Pronunciation: When is the "h" in "wh" words pronounced?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by jokker, Jul 16, 2006.

  1. jokker Senior Member

  2. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
  3. jokker Senior Member

    Oh, oh, I've got it. Thank you so much, se16teddy.:)
  4. Yuribear

    Yuribear Senior Member

    Español, Mex-USA
    Here is another link where you can hear how i sounds.
  5. jokker Senior Member

    I have just listened to it. It's a h-dropping pronunciation.:D Thank you very much, Yuribear.:)
  6. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    I aspirate all the WH words - which, where, why, whale, wheat - much to chagrin of my children who insist that I'm wrong. Here is an interesting read on W vs. WH << Site no longer exists. >>
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 15, 2013
  7. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    I'll vouch for the AE part of what se16teddy said-- the /wh/ pronunciation is preserved in the Southern variant, which geographically means the southeastern part of the U.S.

    This /wh/ phoneme qualifies as a genuine shibboleth-- people who weren't raised in the Old South don't even hear a difference. Since the Southern dialect has been adopted by the music and entertainment industries, and a lot of singers and actors are feigning that dialect (what I've complained about as "gooberism"), there is a lot of ungenuine "hillbilly" being spoken on TV-- but even some of the fairly talented mimics can be easily sorted out, since they use /w/ where /wh/ should be pronounced instead.
  8. jokker Senior Member

    I am with you and I guess the 99.9% Taiwan people are also with you.:)
    I don't know how the other non-native English countries teach English, but in Taiwan if a schoolchild doesn't pronounce /hw/ of wh-words he would be considered wrong and mostly would be corrected and might be laughed at by his classmates. You can tell your children this.;)

    Thank you for sharing this article!!:) It's really interesting and funny!

    "You mean whales," I said.
    "Yes, Wales."
    "Wales? But that's the country Wales, not whales. You're talking about whales."
    "Yes, like I said, Wales."

    ................................:D :D :D

    Above all, I am so glad and surprised that even a native English speaker would have exactly the same doubt as a non-native. But then, I think Chinese dialects have the similar situations.
  9. It had never, ever even come to my mind that some folks pronounce the "h" sound in words beginning in "wh". I will have to listen more carefully, I have always just assumed that the h is silent.
  10. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    As I understand, the 'wh' digraph represented a sound different from [w] in ancient English. It's pretty similar to [hw], though perhaps not exactly the same. Some dialects of English still use it, but you can get by if you use [w] instead.
  11. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I discovered by accident, hwile browsing the OED, that many (most?, all?) of our wh- words were originally hw- words.
    Ah, sorry, in fact the originally hw- words are now wh-words - that's better.

    I thought I'd mention this because hw- is much closer to how these words are pronounced - by whose of us who take the h into account. So, while is pronounces as hwile - as wile with an h at the front.

    Edit: Sorry outsider - I was delayed in mid-post and didn't check.
    But I think we agree anyway.
  12. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    /hw/ words in OE have cognates in Old Norse /qv/ words-- and of course many correspond to /qu/ words in Latin, especially pronounds and adverbs.
  13. jokker Senior Member

    'Preserved' sounds as if the /hw/ pronunciation were dying out. :p

    But in fact the pronunciation /hw/ of the digraph 'wh' has been the standard way that we have learned (Taiwan has used the Kenyon & Knott (K.K.) phonetic symbols to teach students how to pronounce an English word...funny, it apparently seems that you natives are not learning so.

    Oh, yes, the sound /hw/ (of wh) is different form /w/ to us, as 'where' is definitely different form 'wear'.

    In K.K. phonetic symbols, 'wh' is exactly represented as /hw/.

    Does that mean I have learned not only ancient English but also dialects?:cool: :D
  14. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    That does seem to be the case.

    Why should natives have to learn a pronunciation they don't naturally use?
    Perhaps the reason why you were taught to distinguish between 'w' and 'wh' is that the same distinction exists in your language. But notice that the distinction is not maintained in any of the main 'centres' of the English language: England, (most of) the U.S., Australia...
  15. jokker Senior Member

    I like this 'hwile'.:D
    As I have learned the ancient English way to pronounce, I can understand you perfectly.:D

    I agree with you.:) (Because of the training effect of K.K. phonetic symbols. Should I be glad of this?:cool: Actually, in Taiwan there are some scholars and professors who think that it's not good to use K.K. only to teach students... )
  16. :eek: Wear and where do not sound alike?

