1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/H

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H The eighth symbol in the Phoenician alphabet, as in its descendants, has altered less in the course of ages than most alphabetic symbols. From the beginning of Phoenician records it has consisted of two uprights connected by transverse bars, at first either two or three in number. The uprights are rarely perpendicular and the cross bars are not so precisely arranged as they are in early Greek and Latin inscriptions. In these the symbol takes the form of two rectangles EtruscanH-01.svg out of which the ordinary H develops by the omission of the cross bars at top and bottom. It is very exceptional for this letter to have more than three cross bars, though as many as five are occasionally found in N.W. Greece. Within the same inscription the appearance of the letter often varies considerably as regards the space between and the length of the uprights. When only one bar is found it regularly crosses the uprights about the middle. In a few cases the rectangle is closed at top and bottom but has no middle cross bar ▯. The Phoenician name for the letter was Heth (Hēt). According to Semitic scholars it had two values, (1) a glottal spirant, a very strong h, (2) an unvoiced velar spirant like the German ch in ach. The Greeks borrowed it with the value of the ordinary aspirate and with the name ἧτα. Very early in their history, however, most of the Greeks of Asia Minor lost the aspirate altogether, and having then no further use for the symbol with this value they adopted it to represent the long e-sound, which was not originally distinguished by a different symbol from the short sound (see E). With this value its name has always been ἧτα in Greek. The alphabet of the Asiatic Greeks was gradually adopted elsewhere. In official documents at Athens H represented the rough breathing or aspirate ‘ till 403 B.C.; henceforth it was used for η. The Western Greeks, however, from whom the Romans obtained their alphabet, retained their aspirate longer than those of Asia Minor, and hence the symbol came to the Romans with the value not of a long vowel but of the aspirate, which it still preserves. The Greek aspirate was itself the first or left-hand half of this letter ├, while the smooth breathing ’ was the right-hand portion ┤. At Tarentum ├ is found for H in inscriptions. The Roman aspirate was, however, a very slight sound which in some words where it was etymologically correct disappeared at an early date. Thus the cognate words of kindred languages show that the Lat. anser “goose” ought to begin with h, but nowhere is it so found. In none of the Romance languages is there any trace of initial or medial h, which shows that vulgar Latin had ceased to have the aspirate by 240 B.C. The Roman grammarians were guided to its presence by the Sabine forms where f occurred; as the Sabines said fasena (sand), it was recognised that the Roman form ought to be harena, and so for haedus (goat), hordeum (barley), &c. Between vowels h was lost very early, for ne-hemo (no man) is throughout the literature nēmo, bi-himus (two winters old) bīmus. In the Ciceronian age greater attention was paid to reproducing the Greek aspirates in borrowed words, and this led to absurd mistakes in Latin words, mistakes which were satirized by Catullus in his epigram (84) upon Arrius, who said chommoda for commoda and hinsidias for insidias. In Umbrian h was often lost, and also used without etymological value to mark length, as in comohota (= Lat. commota), a practice to which there are some doubtful parallels in Latin.

In English the history of h is very similar to that in Latin. While the parts above the glottis are in position to produce a vowel, an aspirate is produced without vibration of the vocal chords, sometimes, like the pronunciation of Arrius, with considerable effort as a reaction against the tendency to “drop the h’s.” Though h survives in Scotland, Ireland and America as well as in the speech of cultivated persons, the sound in most of the vulgar dialects is entirely lost. Where it is not ordinarily lost, it disappears in unaccented syllables, as “Give it ’im” and the like. Where it is lost, conscious attempts to restore it on the part of uneducated speakers lead to absurd misplacements of h and to its restoration in Romance words when it never was pronounced, as humble (now recognized as standard English), humour and even honour.  (P. Gi.)