H-Dropping as indicator of independent social variables

A longitudinal study of former English pupils

Thesis (M.A.) 2007 85 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics


Table Of Contents








5.4. AGE

6.2. TONY
6.3. BRUCE
6.5. SUZIE



9.2. TONY
9.3. BRUCE
9.5. SUZIE







List of Figures


























Mein besonderer Dank geht an Prof. Dr. Hildegard L. C. Tristram für die Annahme meines Magisterarbeitthemas und die sehr persönliche und intensive Betreuung während der Ausarbeitungszeit trotz der sehr großen geographischen Entfernung. Ebenso gilt mein Dank meiner Zweitgutachterin Prof. Dr. Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen, denn im Rahmen eines von ihr begleiteten Seminars wurde ich auf die Up! Dokumentarserie aufmerksam gemacht und somit der Grundstein für meine Magisterarbeit gelegt. Ausserdem möchte ich mich bei Fr. Marlies Lofing und Fr. Peggy Audörsch, den Sekretärinnen aus dem Fachbereich Anglistik/Amerikanistik bedanken. Während meines gesamten Studiums haben sie durch ihre stets freundliche, hilfsbereite und kompetente Art den Weg zum Abschluss sehr erleichtert. Last but not least möchte ich mich bei Darin bedanken. Für seine Rücksicht und das Verständnis welches er mir den letzten Monaten entgegen gebracht hat, sowie für die vielfältige Unterstützung und Ermutigungen in den richtigen Augenblicken.

1. Introduction

In 1963, a group of 14 seven-year-old British children from various socio-economic backgrounds spent what seemed to be an ordinary day of enjoyment at the zoo, the playground and a dance party. These children did neither meet by chance nor did they happen to be just ‘any’ children. They were chosen, although rather arbitrarily, and brought together for a film project named Seven Up!, a documentary that would later be described as “one of the towering achievements in the history of documentary film”.1 The series was directed by Paul Almond and filmed by the camera operator Michael Apted, who later became the director of the sequels. Seven Up! was first launched by London based Granada Television as part of a programme called World in Action and broadcast on ITV, an independent British network, on May 5, 1964.2

The two objectives of Seven Up! were the attempt to represent the variety of social classes in England at the present time on the one hand and a study of the development of English culture on the other. Apted hoped to acquire “a glimpse of England in the year 2000”. The Jesuit proverb “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” was chosen as a proposition to the series as a result of the assumption that a child’s future is somewhat predestined by its affiliation with a particular social class. Apted explained in a 2005 interview that Granada Television “wanted to prove the point that the social inequalities were alive”. For that reason, Apted was assigned by Granada Television to visit “very rich schools” and “very poor schools” in London to choose children that seemed suitable for the documentary”.3

Since 1964, a new documentary was filmed every seven years, hence the production of the sequels Seven Up!, 7 Plus Seven!, 21 Up!, 28 Up!, 35 Up! and 42 Up!, in order to follow up on the lives of these children and to document their personal developments from childhood to adulthood. All chosen individuals were interviewed throughout the series and asked questions about their experiences in life, how they spend their spare time, how they perceive the world around them, which level of education they would like to attain at some point and their general future plans. The purpose of these interview questions was whether the Jesuit motto proves to be true and therefore confirms that the ideas, values and expectations of a seven-year-old child indeed condition their future.

Although the initial idea for Seven Up! was to be a single film, it developed into what The New York Times described in 2004 as the “first in a series of documentaries that make up a partial portrait of British society during the last decades, a kind of longitudinal study (…) with a small, sometimes reluctant population sample”. Due to the fact that this series was the first of its kind, it “marked the beginning of one of modern documentary filmmaking’s great experiments”.4 The plan to film a sequel appeared rather by coincidence when Denis Forman, the station manager from Granada Television, decided to follow up on the participants six years after 7 Up! was filmed. According to Apted, it was not always easy to convince the participants to be filmed every seven years and have the whole world observe their lives.5 The participants also did not receive any compensation for taking part in the first three documentaries. It was only since 28Up! that they were reimbursed for their contribution.6

Since Seven Up! was thought to be a one-time documentary, the children were not asked to sign contracts. Although the interviews had been voluntary to all of them, some children showed more willingness to collaborate than others which can be observed throughout the entire series. The participants were by no means famous individuals but ordinary people whose lives were sometimes more and other times less eventful. However, the difference between them and us was that their personal development and opinions about topics such as love, ambition and opportunity were documented and published. “Though there are divorces, revelations and changes of fortune that are unquestionably startling, the unfolding lives are not especially dramatic”.7

The fourteen children who took part in this documentary are Bruce Balden, Jackie Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Susan Davis, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Suzanne Lusk, and Tony Walker. Nonetheless, not all of them continued to participate throughout the entire documentary. After 21Up!, Charles Furneaux decided not to take part in the upcoming sequels, yet no explanation for his absence was given in the series. The same was true for Peter Davies, who did not take part in any of the documentaries after 28Up! John Brisby did not wish to participate in 28Up! because he was pleased “ with what he said in the previous films and had nothing more to add”.8 He reappeared, however, in 35Up! only because he considered it “an opportunity to draw the attention of viewers in this country to the awful problems in Bulgaria“. John, whose mother is Bulgarian and his wife Claire, daughter of a former ambassador to Bulgaria, were very actively involved in Oxfam relief efforts for Bulgaria. John decided not to take part in 42Up! and no reasons were given for his absence. Regardless of that, the six participants I chose for my study took part in all documentary films rather actively and will be introduced in the following chapter.

