2

I travel a bit, and have noticed that people from the US pronounce "herb" without the aspirated "h" at the beginning, while seemingly everyone else pronounces the "h".

Interestingly, this answer points at a 1911 UK pronunciation without the "h", so perhaps the UK pronunciation changed after that time.

How did it happen historically that the US now has a different pronunciation from the rest of the world?

2
  • 2
    I expect that most people in the UK were pronouncing the /h/ in herb well before 1911, and the 1911 instance of an herb was written by one of the last holdouts using the older pronunciation. See Ngram. Jun 20, 2020 at 12:42
  • 1
    I assume that you are referring to UK speakers of Recieved Pronunciation or RP. Very large numbers of English people particularly with regional accents drop the initial 'h' off most words spelt with one in normal speech. I suspect that, if 'herb' used to be pronounced without the 'h' (possibly becasue it is derived from French), the aspinated 'h' was adopted because people thought it was 'common' to drop it.
    – BoldBen
    Jun 20, 2020 at 12:45

1 Answer 1

2

The difference between AmE and BrE pronunciation of herb is probably due to the American tendency to retain the original pronunciation or foreign terms (in this case a French one) vs the BrE tendency to pronounce them according to the English spelling-pronunciation rules, according to the following extract.

You say ‘erb (using the silent French ‘h’), I say herb (the way it’s spelt). Here’s a good example of the difference between the American pronunciation (usually referred to as General American, or GA) and the Received Pronunciation (British English, RP) of foreign loan words — ie. words that have been adopted into standard English from other languages, many from centuries ago. Many will argue that RP has tended more to assimilate these words and pronounce them according to English spelling-pronunciation rules rather than to the way the original word sounds.

(www.glossophilia.org)

1
  • 1
    The word herb came into English at the same time as hour, heir, and honest. By the time people started adding the /h/, it was a throughly English word with not a soupçon of the French on it. Jun 20, 2020 at 13:08

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.