Center for the Study of Language and Society (CSLS)

Center for the Study of Language and Society

The present as a broken window on the past: Investigating /h/ insertion in English, 1050-1950

Dienstag, 14.11.2017, 18:15 Uhr

Prof. Dr. Daniel Schreier

Das Forum Language and Society ist eine Reihe von Gastvorträgen zu Themen der Soziolinguistik. Doktorierende der GSH können sich die Teilnahme als Zuhörende mit 0,25 ECTS pro Vortrag anrechnen lassen.

Veranstaltende: Forum Language and Society
Redner, Rednerin: Prof. Dr. Daniel Schreier
Datum: 14.11.2017
Uhrzeit: 18:15 - 19:45 Uhr
Ort: F-121
Lerchenweg 36
3012 Bern
Merkmale: Öffentlich

The insertion of /h/ before syllables beginning with (stressed) vowels, e.g. h+engine,  h+apple, etc., is well known, yet not systematically studied to date.  The feature is reported historically and commonly reported. Milroy (1992) has shown that the Norfolk Gilds (late 14th century) or the Paston Letters (late 15th century) exhibit variable use of <h> spellings, namely both absence (in <alpenie> ‘halfpenny’) and un-etymological insertion (in <hoke lewes> ‘oak leaves’), it is frequently used as a stylistic device in Charles Dickens’ renderings of Working Class London English (“gas microscopes with hextra power”, in the Pickwick Papers), and historical corpora (such as the Linguistic Atlas of Early and Middle English) provide evidence also. 

Notwithstanding, inserted /h/ has been lost from 20th century British English (only surviving in cases of occasional hypercorrection, such as in the letter <h>, pronounced /heit∫/). It has been maintained in several post-colonial English varieties around the world, so I would like to show here that these provide an ideal opportunity to quantitatively study variation and reconstruct its usage in former British varieties. I will map and discuss reports of the feature where it has survived (e.g. in Caribbean and South Atlantic Englishes), and report some first findings from a quantitative historical study, with the aim of discussing whether present-day evidence can indeed be used to further our understanding of language change in English.