2. Aim of Study

The objective of my thesis is to survey the realisation of the hypothesis of the social conditioning of h-dropping in the chosen individuals. The discussion about the correlation between h-dropping and social background is not an entirely new one. A number of sociolinguists such as A. Hughes, L. Mugglestone, P. Trudgill and J. Wells studied this topic and all of them reached a similar conclusion, namely that there is a significant connection between the dropping of ‘h’ and social factors. The “use of ‘h’ in modern English has become one of the principal signals of social identity” and it serves as a “marker of social difference and a symbol of social divide” (Mugglestone: 107). Therefore, I will deliver an overview of the linguistic feature h-dropping in the initial position of words like home, have, hold and hopefully as an indicator of independent social variables. In order to produce a broad and representative picture I chose the Up! series, a longitudinal study of former English pupils, as a suitable resource for my research.

3. Methodology

The intention of the Up! series was to document England’s future from a socio-economic and cultural point of view. Nonetheless, my study is based on this series because it is a valuable documentary from a sociolinguistic perspective. Fourteen children from various social backgrounds, with different dialect variants were brought together in a documentary that was carried on for a period of over 35 years. The result is an excellent and rich source of linguistic material. It offers a large corpus of words that are subject to the h-dropping phenomenon and a great deal of information about independent social variables such as education, social class, network and gender. As the literature on h-dropping in England has shown, this phenomenon is linked to various independent social variables that can be documented by the specific data provided by the Up! series. Although the most recent film 49Up! was published on 14 November 2006, it is not included in my research as my data collection had already finished by that time.

Despite the fact that the Up! series is a rich source of linguistic material, it has, as of this writing, surprisingly been subject to only one more study besides mine, namely that of Gillian Sankoff, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. According to her, no one else studied the Up! series for linguistic research besides herself at the time of the e-mail conversation (Gillian Sankoff. “Seven Up Series.” E-mail to Katrin Hansen. 12 August 2006). Sankoff reviewed and studied the documentary in order to determine whether people are able to, and if so, actually do cause alterations “in their phonological systems in adolescence and young adulthood”. She examined two boys from the documentary, Neil and Nicholas and studied the phonological variation in their speech by means of the phonological variables ‘Broad-A’ and ‘Short-U’. The result of the research Sankoff carried out can be found in her article “Adolescents, Young Adults, and the Critical Period: Two Case Studies from ‘Seven Up’” (in Fought, Carmen 2004: 121-138).

For my research I chose six of the initially fourteen participating individuals, of whom two are female and four male. Several reasons were taken into consideration for this selection. The active participation of the children in the interviews played a significant role. This is significant, if not the most essential part because only a large amount of word samples may offer sufficient material for a representative analysis. In addition, I determined the individuals in regards to their socio-economic backgrounds, meaning their social class and on how well I believe they represented it. Furthermore, I chose both female and male children in order to represent both sexes. Unfortunately, the distribution of boys and girls is not equal as all participants from the UMC were males.

In the case of the selected individuals, the social background ranged from middleclass (MC) over upper middle class (UMC) to upper class (UC) respectively. They are Jackie and Tony who attended a comprehensive school in the east end in London, Bruce and Suzy, who attended a private boarding school in London, Nicholas who was sent to a one-room village school in the Yorkshire Dales, and Andrew, who was a pupil at a pre-preparatory school in London.

4. H- Dropping

4.1. General Definition

H-dropping, also described as ‘h-instability’ or ‘h-variable’ describes the omission of the letter ‘h’ in the stressed syllable of words like home, honey, hungry or hell. This linguistic variation is “particularly sensitive to social stratification in [its] pronunciation” (Martin Montgomery 1995: 65). John Wells shares a similar view on h-dropping. In his book Accents of English he states that it “appears to be the single most powerful pronunciation shibboleth in England” and it plays a major role in the English we speak today (1982: 253-4). H-dropping is mainly apparent in accents of the lower social classes where ‘h’ is omitted in words like hit, hammer, hedge or happy.9 They are pronounced /ıt/, / æmə/, / ed / and / æpi/ instead. Consequently, minimal pairs such as hedge and edge, heat and eat, hall and all, art and heart, and arm and harm are perfect homophones, meaning they are pronounced the same (Hughes/Trudgill 1997: 62, Wells: 253-4).

