views updated

WH-SOUND. In phonetic terms, the voiceless counterpart of /w/. The distinction between /hw/ and /w/ in such pairs as whales/Wales and which/witch was once universal in English and is currently a matter of controversy and sometimes confusion. In Old English, h could precede l, n, r, w as in hlāf loaf, hnecca neck, hwa who, and was pronounced in each case. Only the /hw/ now survives, normal in IrE and ScoE, wide-spread in AmE and CanE, and common among older speakers of RP. The Old English written sequence hw was reversed to wh in the Middle Ages to align it with the other h-patterns (ph, th, ch, sh). In the process, an anomalous w was added in such words as whole (Old English hāl), whore (Old English hṓre), while whelk (Old English weoloc) acquired a superfluous h. In Older Scots and formerly in Northern English, the /hw/ sound was distinctively represented as quh: quhat what, quhilk which. In who, whom, whose, w rather than h has fallen silent. The presence of wh can cause spelling difficulties for speakers who do not distinguish /hw/ and /w/: *wen for when, *wheather for weather, *whent for went. Some speakers in England use /hw/ as a self-consciously ‘correct’ pronunciation in which over-compensation produces, for example, *the Prince of Whales. See DIALECT IN SCOTLAND, W.