pronounced in either case. It is voiced in Czech and Arabic, and typically occurs voiced in English between vowels, as in 'ahead', 'behind'. Otherwise it's voiceless in English and German.
     
  4. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Norwegian
    I find it more likely that the vowel breaking took place over the entire Norse speaking area more or less at the same time, and that (as Myslenka says) it was pronounced [hj]. However, Icelandic retained the [hj], when it in Continental Scandinavian eroded down to [j]. We know that it was pronounced at one point, and there are indeed dialects with traces of it still.
     
  5. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    London
    English - South-East England
    Sorry, I was unclear: by 'the change' I meant the loss of [h], what the original poster asked. The breaking was certainly much earlier.
     
  6. robbie_SWE

    robbie_SWE Senior Member

    Sweden
    Swedish (have three "mother languages": SWE, ROM, ENG)
    Sorry for the mix-up! Thank you for your corrections! :)

    Robbie
     
  7. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    If you look at the way hjarta is pronounced in Icelandic, you will notice that the <hj> stands for a de-voiced [j], i.e. [j̥] or [ç]. ON had some <hC> combinations (<hn>, <hl>, <hr> and <hv>) which probably at some point in the development of ON meant de-voiced versions of <C>. <hj> must have developed similarly, not unlike English human which is phonemically /hjumən/ but phonetically [çumən]. It seems that in Swedish the de-voiced [j̥] and the voiced [j] merged again.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2013
  8. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Norway
    Polish
    In both Swedish and Norwegian ‘h’ is silent in all positions except in the beginning of a word before a vowel. In all other positions: intervocalic, before consonants, and final ‘h’ is silent.
     
  9. robbie_SWE

    robbie_SWE Senior Member

    Sweden
    Swedish (have three "mother languages": SWE, ROM, ENG)
    Hmm...true, but I would like to add that 'h' isn't silent in composed words like näthat, struphuvud etc. And what about the interjection aha (also jaha, joho)? The 'h' is intervocalic, but still pronounced. The same thing in words like mähä,[FONT=&amp] dehydratisering[/FONT] and words starting with the negative prefix [FONT=&amp]o-[/FONT] (ohyra, ohyfsat etc.).

    What about in dialects? I'm not familiar with Norwegian dialects, but surely some dialects should vary?

    Robbie
     
  10. myšlenka Senior Member

    Norwegian
    I think Ben Jamin wanted to say that the distribution of /h/ is restricted to simplex onsets in syllables. That generalization holds for both Norwegian and Swedish.
     
  11. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Norway
    Polish
    In colloquial Norwegian the 'h' in dehydratisering will be seldom pronounced, the actual pronunciation being: 'dedratisering' or 'dedrisering'.
    Words with intervocalic h like Johan, aha, er very few. The compound words are usually pronounced as two separate units in a quick sequence, so there is a mental discontinuity between the parts, even if the pause is extremely short, it is not the same as intervocalic or postconsonantal (like nett-handel, strupe-hode).
     
  12. Halfdan Junior Member

    Canadian English
    It's interesting how the silent 'h' in 'hj' has been maintained, but the 'hv' was dropped in the 1906 reform.
     
  13. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Norwegian
    I agree. However, in the other Scandinavian languages, the hv- is retained. In English, it is also retained (why and white, and not "wy" and "wite"), and sometimes a wh- is even put where it is not supposed to be (such as in 'whole')
     
  14. robbie_SWE

    robbie_SWE Senior Member

    Sweden
    Swedish (have three "mother languages": SWE, ROM, ENG)
    Interesting...I agree with the point you're making. But what about dialects? Does the pronounication of 'h' differ?

    In Swedish the 'h' in Johan is acutally mute. Unless we're trying to sound Norwegian :D

    Robbie
     
  15. Stoggler

    Stoggler Senior Member

    Kingdom of Sussex
    UK English
    There are a number of English varieties where the [wh] orthography represents a different pronunciation to the straight [w] - thus the spelling shows not only an etymological clue but also a pronunciation one for plenty of English varieties and has been retained for a very good reason. It's usually the modern version of OE words beginning hw- (retaining the same pronunciation, which was the same pronunciation of the Old Norse hv-, well, more or less...)
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2013
  16. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Norwegian
    My point exactly! English has retained the wh- (in Scand hv-), and in some cased even introduced where it is not supposed to be!
     

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