The pronunciation of ‘h’ has become “one of the principal signals of social identity” as well as a “symbol of social divide” Lynda Mugglestone adds. That is due to the fact that speakers who ‘drop’ their ‘h’ are considered to be ‘vulgar’, ‘ignorant’ and ‘lower class’, whereas the aspiration of ‘h’ serves as a marker for the ‘educated’ and ‘polite’ speaker (Mugglestone 1995: 107). The Standard English accent (StE) where ‘h’ is generally pronounced is known as Received Pronunciation (RP), meaning “generally accepted” pronunciation (Honey 1989: 7). “’Received’ here is to be understood in its nineteenth-century sense of ‘accepted in the most polite circles of society’”. (Hughes, Trudgill, Watt 2005: 2-3). RP is truly “regionless” and obtains the status of “highest British English accent”. Its speakers were either educated at the large public schools or “have acquired the accent as the result of conscious effort and training” (Trudgill 1984a: 187).10 Surprisingly enough however, even in the speech of the ‘educated’ speaker, ‘h’ is not aspired in all word positions. Mugglestone points out that words which are used on a regular basis such as her, have, him and his “often have a zero-realization of ‘h’ as a result of use in positions of week stress within the sentence”. In that case, her is pronounced / :/, have becomes /əv/, him becomes /ım/ and his becomes /ız/. Another situation where ‘h’ is not realised in RP is when there is ‘word internal stress’ as in the example phrase a historical play. The “weak stress” that lies on an, induces a silent ‘h’; hence the phrase is pronounced /ən ıs tśrıkl pleı/ instead of /ə hıs tśrıkl pleı/ (Mugglestone: 107).

H-pronunciation in English accents, besides RP, is mostly preserved in accents that are located in the north-east of England like the Newcastle accent. “The further one travels south, the less likely it will be to come upon this linguistic feature” (Hughes, Trudgill, Watt: 66). A speaker from the working class in Norwich, a city located in the south-east of England, will therefore, with great probability, drop ‘h’ in casual speech to announce ‘ Yer si ’ in ’ on me ‘ ot wa ’ er bo ’ el ’. A speaker who uses RP on the other hand would say ‘ You are sitting on my hot water bottle ’ instead (Montgomery: 65).

H-dropping is the most powerful linguistic feature in English because it has become a sign of social identity. This linguistic feature is mostly apparent in the lower social classes and is therefore highly stigmatised as a sign of a vulgar and ignorant speaker. The pronunciation of ‘h’ on the other hand, has become a marker of the speech of the educated and polite. However, even among speakers of the higher classes ‘h’ is not constantly pronounced in all positions. Is the stress on a word with ‘h’ in the initial position weak, ‘h’ is dropped. Besides in the RP accent, pronunciation of ‘h’ on a regular basis can be found among speakers of the north-east of England. While this chapter presented a definition for h-dropping, the following chapter will explain the history of this linguistic feature and its development.

4.2.The Historical Situation

The variable ‘h’ is not a new phenomenon but several centuries old. A large number of linguists assume the time after the Norman Conquest, also referred to as the Middle English period11, to be the onset of h-instability. Other linguists believe its beginning occurred as early as the end of the 6th century, during the early Old English period.12 Kent, in the south east of England, seems to be the area where h-dropping first appeared and where it may have started as a ‘feature adopted from Vulgar Latin 13 (qtd. in H.L.C Tristram, Poznań presentation, 2004). Manfred Markus shares this opinion and states that there is a possibility that the “instability of ‘h’ is likely to have started in the Old English period and [that] this tendency was reinforced by Norman influence” (qtd. in Tristram).

Roger Lass (1978) believes that the onset of h-instability is not quite as old but suggests the early 11th century to be the time period this development began (96). James Milroy sets a more specific date, as in his opinion the year 1190 marks the earliest occurrence, with the instability greatest in the areas of Lincolnshire and Norfolk in the East Midlands of England (Milroy 1992:140). In her book Talking Proper - The Rise of Accent as Social Symbol, Lynda Mugglestone, on the other hand argues that the aspiration of vowels in the initial position was already existent in Old English (1995). Yet she agrees with Lass and Milroy about the major effect of the Norman Conquest and the major impact of the French language on English as a linguistic result of that event. The invasion by itself, of course, was not solely responsible for the development of the h-variable. French loan words, introduced into ME in the course of the High Middle ages, also played a major role in this progress, as Mugglestone points out (110). Martina Häcker disagrees with this approach. In contrast to the theories discussed above, she does not believe that h-dropping developed continuously since its first occurrence. Due to the results of her research she is convinced that h-omission occurred in single waves rather than in a steady progress (Martina Häcker. “H-dropping.” E-mail to Katrin Hansen. 27 January 2007).

The language that was introduced to the Anglo-Saxons by the Normans mainly after the conquest was Norman French, thus English and Norman French merged over time and became Anglo-Norman.14 This speech was mainly h-less according to Mugglestone and “loan-words such as herb, heir, host regularly appeared in English in [h]-less (and <h>-less) forms [….] French loans regularly ‘dropped their [h]s’, and at some date, such habits seem to have been extended into native words as well, though the exact timing of this development is a matter of some dispute” (110). The influence of the h-less French phonology added to the omission of ‘h’ in writing in the initial position. Due to the language contact, ME obtained two sets of words beginning with ‘h’. There were the native OE forms with ‘h’ aspiration in words such as hearty, hide, help and happiness and the French loan words as for example honour, hour and horrible which were spelled with ‘h’ but it was not pronounced and therefore ‘dropped’. (Crystal 1997: 49). Martina Häcker, however, has a different view on that matter. She does not believe French to have been h-less in every region. According to her research ‘h’ was and still is pronounced in the Normandy today (Martina Häcker. “h-dropping”. E-mail to Katrin Hansen. 27 January 2007).