    Looks like I better go take some K and K English lessons, and fast!!!:D
  17. jokker Senior Member

    Oh, thanks God, there still are some areas and people that have the same pronunciation as I.;) Are we really the minority? Oh, no~~~ >___<

    Good point! In recent years, there has been a new way used in Taiwan to teach students how to pronounce, which is called 'natural pronounce'.
    Oh, as for this, no. we just learn the K.K. phonetic symbols. Actually, many of Taiwan students find it difficult to pronounce 'correctly', I ,for one, can't pronounce some words/phonetic symbols properly.
    Smart you.;) Yes, some of the Taiwan professors and scholars have noticed this just as you said. Therefore, now there is a new way called 'natural pronounce' used to teach students.
  18. Blackleaf Banned

    Bolton, Lancashire
    The "wh" in English used to be pronounced as "hw". So "whale" used to be pronounced "hwale". It comes from Anglo-Saxon. Some people still do pronounce them as "hwale" (whale), "hwite" (white) but I think they are now archaic. Strangely, it seems to be mostly people in Scotland who pronounced words beginning with "wh" in this way.
  19. jokker Senior Member

    Oh, my God, do they sound alike to you?:eek: I am serious! I really am surprised to learn how you natives pronounce some learn it today.

    O.K. Their pronunciations are very close, but not exactly the same!! Is there anybody with me?!
  20. Blackleaf Banned

    Bolton, Lancashire
    "Where" and "wear" sound exactly the same to me. There is no difference.

    But I don't pronounce the "h" in words beginning with "wh". For those who do - for example, those who pronounce "whale" as "hwale" - they sound different.
  21. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Well, really:eek:
    Wiping the spluttered spray from my screen.....
    I quote the Oxford Companion to the English Language:
    The fact that some parts of the English-speaking world are off to hell in a handcart is no justification either for the rest of us to follow or for comments that demean the position of such bastions of educated English speech as Ireland, Scotland, and Canada (oh yes, and parts of the USA).

    Seriously though, considering that the blurring of this distinction is causing such chaos in comprehension, why is it happening?
  22. jokker Senior Member

    Oh, no...another vote for h-dropping pronunciation...(Now I speak ancient, archaic and dialectic English...:cool: ...just kidding.:D )

    Blackleaf, thank you very much for the explanation.:) I have learned a lot. and learned that I have learned and spoken ancient, archaic and dialectic English. lol
  23. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Is it causing a chaos in comprehension? I've never noticed it!

    I did not mean to demean the, well, other centres of the English language, but I do think that when a foreign student "learns English" he does not usually pick the Irish or the Scottish variety (and I was being kind with Australia, too). ;)

    More importantly, though, the links posted previously in this thread conflict with your quote from the Oxford Companion to the English Language. Which is right?... :confused:
  24. jokker Senior Member

    I see. Because you don't pronunce the 'h'.:)

    Yes, they are truly different. lol

    But now I am getting understood the difference (or, no difference) between them.:)
  25. jokker Senior Member

    Many thanks to all of you! Indeed! Without your inputs, discussions and explanations, I won't be able to learn this distinction of the pronunciation.:)

    All I hope is that others can understand what I am talking when speaking English. :p Though 'whales' and 'wales' cuould be confusing sometimes, it can be settled anyway.;) 'Wales?' 'No, Whales.':D
  26. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Thank you, Outsider, for taking my comments as they were meant.

    I'm feeling a little marginalised today: having been pigeon-holed into the older generation in another thread I now find myself one of the last defenders of /hw/. Not to mention having been called archaic by Blackleaf earlier in this thread.

    I hadn't realised that this feature had become so dominant around the world. How very curious, although in keeping with the other mergers listed in Wiki.

    I guess there is nothing for it but to concede that /w/ has almost completely wiped out /hw/. Can I appeal to the WWF on grounds of being an endangered species?
  27. jokker Senior Member

    You forgot me!! I am with you.:) And river, too!!!;)
    But it's a good thing. You see, we can speak and understand both of the pronunciations!:) Thus, our confuse will be less.:D
  28. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I wouldn't put it that way, either. Ireland plus Scotland plus a good chunk of the U.S. and Canada -- that's a lot of people, and we don't know how long you will keep making the distinction between the two sounds. It could be for a very long time.

