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Dear People raised in the UK or Canada, and other people who like filling out polls:

Which of the following would you normally use?

an historian
30(33.0%)
a historian
61(67.0%)

Which of the following would you normally use?

an historical figure
34(37.4%)
a historical figure
57(62.6%)


Languages are challenging, not least because they keep changing. "an historian" and "an historical figure" were some of the British grammatical quirks I got down early.

Only now, the internet tells me, times, they are a changin'. It's okay to use "a" instead of "an" for histor* words in British Englishes. I would like some more evidence on the subject one way or the other.

Comments

( 62 comments — Leave a comment )
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non_trivial
Feb. 9th, 2011 11:18 pm (UTC)
I'd probably be more likely to use the older form in formal writing, but that's not guaranteed.
swisstone
Feb. 9th, 2011 11:25 pm (UTC)
I've never used 'an historian' in nearly thirty years of being one.
clanwilliam
Feb. 9th, 2011 11:25 pm (UTC)
I say "an" about 70% of the time but write "a" most of the time.
gillo
Feb. 9th, 2011 11:31 pm (UTC)
I have always used "a", as I always pronounce the "h". Just as I do in "herb", of course...

I'd also say "a hotel", though "an hotel" doesn't feel as wrong as "an historian".
heleninwales
Feb. 10th, 2011 04:30 pm (UTC)
Like you I pronounce the "H" in "historian", so I would no more say "an historian" than I would say "an hair", "an horse" or "an horoscope".

I also agree about "hotel".
perfectlyvague
Feb. 9th, 2011 11:36 pm (UTC)
I figure if it's good enough for AJP Taylor, it's good enough for me. If we cave on this, it's only a matter of time before the "should of" idiots win that battle.
perfectlyvague
Feb. 9th, 2011 11:37 pm (UTC)
I mean, it's thanks to them we lost 'norange'
(no subject) - gillo - Feb. 10th, 2011 08:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - heleninwales - Feb. 10th, 2011 04:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - desperance - Feb. 10th, 2011 03:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
makyo
Feb. 9th, 2011 11:44 pm (UTC)
I've always said "a historian" and "a historical figure", but have long been faintly worried that I'm getting it wrong.
tsutanai
Feb. 10th, 2011 04:51 am (UTC)
I was actually taught the "is the h pronounced?" test as a rule in middle school, so we were docked for an historian, but also for a herb. (Unless you were talking about "a Herb," as the name but not the plant had a pronounced h. Another rule.)

Which really is what happens when you establish rules for things that are riddled with exceptions and the non-systematic application of principles, like language. You should have seen the ways we had to wrestle with sound-shift rule writing in morpho-phonology, and we were even allowed to use optimality theory, which allowed for rule-breaking on priority ordering.

(And I almost wrote "voiced h" for "pronounced h," but then I had flashbacks to a paper I wrote on the phonology of Hupa, and the debated on whether a certain sound was an unvoiced vowel or a voiced velar fricative. I was wandering the halls of my dorm muttering like a madwoman about that one. And "voiced h" isn't really accurate anyway, so I stood down.)
(no subject) - makyo - Feb. 10th, 2011 09:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
owlfish
Feb. 9th, 2011 11:50 pm (UTC)
There is always some critical element missing from a poll. I was thinking written (since what I need it for is editing), but I wish I'd written the poll to include both options now.
(no subject) - desperance - Feb. 10th, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
hawkida
Feb. 9th, 2011 11:57 pm (UTC)
The grammar girl podcast covered this recently saying both are fine depending on whether the H is sounded and that it usually is.
labellementeuse
Feb. 10th, 2011 12:04 am (UTC)
Colonial perspective: I say an historian every time, also an hotel, but always a herb. I have no idea what I do in writing, but I think I would tend towards an historian with the understanding that a historian is perfectly respectable (ha ha) and an historian is merely a tick derived from my own speech.
labellementeuse
Feb. 10th, 2011 12:05 am (UTC)
For the record, in editing I would tend only to change it for consistency within a document or consistency within a publication.
_nicolai_
Feb. 10th, 2011 12:15 am (UTC)
"An historian" leads me to suspicion of dropping of aitches, up with which I do not easily put.
rymenhild
Feb. 10th, 2011 12:35 am (UTC)
Oops! I filled out the poll and then realized you weren't talking to me! Sorry.
owlfish
Feb. 10th, 2011 10:20 am (UTC)
You do not fall into the category of people who like filling out polls?
whatifoundthere
Feb. 10th, 2011 12:45 am (UTC)
Ironically, I only started saying "an historian" after going to graduate school... in the U.S.
owlfish
Feb. 10th, 2011 10:21 am (UTC)
You are an exception to every rule.
ellid
Feb. 10th, 2011 01:08 am (UTC)
I always use "a," never "an." I am American.
celandineb
Feb. 10th, 2011 02:04 am (UTC)
My father (an historian himself) taught me to say "an" before those words. So I don't think of it as British, just old-fashioned.
gillpolack
Feb. 10th, 2011 02:42 am (UTC)
I'm not only Australian, but someone just identified me on Facebook as the real me for using 'an' (other Gillians don't, it appears). I was taught that whether a consonant is needed before an 'hi' depends on how the 'h' is sounded in the dialect, and in Australian English it's aspirated, but only very softly, so it's 'an.' We ought to say 'an herb' but it's often 'a herb' because the 'h' in herb is so very strong in our dialect and because we react quite strongly to the standard US pronunciation of 'herb'. That 'h' is almost non-existent in most North American English, which means I keep wanting to hear 'a nerb.'
gillo
Feb. 10th, 2011 11:04 am (UTC)
Gillian in the UK is very much a name of a specific period - almost all those I know are somewhere between 45 and 58. I don't know anyone in my general circle/age group who uses "an" for hotel, historian or herb. The latter has a particularly strong "h" in most of the UK, so it's not surprising. Yet it comes, of course, from the French "herbe", where the "h" is never pronounced. US practice may well be fossilised, like the use of "gotten" as a past participle.

I'm Gillian too, though only my mother uses my full name.
(no subject) - owlfish - Feb. 10th, 2011 11:08 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - square_egg - Feb. 10th, 2011 01:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gillpolack - Feb. 11th, 2011 10:48 am (UTC) - Expand
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( 62 comments — Leave a comment )