Donald Scragg has a different theory in how h-dropping came into existence. He

studied documents in Anglo-Saxon writing and found evidence for h-variation in all periods, areas and text types of this time period.15 As a result of his observations, his interest is not directed at the connection between spelling and pronunciation of ‘h’-words but focuses on the written context in which the word appears. His views stand in contrast to the ones discussed above. One of his assumptions is, for example, that ‘h’ was used as a marker to indicate the division of syllables or even a glottal stop.16 He further believes ‘h’ was placed before vowels in the initial position in the written word in order to make the word onset more distinct and noticeable. As said by Scragg, scribes possibly produced dittographies 17 which then caused h- instability. The scribes’ inexperience and possible uncertainty of the meaning of some of the words they wrote resulted in misspelled versions of the word forms, meaning ‘h’ appeared as a variation. Scragg also observed a frequent occurrence of corrections, meaning h-insertions and deletions, made by the scribes themselves or by other scribes in the following years. These insertions and deletions produced an even greater degree of h-instability (qtd. in Tristram). Yet, according to Häcker, the term h-instability is somewhat misleading. She believes it necessary to distinguish between h-insertion and h-omission as they did not experience entirely identical developments (Martina Häcker. “h-dropping.” E-mail to Katrin Hansen. 27 January 2007).

The influence of Latin spelling rules is another factor that Scragg considers to be part of the development of h-dropping. Latin, from which the Romance languages such as French descended, had lost ‘h’ in initial position which consequently became true for the French language as well. In his book A History of English Spelling, Scragg points out that “the influence of (…) Latin spelling was so strong on scribes during the Old French period that ‘h’ frequently appears in the written language where no ‘h’ was heard in speech, and a great many Romance words with unpronounced ‘h’ were borrowed into Middle English” (1974: 41). Scragg divides them into three categories. There is a small group of words such as able, ability and arbour in which ‘h’ was lost completely. Furthermore, there is a slightly larger group that consists of words such as heir, honour, honest and hour that show the grapheme ‘h’ but the phoneme ‘h’ is silent. The third group, which is the largest of the three, are words like horrible, hospital and host where “spelling as indicative of historically correct pronunciation” was accepted and reintroduced (41). These three groups illustrate that spelling and pronunciation do not always go hand in hand. Scragg points out that in the case of ‘h’, the spelling constraints were so firmly rooted “that no Old English word with initial ‘h’ (…) has lost its aspirate in the course of the history of English, despite the fact that all regional dialects of southern England lost the phoneme /h/ during the Middle English period” (41). After the Norman Conquest, h-dropping in Anglo-Norman speech began to be associated with a higher status. One could presume that this was the result of the influence of the Norman elite on the native English people. Barber states that it has been assumed that the Norman Conquest was considered “the coming of a higher civilization to the backward and barbaric Anglo-Saxons” (2000: 134). Yet, he later clarifies that the reason why “French became the language of the upper class in England [is] simply because it was the language of the conquerors, not because of a cultural superiority on their part” (135). Scragg agrees with this point and explains that “during the second half of the century the output of books in English gradually dwindled, but this was only as the monastic scriptoria adjusted themselves to the demands of the new rulers” (38).

The history of h-dropping is several centuries old. The theories discussed above, opt for the onset of this development to have occurred between the 6th century and the 12th century, in other words, in the OE period (see Markus qtd. in Tristram 2004, Lass 1978, Milroy 1992, Mugglestone 1995). The influence of the Norman French phonology, as a result of the Norman Conquest, is thought to have been the main contributor to the development of h-dropping in English. In French loan-words, both the grapheme ‘h’ and the phoneme ‘h’ were absent which then seemed to also have extended into native words (Mugglestone 1995). Other theories state that h-dropping possibly occurred as the result of dittographies, to make the word onset more distinct, as a marker to indicate the division of syllables or the influence of Latin spelling rules (Scragg 1974). With the history of h-dropping came also the beginning of the stigmatisation of this linguistic feature.