    But, anyway, for a lazy foreigner, it's always easier not to make a distinction than to make it. ;)
  29. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Indeed I didn't forget you, jokker, nor river either:)
    Of course if you could arrange for your compatriots to come along with the /hw/ pronunciation - we could outnumber the rest of them in no time.

    As a matter of interest, would the /hw/ -> /w/ merger apply to singers in the parts of the world where /hw/ has vanished? (I mean proper singers, the kind that enunciate words clearly.) Voice coaches are especially fussy about clear articulation and often require singers to over-articulate in order to communicate effectively at a distance.
  30. Gordonedi

    Gordonedi Senior Member

    UK (Scotland) English
    In some parts of the UK, the w of /wh/ is being dropped. I well recall a visit to the Tower of London when the guard enacting the scene called out "Halt ! Hoo goes there ?" :)
  31. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Now you're jesting. ;)
    But it is interesting how "who" is spelled with a silent "w". I wonder why.
  32. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I've become contaminated by this thread:eek:
    Every wh- word has to be looked at twice before I can be sure if it is a /w/, a /hw/ or an /h/ word.

    The same Oxford Companion... says:
    That's not a great deal of help, although it does suggest that these are the only wh- words pronounced /h/.

    I haven't been able to find any reason for some wh- words (all of which seem to have been originally hw- words) now being /w/ while some are /h/.
  33. mgarizona

    mgarizona Senior Member

    Phoenix, AZ
    US - American English
    Just a thought ... I've noticed that /hw/ is very hard to pronounce following the word 'the' ... and that for myself I pronounce 'hweels and deals' but 'the weels go round' ... I wonder if many people actually mix up the two pronunciations.
  34. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Hwat a good ear you have! Now you've got me monitoring myself and wondering. I'm a pretty inveterate /wh/ pronouncer, it's the one part of my childhood Southern accent that never went away. Or awry. But I'm sure I screw up whonce in a wile.

    I've noticed cases of overcorretion, mostly in movie dialogue spoken by actors trying to come off more dignified or elegant than they are in out-of-role life.

    Whorf, for example, the "assimilated" Klingon who's on the crew of the Enterprise in the "Next Generation" version of Star Trek-- he talks about "wheppons" so emphatically that I wonder if that particular word will pick up an anomalous pronunciation among people who were raised on TV and watched the program faithfully.
  35. moodywop Banned

    Southern Italy
    Italian - Italy

    I've been able to dig up some information in some old university textbooks(Gimson's An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English and Strang's A History of English):

    [hw] finally merges with /w/ in educated southern speech in the late 18th century, although still deplored by normative elocutionists; /w/ occurs for [hw] much earlier - probably in Middle English - however, in popular speech. The reduction of [hw] to /w/ is parallel to that of [hr, hn, hl] to /r, n, l/.
    In the case of who, whom, whose, it is the [w] element which has been lost (probably by the Early Modern English period) due to a merging of the [w] with the following, similar, /u:/. (Gimson)

    The contrast of /w/ and /hw/ has characterized northern speech at all periods, but has largely been absent from southern English since the Norman Conquest. Yet English spelling enshrines the memory of it , and so great is the authority of the written form that it has to some extent been re-introduced, especially in careful and public styles of enunciation. (Strang)

    Interestingly, both Gimson and Strang say that rather than [hw], what most Irish, Scottish and American speakers produce is a variant (whose phonetic symbol is an upside-down w) which they describe as a "fortis voiceless labio-velar fricative".
  36. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I've just found another wh- that I pronounce /h/ like who whom and whose - whole.
  37. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Funny-- the first example that came to my mind was whore. Whole was the only other.
  38. Celador

    Celador Senior Member

    English / Scotland
    Most English speaking Scots also distinguish between 'w' and 'wh', even when using Scots words, such as 'whit' for 'what'. Doric speaking Aberdonian's however, substitute an 'f' for 'wh', eg.:
    • fit = what
    • where = fur
    • when = fan
  39. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Hello there,

    I know the 'h' should generally be sounded in words like who, what, which (I think it's called an "aspired h", and I've always wondered why, by the way : I'd rather call it a "blown h".....but that's another issue :)).

