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Threshold is pronounced like "thresh-hold" as noted in this question, however, what is interesting is that there is only one h in the word, and it serves two phonetic roles (being part of sh and as a regular h). This is different from words such as withhold, which have a separate h for the th and h sounds. While I suspect that this is due to a mixture of etymology (as threshold comes from the middle English "thresshold" according to Merriam-Webster) and pronunciation (the h sound in threshold is unstressed), I am not sure.

My question is: are there any similar words in English (i.e. words that have one letter serve as two phonemes)?

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  • How do you mean the h is unstressed? Consonants cannot receive stress in English (or nearly any other language in the world), so I'm guessing stress if not what you're really trying to refer to… but I can't figure out what you are trying to refer to. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 19 '14 at 20:44
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    An example of a single letter that corresponds or is ostensibly meant to represent more than one morpheme: the t in eighth (and height(h) if you're one of those who pronounce it with a final th sound). Kind of related or similar is how the i in Maria and Mariah are pronounced differently, even though it's the same name. (Edit: David and Colin got there with almost the same example while I was typing and trying to think of other examples.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 19 '14 at 20:54
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    @WS2: No, I say "eigh-teen" (the /t/ is aspirated, showing that it is in the onset). – Colin Fine May 19 '14 at 20:59
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    Looking up threshold in the OED, the second element of the word never had an /h/ until Middle English, and even then it was as often wold, fold or other possibilities. It seems to me that the /h/ arose from either folk-etymology on the second element, or the 'h' in the spelling. – Colin Fine May 19 '14 at 21:07
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    You might be looking for the concept of ambisyllabicity. – Oso May 20 '14 at 19:34
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Some Modern English spellings (15th century on) include:

threshould, thressald, threszshold, tresholde, thresholde, threshold, threskwolde, thresh-fod, thressholl, threshal, threshel, thrashel, drashel, thressholl, treshwart, threshwort, threshut and most interestingly freshwood (this last suggesting either a separate term that merged or an even more interesting possibility a folk-etymology pushing the word into a new direction).

I'm not even going to touch on the Middle English and Old English forms, beyond noting that they are even more various, and similarly its cognates in other languages are not always obvious.

It's a very old word that has had a variety of both spellings and pronunciations.

We can see in the above alone, some that seem to have no /ʃ/ at all (which in English we most often get from -sh) such as threskwolde, and some that clearly do, and likewise some that seem to have no /h/ and some that clearly do. Indeed, we've every possible permutation of whether it has /ʃ/ and /h/, /ʃ/ and no /h/, /h/ and no /ʃ/, or neither.

And it remains that /ˈθrɛʃəʊld/ (no h) is listed along with /ˈθrɛʃhəʊld/ as the pronunciation in the OED, with Mirriam Websters giving both too in their way of offering pronuncation guides ("\ˈthresh-ˌhōld, ˈthre-ˌshōld\") and so on.

And there we have it, the word is still found in two pronunciations, one of which matches the single-H spelling perfectly and one that doesn't, and both those pronunciations and the sole spelling that remains in contemporary Modern English come from a much greater variety earlier in the Modern period, which stems from a similar variety prior to that.

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Well, it's interesting the way you put it. Because the 'h' doesn't really take part in two letters at all. "esh" is its own letter, in the IPA and in pronunciation. Orthography and phonetics in English have little in common. But you're right, it was probably originally "thresh-old" and some people today would still pronounce it that way. So, at some point an "h" sound came in to certain group's pronunciations of "esh" before a vowel and thus "thresh-hold".

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