4.3.Stigmatisation in the Past and Present

“It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making another

Englishman hate or despise him.”18 In this statement from 1912, playwright George Bernard Shaw addressed the issue of accent variation and its consequences. Although there is a large amount of linguistic variation in the English language, some features are more subject to discrimination than others. We all have stereotypes of some sort when it comes to particular nationalities, age groups, occupation, gender and religion. They may influence our attention and “social perception”. When it comes to language varieties, there are always speakers who may argue that they have difficulties understanding particular dialects or accents. In fact, these opinions are “probably (…) realisations for unfavourable attitudes to low-status varieties”. Speakers of non-standard dialects may be faced with discrimination in situations of occupational matter or in social life. According to Hamilton, Gibbons, Strössner, and Sherman (1992: 197-99), the tolerance for dialect variation is “minimal”.19 John Honey, author of Does Accent Matter?, has a similar view on the subject. He believes that “accent- consciousness” is still very much “alive” in the English we use today. It is not the diversity of accents and dialects that cause a problem in the UK but “the attitudes and prejudices many people hold towards non-standard dialects” (1989: 9-10). There is not an actual solution to this problem of stigmatisation as language variation has a rather old history. Therefore, it may be “simpler to ease the problem by changing attitudes than by changing the linguistic habits of the majority of the population” (Hamilton, Gibbons, Strössner, Sherman, 197-99). What causes some pronunciation features to become prestige forms and others to be stigmatised? Montgomery’s response to this question is that it is “often presumed that certain patterns of pronunciation become preferred because they are inherently more correct and more pleasing to listen”. However, there is no linguistic evidence that supports this view. In fact, “evidence shows, there is nothing in a sound itself that can guarantee a prestige status for it. Instead it is social evaluation solely that confers prestige or stigma upon certain patterns of pronunciation”. He further points out that because of “social attitude (…) speech patterns of the dominant social group come to be regarded as the norm for the whole society” (68-9). In his book The Dialects of England (1990), Peter Trudgill states a similar opinion and adds that “all dialects, both traditional and modern, are equally grammatical correct” (13). Despite that, a standard form, also referred to as RP does exist. Mugglestone describes this accent metaphorically speaking as “a passport, securing entry not to other countries but to other social spheres” (128). What is remarkable about this accent is that it does not refer to a particular region, except in the historic sense. Furthermore, not every speaker uses this accent but it is spoken by only a small number of British speakers, namely those at the high end of the social scale (Hughes, Trudgill, Watt: 2-3). RP originated from “a dialect of English associated particularly with the region stretching south-east from the Midlands down towards London” according to Montgomery, yet including the cities Oxford and Cambridge which are known for their elite universities. He adds that the reason why RP became the “correct” accent is because of “its association with centres of power and influence” (70). The reason why this accent continues to remain a marker of “high education, income and profession, or title” is because of public schools. According to Hughes, Trudgill and Watts “it is largely through these schools, and state schools aspiring to emulate them, that the accent has been perpetuated” (3).

The questions that follow now are, when did h-dropping become stigmatised and what was the cause for it? Although numerous studies were carried out in the attempt to discover the exact time when this phenomenon arose, it is very unlikely that a definite date may be allocated to its beginning (Mugglestone 111). The general assumption is that the stigmatisation of h-dropping occurred in the second half of the 18th century. Barbara Strang regards the end of the 18th century as the beginning of the “condemnation of ‘dropping h’s’” (1970: 81). During that time, educated people pronounced ‘h’ when it appeared in stressed syllables and dropped it when it occurred in unstressed syllables. According to Strang, this is not a new development but had been practiced for many centuries. H served as an indicator for the beginning of a stressed syllable whose first letter would normally be a vowel. The result was the insertion of “unhistorical h’s’” where historically there were none. The purists strongly disapproved of this. Strang states that increasing education standards were the cause for “a new view about h ’s’ [that] comes to dominant usage, at the expense of traditional pronunciations”. According to this “new view”, words are supposed to be pronounced precisely the way they are spelled (spelling pronunciation). This view is only able to succeed “where spelling itself is highly regularised, and this regularisation reached an advanced stage after the publication of Johnson’s Dictionary in1755” (Strang: 81).

