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This is more of an English accent particularity. I noticed in the way young persons are speaking these days, a thing that I find really annoying, a bit like the frying.

The intrusive /h/ in lots of words when they want to be really persuasive like:

  • time become t/hhh/ime
  • a person becomes p/hhh/erson
  • and vaccation becomes vacc/hhh/action

I actually put three h because this h sounds sometimes very long.

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    Intrusive C's in vaccation too...
    – jlliagre
    Nov 22, 2020 at 12:53
  • Julien, do you have a youtube link for when someone says this? I don't think I've heard what you're talking about, but maybe I'm being unconcious (but I'm an American English speaker). Also, does the phenomenon seem connected with a particular kind of person - posh vs lower class, regional, male vs female, social situation?
    – Mitch
    Nov 23, 2020 at 0:25

1 Answer 1

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Good question. The phenomenon you're referring to is called aspiration. As you can read in that Wikipedia article, this is when a consonant is followed by a burst of outward breath. (Despite the name, this is not connected to the French « h aspiré ».)

In some languages, aspiration distinguishes two consonants. For example, when we write Sanskrit dharma, it's distinguished from darma, which would be a different word.

However, as with any sound, some languages use aspiration for allophones instead of phonemes. That means it's done automatically in certain contexts, without the speaker even being aware. That's the case in English. Three consonants are aspirated: /p t k/. They are aspirated when they come at the start of a syllable, and the effect is stronger when they're not in a cluster.

English speakers are not aware that they do this. You can sometimes convince them if you have them put their hand at the right distance from their mouth, and then have them say po, to, ko compared with lo, no, ro. They will feel a puff of air on their hand for the first three and not for the last three. This is the beginning of training an English speaker not to aspirate the same consonants when speaking French. I speak from experience...

Meanwhile, to Francophones, the aspiration remains very noticeable since it's not allophonic in French. Your ear is good: it sounds as though there's a burst of air, much like /h/, and it sounds like the rest of the word is delayed by a few milliseconds. Now you know why, but you'll have to live with it as long as you listen to Anglophones. :)

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  • "English speakers are not aware that they do this." They are if they're good actors: youtube.com/watch?v=0ISJS4gSBh0 . Nov 23, 2020 at 4:50
  • Thank you for your answer! I understand it's obvious that with a "plosive" (sorry french word) it has an expulsion of air that can make an "h" sound that's inconscient (if not needed) to the good prononciation. In some case it can be very exaggerated I guess the best example would be the word "her" and "person" It sometimes sounds like p"her"son which sounds unnatural for me. Is it linked to a specific accent or region? I have the feeling of an over trying to be persuasive like many lame youtuber's video trying to explain you something you really don't care about 😄
    – Julien
    Nov 23, 2020 at 5:53
  • @Julien On dit "plosive" en anglais aussi :) Non, c'est pas lié à un accent particulier, c'est qqch d'universel. Cela dit, il se peut qu'en Inde par exemple, où on parle anglais depuis si longtemps que c'est la langue maternelle de beaucoup sans que leur accent soit considéré comme un accent natif chez tous les anglophones, là j'imagine qu'il y a des différences. Mais partout dans les E-U, le Canada, le Royaume uni, l'Australia, on fait cette aspiration sur les plosives. Nov 23, 2020 at 22:25
  • "Langue maternelle de beaucoup", tu veux certainement dire deuxième langue car seuls 0.02% des Indiens ont l'anglais comme langue maternelle. Même sur 1.4 milliard d'habitants, ça ne fait pas énormément de monde :-) Voir @tchrist
    – jlliagre
    Jul 1, 2023 at 21:30
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    @jlliagre Ah, c'est vrai Jul 2, 2023 at 0:52

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