    However, they do not seem to be equally sounded. The aspired 'h' sounds stronger to me in who than in what or which.
    Second, it seems to depend a lot on how fast you speak and also maybe where you come from (?).

    Until fairly recently, I made an exception for why, where and when in which I thought the 'h' was hardly ever aspired.

    But then, I listened to Terry Jacks singing Seasons in the Sun and he obviously aspires the "h" in the word "everywhere".
    Pretty girls are everywhere
    Little children everywhere

    Whereas other singers singing the same song don't.
    I wondered whether it was because he's Canadian.

    Could you help me sort out the whole thing?
    Are there some reasons (geographical or otherwise) why the 'h' in 'wh-words' should be more or less aspired or not aspired at all?


  40. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I pronounce an 'h' in 'who'.
    I do not pronounce an 'h' in 'what', 'which', 'where' or 'when', but in Scotland and Ireland it appears to be normal to pronounce an 'h' in some or all of these words.
  41. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    English / England
    Hi - basically I wouldn't worry about it! I think you are right to say is varies accordingot the tempo of speech and maybe geographical accent issues. I'd add into that the issue of relative formality too.

    (that, and songs are not really indicative of speech patterns!)

    If I speak quicky I am more likely to say 'oo "wot" "witch" and for the first three you mention, but I would avoid that in a more formal situation and articulate more clearly generally. On the other hand I'd feel a bit silly aspirating an H in a situation where I was asking my mate to repeat herself by saying "wot?".
  42. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Thanks, sound shift. Yes, according to what I've heard, yours seems to be the standard BE pronunciation.

    By the way, I've just heard the same song sung by the Mammas and the Papas and they also aspire the 'h' in everywhere.

    EDIT : Thanks to you too, suzi br.

    If you've heard the song sung by Jacks, (there are lots of videos on the Internet), did it sound unusual to you as it did to me?
  43. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
  44. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Thanks very much Outsider, I found all I needed in the mentionned thread.
    Sorry. I did try to make a search but it seems I entered the wrong words.
  45. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    Hello, :)

    How do you pronounce which and witch, please? I’d like to find out if there are any people who can discern any difference between the two. If so could you please tell the (detailed* if possible) origin of your variant of English as well?

    Many thanks,

    *i.e. the variant of English you use and area where your dialect is used
  46. Hockey13

    Hockey13 Senior Member

    Irvine, California
    There is no difference in the vast majority of dialects. Hence the joke behind comments/tongue twisters like:

    Which witch is which?

    Whenever the weather is cold, whenever the weather is hot, we'll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.

    I believe it's a southern midwest (i.e. Texas, Oklahoma) normality to add a breathiness to the W in "wh-" words. This can be heard in the TV series "King of the Hill," especially when the main character uses the phrase, "I'll tell you what.." I'll find you the article if you give me a few moments..

    Edit: Here you go. It's called the "wine-whine merger" that has not occurred in a large portion of dialects in English. Wikipedia states that: "The merger is essentially complete in England, Wales, the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and is widespread in the United States and Canada." However, in a lot of southern American dialects, the merger is also not complete. The sound is something like adding an "H" in front of the "W." However, if I were you, I wouldn't worry so much about it because, as is evidenced by a lot of dialects, context makes it clear which (not witch!) you're talking about.
  47. Anais Ninn

    Anais Ninn Senior Member

    London, UK
    Which can be pronouced 'wich (i.e. like witch), or ' hwich. Both are correct.

  48. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I am from central England and I pronounce "which" and "witch" identically, without an "H"-sound.

    I am not sure about this, but I believe the Scots and the Irish make a distinction.
  49. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    Thank you for your contribution. :)
    It's not much about the difference since I posed my question purely out of curiosity where people use voiceless labiovelar fricative (in spelling wh) istead of its voiced equivalent. I also know it exists in many parts of Englsih-speaking countries and tried to find out exactly where. Do you make a difference?
  50. Hockey13

    Hockey13 Senior Member

    Irvine, California
    I do not...I come from the New York City area originally! Also the people where I live now do not make the distinction.

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