Linguistic changes are not adopted simultaneously by speakers of different socialbackgrounds. Generally they are first used by speakers of the middle class because they “have the widest stylistic repertoire (….) they are transitional in the sense that they approach the norms of social groups both above and below them” Chambers (2003: 253). Strang agrees with this statement and explains that the “new correctness” is adopted primary by speakers who form part of the middle class. The changes then find approval among speakers who belong to the aristocracy as well as by those who are on the opposite side of the social scale, thus are the least educated speakers. The reason for this diffusion is the fact that upper class speakers approach linguistic changes in a more hesitant manner as they prefer to remain traditional, unlike speakers that are part of the wider “social spectrum” (Strang: 81). Members of the lower classes on the other hand, usually do not have access to education and therefore are the last group that submits to linguistic changes (81). Montgomery supports the idea that members of the lower class do not readily adopt changes in speech because “[they] may have a strong sense of loyalty to the speech patterns of their own locality” (Montgomery 68). It was not until the second half of the 18th century that speakers and authors considered ‘h’ to be a sound of particular importance. The following quote from Christopher Cooper, author of The English Teacher, published in 1687, presents evidence. “H…hath no particular formation, neither does it make any sound of it self, but a bare aspiration …whether it ought to be call’d a letter or not…let everyone enjoy his own opinion” (qtd. in Mugglestone 112). This statement shows no sign that ‘h’ was associated with a negative connotation. Over 50 years later, in 1739, there was still no indication of it, as the quote from William Laughton, author of A Practical Grammar of the English Tongue illustrates. He finds that “tho’ it be sometimes silent, so are many other Consonants, in Particular Positions”, (qtd. in Mugglestone 112). His comment on the letter ‘h’ is still devoid of any negative connotations. It was not until the second half of the 18th century that writers started commenting on ‘h’as a result of a “renewed interest in elocution [which] forces a new awareness of the ideals of speech” (112). Thomas Sheridan, author of the 1762 A Course of Lectures on Elocution, openly voiced his frustration about the loss of the h-variable.20 The fact that he was the first to do so did not come as a surprise as he continuously tried to convince speakers to be more aware of phoneme variation, e.g. its realisation and absence. He ignored the fact that ‘h’ was dropped among the aristocracy and educated people. He went so far as to label h-dropping as an “error” and a “defect” that is “gaining ground among the politer part of the world” (qtd. in Mugglestone 113). Sheridan did not only state his opinion about the loss of ‘h’. In fact, he considered this issue to be so important that he believed it necessary to educate people and therefore gave speeches on the significance of h-pronunciation. A few decades later, by 1781, Sheridan’s views had not changed. According to him, “false and provincial accents” that drop their ‘h’ need to be “guarded against or corrected” and the standard, meaning the way people are supposed to speak, is the speech of educated speakers (114). His comments did not seem to allow any freedom to the individual speaker to decide whether to pronounce ‘h’ or whether to drop it. On the contrary, he felt so strongly about its aspiration that he suggests “the best method of curing this will be to frequently read over all words beginning with the letter H…in the dictionary, and push them out with the full force of the breath” (115). Honey explains that by the middle of the 19th century, the aspiration of ‘h’ “in the beginning of a word, had (…) become one of the vital distinctions between the educated and uneducated” (Honey 46). Thompson describes standards as “the dialects of those who dominate” (1982: 22). The author of Sounds of English, Henry Sweet, wrote in 1908 “the best speakers of StE are those whose pronunciation, and language generally, least betray their locality” (qtd. in Mugglestone 5). In her book, Mugglestone points out that the growing stigmatisation of h-dropping reached a point in the 1840’s where it became a definite marker for the less educated and lower class people. Twenty years later, this stigmatisation reached a new level. Speakers who dropped their ‘h’ had to face prejudices and grave social consequences (Mugglestone 141). These actions exemplify the attitude of public school educated RP speakers, who were convinced that they spoke with the “right” accent towards those who used a variable that became highly stigmatised. Consequently, one can assume that “people’s reactions to language varieties reveal much of their perception of the speakers and these varieties” (Edwards 20).21 In an excerpt from Thomas Batchelor’s 1865 book Our Mutual Friend the negative attitude towards h-dropping is very clearly stated. Although the character Mr. Podsnap is talking to a Frenchman who drops ‘h’ customarily as part of his native language, he is very eager to point out that where he comes from, educated people do not omit their ‘h’ as the following quote illustrates.

Ah! Of a Orse?’ inquired the foreign gentleman. ‘We call it Horse’, said Mr. Podsnap, with forbearance. ‘In England, Angleterre, England, We Aspire the ‘H’ and We Say ‘Horse’. Only our Lower Classes Say ‘Orse’!22

At the close of the 18th century, the pronunciation of the h-variable, or the “fatal letter”, as the writer of Sources of Standard English (1873), Kington-Oliphant terms it, is a definite marker for educated speakers while its omission is linked to speakers of the lower class, the “uneducated”, the “uncultured”, and the “illiterate” (qtd. in Mugglestone 108). In Chambers ’ s Encyclopaedia from 1888 more evidence is presented of the negative social association that stood in connection with h-omission as it describes the aspiration of this letter as “one of the most delicate tests of good breeding” (108). “It grates on the ear with peculiar harshness, and is utterly out of keeping with pretensions to being considered bien é lev é” is how the writers F.W.R. and Lord Charles X describe it in their book The Laws and Bye-Laws of Good Society. A Code of Modern Etiquette, published in 1867 (121). In his book A Plea for the Queen ’ s English from 1864, Henry Alford states a similar opinion. He believes that “nothing so surely stamps a man as below the mark in intelligence, self-respect, and energy, as this unfortunate [h-dropping] habit” (qtd. in Mugglestone 117).

On the basis of these statements, the negative attitude towards h-dropping is veryclearly stated. This behaviour did not only affect adult speakers but children as well. In fact, educational textbooks were written on the topic of how to “treat” h-dropping and “defective intelligence” as for example one can find in The Elementary School Manager from the year 1879.23 Mugglestone points out that children were punished if they continued to use ‘h’ despite the teachers’ attempts to eliminate this habit because dropping their ‘h’ was considered the same mistake as missing an entire word (119).

Not only in spoken language but in literature as well do we find evidence of negative social connotations in regards to h-dropping. Charles Dickens for example uses the h-variable to mark social status in his novel ‘ Great Expectations ’ from 1860. Other writers such as William Thackeray, George Eliot and Charles Reade are also known for indicating social inferiority by means of the h-variable (142). This habit did not disappear over time. On the contrary, from the time it first occurred in the middle of the 17th century to the English we use today, “the literary use of ‘h’ as social signifier” did not diminish but continued (149). Despite the negative attitudes towards h-instability, the aspiration of the letter ‘h’ was not condemned in all words. Mugglestone explains that towards the end of the 18th century “words with formerly silent ‘h’” were slowly reintroduced in words like humble and its derivatives. By the middle of the 19th century this development became the norm. Alfred Leach, author of the 1881 The Letter H, comments on this situation as well as on Dickens’ use of the h-variable. “The H of Humble has (…) been reinstated in public favour by the late Mr. Charles Dickens, whose ‘Uriah Heep’ remains a warning to evil-doers and H-droppers. It would be a boon to all speakers of English if a series of ‘Uriah’s’ could contrive to eliminate every otiose H from the language” (qtd. in Mugglestone148). By the close of the 19th century the ‘h’ in humble was fully aspired, yet was still silent in words like honour, heir, hour, honest and hotel (149).

