5

This question is prompted by another question on Stack Exchange regarding the addition of a last letter for no apparent reason during transliteration from Aramaic to Greek :

We have the Aramaic given (חקל דמא haqel d'ma, field of blood) (Acts 1:18–19)—but again, with an otherwise inexplicable χ attached to the end: Ἁκελδαμάχ.

It made me wonder if an additional letter is being added during transliteration which might be regarded as a 'breathing' requirement for pronunciation.

And I therefore considered English as to whether we have 'breathing' letters at the end of words.

My question on BH is therefore :

Is the 'h' at the end of 'cheetah' merely there to indicate that the 'a' should be sounded as /ə/ rather than /eɪ/ ?

  • 1
    Yes @Jim It is pronounced more like /ə/ as in an unstressed syllable., than /æ/ as in "bat". The other phoneme /eɪ/ is the "a" in "make". – Cascabel Apr 23 at 17:23
  • 1
    Here are some words ending in -ah but many are loan words, so the h make have some connection with the pronunciation in the original language — which may not have used the Latin alphabet. – Weather Vane Apr 23 at 17:31
  • 1
    @WeatherVane We're trying to make some sort of theory about the '-ah' in 'cheetah', so we have to look at words with the same context. Lots of country names end in '-ia', also lots of spanish borrowings end in '-a'. So maybe it is something about hindi transcription. I'm leaning towards "It was just how that one guy spelled it". There's 'sutra', 'sofa', 'Vanita'... oh wait! 'purdah' has an '-ah'. 'Loofah'? – Mitch Apr 23 at 17:43
  • 1
    @Mitch I thought your comment said -ia not -ta. Perhaps the pronunciation of verandah in Hindi has a long a hence someone anglicised it with an h to indicate that. I think Cascabel has the idea. – Weather Vane Apr 23 at 18:00
  • 1
    Reminds me of an attempt at a limerick by Anthony Burgess..."There was an old man from Anglia, who had an entangled ganglia..." Except that was as far as he could go, because there aren't many words ending in "gliah". @Mitch – Cascabel Apr 23 at 19:07
3

Way too long for a comment, but perhaps useful...


[T]here are languages, such as Arabic, Malay, and Urdu, where /h/ can occur at the end of syllables, e.g., Malay basah /basah/ "wet". Notice that, in analysing syllable structure, we are talking about sounds (phonemes); the spelling is irrelevant. Thus, while many English words end in an h letter, this letter never represents an /h/ sound. It may be silent as in messiah, cheetah, or [...]

From: The Handbook of English Pronunciation by Marnie Reed and John M. Levis

Note that bahasa Indonesia has citah for cheetah.

Messiah is interesting:

The modern English form represents an attempt to make the word look more Hebrew, and dates from the Geneva Bible (1560).

From: Online Etymology Dictionary

As can be seen at TheFreeDictionary.com, many, if not a clear majority of, English words ending in ah seem to originate from the Middle East or the Indian subcontinent or even further east. However, many more English words end in a. It seems that only words from those regions are likely to be transliterated to end in ah.

According to The Gem Set in Gold: Dhamma Chanting, English translation with Pāli & Hindi by S. N. Goenka:

is an aspiration following the vowel, e.g., aḥ is like 'uh'. [Hindi only, not Pāli. And the is also a vowel.]


So, here's a theory: It started with the spelling Messiah and then (English-speaking) people just started using that spelling for all kinds of words (with such aspirations, locally) from those regions.

If this would be true, it would be a nice connection to OP's other interest.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.