|It occurred to me after yesterday’s post that h is an awfully sociable letter. It seems to be used in very many different languages to form digraphs for various purposes. So here is a trawl through some of the digraphs involving h in some of the languages I know something about, and a few that I have just found out about.
The question remains, however, as to exactly why h has been chosen to do so many different orthographic tasks. Any hypotheses will be gratefully received.
In the following table I have listed all the h-digraphs I could think of and given some examples of languages which use them. The list of languages is not meant to be exhaustive and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if there are some digraphs I have missed.
|ch||English, French, German, Italian, Irish, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Welsh|
|dh||Albanian, Cornish, Irish|
|gh||Cornish, English, Irish|
|lh||Portuguese, former Welsh|
|nh||Portuguese, Vietnamese, Welsh|
|ph||English, French, German, Irish, Vietnamese, Welsh|
|rh||English, French, Welsh|
|sh||Albanian, English, Irish|
|th||Albanian, English, French, German, Irish, Welsh|
The above doesn’t deal with digraphs where h comes first, but there are quite a few of these: hl hr hw in Old English, hl in Zulu and whole bunch in Icelandic.
Now for a brief look at some of the functions of h in digraphs.
- To indicate palatal sounds as in Portuguese lh nh
- To indicate a voiceless (and fricative) variety of a sound as in Welsh rh or Zulu hl
- To represent fricatives as in English sh th or Albanian dh or German ch or Vietnamese kh
- To represent affricate sounds as in English or Spanish ch
- To represent palato-alveolar sounds as in Albanian xh zh or Breton zh
- As a diacritic grapheme to protect a consonant from the usual effects of a following vowel as in Italian ch and gh
Why h? That’s what I wanna know!