The importance of educating and, if thought necessary, correcting speakers in their pronunciation became apparent after Hon. Harry Hawkins published his 40th edition of a “sixpenny manual” by the title of Poor Letter H in 1866, in which he addressed the aspiration of the letter ‘h’ along with its social significance. He believed that edition to be just as essential to the public as the previous volumes. His opening words in his preface put an emphasis on his opinion about h-dropping. “What! issue another edition (….) for the circulation of forty thousand have been but as drops poured into the mighty tide of human life, whereon float hundreds of thousands who don’t know an H from an A; and who (…) make the most frightful and cruel mistakes with these poor innocent sufferers” (qtd. in Mugglestone 148).

Although h-dropping and its social repercussions were a rather serious matter; there is also evidence for a humorous approach of this topic. E.A.S. Eccles, the author of Harry Hawkins ’ H Book, published in 1879, tells a story about a boy named Harry who has difficulties in pronouncing the letter ‘h’. When Harry tried to tell his aunt Hannah that his hen had laid an egg he says “Oh, aunt anna…my en as ad another hegg…I’ve put it in an at box in the en ouse” instead of ‘Oh, aunt Hanna…my hen has had another egg…I’ve put it in a hat box in the hen house’. He feels so upset about his mispronunciation that he points out to his aunt “Aunt anna, I wish I ad a book full of H’s; I would read it over and over again and again, till I got quite used to saying them.” Harry’s aunt granted him his wish and with the help of tales named ‘The Hairy Ape’ and ‘Humphrey Hobb’s Huge Hog’ he succeeded in the improvement of his aspiration, thus no longer dropped his ‘h’ (qtd. in Mugglestone 133). This less serious approach to pronouncing the h-variable finds approval among other writers as well. Leach agrees with this teaching method and says “it cannot be too warmly commended as a practical and amusing method of learning to aspirate” (135).

To summarise, stigmatisation of h-dropping is the result of a long history of “accent- consciousness” (Honey 1989). Although all dialects are grammatical correct and no linguistic verification exists for the prestige status of a sound, h-dropping has become highly stigmatised (Montgomery 1995, Trudgill 1990). The second half of the 18th century is considered to have been the onset of this development. During that time, increasing standards for education brought up new views about the phoneme ‘h’. According to these views, words had to be pronounced precisely the way they were spelled (Strang 1970). Caused by the lack of financial means, speakers of the lower social classes did not always have access to higher education, thus remained mostly unaffected by the prestigious speech of the educated speakers. Unlike members of the middle and upper classes, they continued to use h-dropping in their speech. This added to the stigmatisation of h-dropping, which consequently became a marker of low social status (Chambers 2003). By the end of the 18th century, ‘h’ was condemned as the “fatal letter” and a symbol for the “uneducated”, “uncultured” and “illiterate”. Speakers who drop their ‘h’ are considered to be of lower intelligence and their speech has to be “corrected”. Writers such as Dickens, Thackeray, Eliot and Reade used h-dropping as a signifier of differences between social classes (Mugglestone 1995). The negative connotation attached to h-dropping has continued over the centuries and is still very vivid in present day English. Although the stigmatisation of particular accent features does not have linguistic substance it is the result of personal attitudes towards accent variation. For that reason it is these negative attitudes of the speakers that need to change. This may be the first step in the direction of accepting and embracing the large variety of accents because they represent an important part of our personal identity and should be preserved rather than frowned upon and disposed of. “We are entitled to find given dialects and accents more or less pleasant; we are not entitled to draw conclusions from these perceptions alone concerning speakers’ basic skills” (Edwards 1982).To conclude, the stigmatisation of h-dropping is not an occurrence of the present but can be traced back until the second half of the 18th century. As of that time, the fact that the letter ‘h’ was dropped did not draw any attention from educated speakers or writers. The onset of the stigmatisation is believed to be the end of the 18th century. It has continued well into present day English and speakers are well aware of its negative connotation and the social attributes.

5. Independent Social Variables

5.1. Social Class and its Correlation With Education and Occupation

When speaking about social class in general terms, one is usually referring to groups of people in society that are assumed to belonging to the same economical or social level.24 From a sociological point of view, Thompson, the author of The Making of the English Working Class regards class not as a group or structure but as a process. It is not easily definable or tangible and is the result of the correlation of different factors. Shared experiences lead to similar interests and a common identity which in turn forms a class (1991). In sociolinguistics, the term ‘class’ is rather important as it plays a major role in the study of linguistic variation. “Social status is the single most important variable correlating with linguistic differences” (Wolfram 214). The lower the social class, the more there is a regional and social distinctiveness in an accent (Wells 14). Chambers describes class as “a stratification of society on the basis of occupational, educational and economic similarities”(41). The term ‘class’ does, however, not apply to societies all over the world but is restricted to those in the Western World, meaning mainly central and Western Europe as well as North America. Peoples that belong to the regions of Asia, South America and Central Africa are born into a caste system which is entirely different than a class system. “Castes are societies based on hereditary occupational groups, in which individuals automatically (…) become members of the occupational group they are born in to.” Compared to a class system, occupational or social mobility does not exist in a caste (59-60). A rather dated class distinction based on the sociology of the 1950’s in England distinguishes between ‘working class’ (WC), ‘middle class’ (MC) and ‘upper class’ (UC). Manual workers such as plumbers, truck drivers and carpenters would therefore belong to the WC. People who perform non-manual work such as teachers, nurses and office clerks were considered part of the MC according to this distinction. Members of the UC are mainly individuals who are able to live very comfortably based on the fact that they “inherited wealth and privileges” (Chambers 2003: 42).

