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I hear many native speakers do not pronounce the first h in Nehemiah. However, I also found a video pronouncing this h. I am wondering about the correct pronunciation of Nehemiah in English.

  1. This word is transliterated from the Hebrew word נְחֶמְיָה‎. If we try to pronounce it in the Hebrew way, the first h should not be silent.
  2. I am not sure if there is a phonic rule regarding silent h's in English which is applicable here.

So, my question is: should the first h in Nehemiah be silent? If so, why?

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    One might ask equally about why the I in Nehemiah isn't pronounced like EE, as it is in Hebrew. Dec 6, 2021 at 17:28
  • @JohnLawler, exactly. Do you have an answer to your own question?
    – Zuriel
    Dec 6, 2021 at 18:06
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    The person speaking in the youtube video is not a native English speaker, and his pronunciation should be taken with a grain of salt. As a native speaker of American English, I have rarely if ever heard the first 'h' pronounced.
    – LarsH
    Dec 6, 2021 at 18:45
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    @Zuriel The answer to both questions is that English spelling doesn't represent English pronunciation, so all letters are silent. Dec 6, 2021 at 21:23

1 Answer 1

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In English, an "h" before an unaccented syllable in the middle of a word is often silent. This means that lots of English speakers are not going to pronounce the firat /h/ in Nehemiah (some will).

For example, Lexico dictionary says that it's pronounced in inhibit but that it can be silent in inhibition. This is because the stress shifts from the second syllable to the third one. Similarly, Lexico says it's silent in vehicle, but pronounced in vehicular, because the stress shifts from the first to the second syllable.

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    Same thing happens with Rehoboam in English. Many Biblical names from Hebrew containing h in transliteration are pronounced without /h/ in English due to the stress pattern.
    – tchrist
    Dec 6, 2021 at 4:13
  • I'm wondering if there are regional variations. I can't see any differences in dictionaries, but "vehicular" with an /h/ sounds more American than British. Maybe some people pronounce the /h/ more strongly.
    – Stuart F
    Dec 6, 2021 at 12:03
  • And of course that's also the reason for an historic occasion with the article an. The initial /h/ in historical doesn't precede a stressed vowel, and so is often silent, leaving the word to start with a vowel that requires an. Dec 6, 2021 at 17:26
  • And as @Yosef pointed out, the name has been Anglicized. More than that, it has come into (modern) English through centuries of usage in other languages, such as Latin.
    – LarsH
    Dec 6, 2021 at 18:41
  • @LarsH: I believe most biblical names were transliterated directly from the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek of the Old and New Testaments by the translators of the King James Bible. The more common names (like John, Mary, Paul) have indeed been anglicized through centuries of usage as actual names. Dec 6, 2021 at 19:51

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