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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
a historian

Which of the following would you normally use?

an historical figure
a historical figure

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.


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.
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.)
Feb. 10th, 2011 09:57 am (UTC)
Unless you were talking about "a Herb," as the name but not the plant had a pronounced h. Another rule.

This seems to be an American thing - all UK English speakers I know pronounce the h at the beginning of "herb". Well, except in certain informal regional English idioms (eg Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cockney, etc) that drop hs as a matter of course: there's a comic monologue by Stanley Holloway where he recounts the Battle of Hastings, which has a line about King 'arold, "sitting there, with an eye full of arrows, on 'is 'orse, with 'is 'awk in 'is 'and" which illustrates this well.

Eddie Izzard addresses the herb/erb issue (and other matters to do with language) here (contains some strong language right from the outset).