Many studies have been carried out in order to define ‘class’. Variables such as manners, education, style and sense of taste need to be taken into consideration to try to place someone into a particular class. However, occupation linked to income and education proves to be the key class determinant. Macaulay (1976) carried out a sociolinguistic study in Glasgow. His subjects were “mature, settled adults whose occupations were largely fixed” for as long as they would be able to work. Macaulay used only occupation as a class determiner which proved to be sufficient. His study results showed “a fine and regular correlation for all the phonological variables with class distinctions based solely on occupation” (qtd. in Chambers 52-4).25 Of course it will be necessary to carry out similar studies in other city to determine the general relevance of occupation as a class indicator. If this proves to be a valid theory “the prospect of relying largely on occupation as an indicator in sociolinguistic studies would be (…) a very welcome result”. The use of only one variable has the advantage that the results will be a lot more accurate compared to the increasing “fuzziness” when a variety of independent variables are used instead. In modern industrialised societies, when referring to social classification, the UC is mostly omitted and class is for the most part divided into MC and WC, which are further divided into ‘lower’, ‘middle’ and ‘upper’ subdivisions as the following figure illustrates (42-3).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Fig. 1 Social Class Divisions26

In modern western society, “white collar workers” versus “blue collar workers” is a common class distinction. According to Chambers this illustrates the main “social division in industrialised nations”. “White collar” refers to the general shirt and tie work attire of people in professional and manager positions, as well as clerks and assistants. Chambers describes them as people who earn their living “by pencil-work and services”. Manual workers, unskilled labourers or seasonal workers on the other hand are considered “blue collar workers” because they “earn their living by working with their hands” and their work attire generally consists of overalls and denim. A person’s affiliation with a particular class is not always easy to determine. Its margins are usually not clearly defined and are, compared to other social dividers such as ‘age’ and ‘gender’, rather vague. Class is not a set of ranks but a continuum. That is why sociolinguists, when choosing individuals for linguistic research, usually opt for those who stereotypically best represent the class they belong to. This has the advantage that the results can be expected to be more representative and obvious compared to the ones received by studying individuals who move along the margin of a class or who move between the classes.


1 Desmond Ryan, Philadelphia Inquirer http://www.lib.byu.edu/departs/LRC/archive/LRC_New_Videos_2006_05.pdf (accessed 9 February 2007)

2 See Seven Up! in The Up! Series. Dir. Michael Apted, Paul Almond. 2004. DVD. First Run Features.

3 See interview with M. Apted at the National Film Theatre in London on 17 December 2005 by Jonathan Freedland

4 See article “Time-Lapse Lives: 42 Years in 10 Hours”, New York Times, 31 October 2004

5 See M. Apted in Directors Guild of America Magazine, September 2002 - Volume 27-3

6 See M. Apted in 2005 interview

7 New York Times (s.a.)

8 See Apted, M. 28 Up! (20-21 November 1984) Documentary, First Run Features

9 A ccent refers to pronunciation typical of a particular region or social group whereas dialect covers not only pronunciation but distinctions in vocabulary (lexis) and grammar (morphology and syntax)as well, see Montgomery p.69, Hughes, Trudgill, Watt p.11-12

10 In the UK, public schools are private and unaffordable by most parent, see Hughes, Trudgill, Watts (2005)

11 Beginning of the 12th century until the middle of the 15th century, see Crystal, D. (1997), p. 30

12 See Barber, C. (2000), p. 100

13 The variety of spoken Latin used throughout the (Roman) Empire Crystal, D. (1997), p.8

14 Name given to the French dialect used in England Scragg, D. (1974), p.38

15 H.L.C Tristram, Poznań presentation, November 27, 2004

16 It is a form of plosive in which the closure is made by bringing the vocal folds together, as when holding one’s breath, it is frequently used as a realisation of /p, t, k/ when followed by a consonant, see Hughes, Trudgill, Watts p.42-3

17 Unintentional repetition of a letter or word by a copyist, see Webster ’ s Dictionary of the English Language (1990)

18 See Honey, J. 1998, p.1

19 In Semin, G., Fiedler, K. (1992), Language, Interaction and Social Cognition, London: Sage Publications Ltd.

20 See Mugglestone p.113

21 In Ryan E., Giles, H., 1982

22 see Mugglestone p. 116

23 See Mugglestone p.119

24 Hornby, A. (2000) Oxford Advanced Learner ’ s Dictionary, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

25 See Macaulay p.175-7

26 See Chambers p.43


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Title: H-Dropping as indicator of independent social variables