From the Dictionar o the Scots Leid:
Quha, Quhay, interrog. and rel. pron. Also: qwha, qha, qua, qwa, wha, vha, hua; qhaa; quhaw; quhai qwhay, whay, quay; quhae, whae; quhe, quhey, qwhey.
[North. ME qua (Cursor M.), wha (Rolle), mid. and south. hwo (c 1200) etc. (see Quho), early ME wha (Orm), hwa (c 1230), wa (12th c.), OE hwá nom. personal interrog. pron. sing. or pl. cf. Quho.] Who.
There are other such spellings: “quhat” for “what”, “quham” for “whom”, “quhamto” for “to whom”. I’ve been trying to find some explanation for that on the web but with little success.
One thing I found is what follows. I do believe I’m not infringing any copyrights by the looks of the text. I don’t know who wrote it and when though. I took it from here. My notes are italicized.
8. To clere this point, and alsoe to reform an errour bred in the south, and now usurped be our ignorant printeres, I wil tel quhat befel my self quhen I was in the south with a special gud frende of myne. Ther rease, upon sum accident, quhither quho, quhen, quhat, etc., sould be symbolized with q or w, a hoat disputation betuene him and me. After manie conflictes (for we ofte encountered), we met be chance, in the citie of Baeth, with a Doctour of divinitie of both our acquentance. He invited us to denner. At table my antagonist, to bring the question on foot amangs his awn condisciples, began that I was becum an heretik, and the doctour spering how, ansuered that I denyed quho to be spelled with a w, but with qu. Be quhat reason? quod the Doctour. Here, I beginning to lay my grundes of labial, dental, and guttural [velar?] soundes and symboles, he snapped me on this hand and he on that, that the doctour had mikle a doe to win me room for a syllogisme. Then (said I) a labial letter can not symboliz a guttural syllab. But w is a labial letter, quho a guttural sound. And therfoer w can not symboliz quho, nor noe syllab of that nature. Here the doctour staying them again (for al barked at ones), the proposition, said he, I understand; the assumption is Scottish, and the conclusion false. Quherat al laughed, as if I had bene dryven from al replye, and I fretted to see a frivolouse jest goe for a solid ansuer. My proposition is grounded on the 7 sectio of this same cap., quhilk [whilk=which] noe man, I trow [believe], can denye that ever suked the paepes [I have no idea quhat “suked the paepes” might mean.] of reason. And soe the question must rest on the assumption quhither w be a labial letter and quho a guttural syllab. As for w, let the exemples of wil, wel, wyne, juge quhilk are sounded befoer the voual with a mint of the lippes, as is said the same cap., sect. 5. [I don't understand this sentence.] As for quho, besydes that it differres from quo onelie be aspiration, and that w, being noe perfect consonant, can not be aspirated, I appele to al judiciouse eares, to quhilk Cicero attributed mikle, quhither the aspiration in quho be not ex imo [what does ex imo mean?] gutture, and therfoer not labial.
That does seem to give some insight so I would like to divide my question in two parts now. The first part will be about the interpretation of the above, and the second part will be about the spellings in general.
I understand that the text is about a discussion between the author on one side and two other people (his friend and the Doctour of divinitie) on the other side. The discussion was about the spelling of the words which have “wh” in them in standard Present-day English. The author said that these words should be spelled with “quh” instead of “wh”. The friend and the Doctour disagreed. The author said that the reason for his conviction that the “quh” spellings are right is that the sound in these word is guttural, which I understand means velar, and not labial.
What was the sound the author used in this word? Was it [ʍ]? He said the sound was velar, and clearly said it wasn’t labial. Could it mean that he produced a sound that wasn’t labialized? I have never heard of such a realization of this phoneme in any historical dialect of English, but I know very little about these things and it's perfectly possible that it existed from my point of view.
The author seems to have been Scottish. First, he advocates the spellings I have only encountered in Scottish texts, and second, according to the Doctour, he made a “Scottish assumption” about the sound. I think it could mean that the Doctour was English (did he live in Bath?) and used the delabialized allophone. I don’t know when the split occurred, or when the text was written, so I can’t judge whether it’s possible.
He says, “As for quho, besydes that it differres from quo onelie be aspiration, and that w, being noe perfect consonant, can not be aspirated, I appele to al judiciouse eares, to quhilk Cicero attributed mikle, quhither the aspiration in quho be not ex imo gutture, and therfoer not labial.”
I understand the “quo” he’s talking about is the Latin word. I think that this might be a clue that the spellings were a Latin influence, which I thought anyway when I first encountered one. But his explanation of the phonetics is puzzling to me. He says that “quho” and “quo” differ only in aspiration. I will not try to give my guesses about that here because it would make this post even longer than it is. I’ll just ask what he could have meant by that. I know of course that he surely knew less about phonetics than we do now and that he didn’t have our standardized terminology, but he must have meant something, mustn't he? And again, how did he pronounce “quho”?
So what were those spellings about? What were their origins? When did they die out? Were they only used in Scotland or in England as well? Why?
Here's another, seemingly related spelling:
WHEEN, n.2 I.Sc. form of Eng. queen (Sh. 1825 Jam.; I.Sc. 1866 Edm. Gl.; Sh. 1916 J. Burgess Rasmie’s Smaa Murr (Maerch 20); I.Sc. 1974). See P.L.D. § 165 and W, letter, 7. (2) (ii). [ʍin]
This confuses me even more. Was it some kind of hypercorrectness introduced by those who, like the Doctour, didn’t like the spellings with the “q”? It seems rather inconsistent though, as it is not “quheen”, but “queen”.