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Thread: A/An History
Dec 19th, 2010 8:42 PM #1
I'm sure some of you writers are curious about the proper use of the indefinite article preceding the word history in written form. Is it a history or an history? More frequently professional writers are adopting an history, so there's some confusion floating around.
In English speech (and especially writing) the indefinite article a precedes a noun beginning in a consonant and an preceding a noun beginning in a vowel. Consider an apple and a pear. The word history is borrowed into English but its usage begins with the glottal fricative /h/ (like in high), which is treated as a consonant and not a vowel. Although some British dialects omit /h/ from the word, according to English grammar and speech practices, it should be preceded by a and not an. It doesn't matter how it's processed in dialectal form, that is, how you actually say it matters not. In some parts of the U.S. the word barn is pronounce /ban/ (baan/bon), but that doesn't change how the word is spelled or read on the page.
Enough of the scientific mumbo jumbo. Anyone, professional or amateur, using an history in written form is wrong. The proper use in the English language, no matter which dialect of English you speak, is a history.
Let's make this real clear for the lazy folk.
RIGHT: A HISTORY
WRONG: an history
Last edited by lazserus; Dec 29th, 2010 at 7:28 PM. Reason: Merely bolded certain items
Dec 19th, 2010 10:34 PM #2
Thank you!I aggressively attack stupidity... If you feel I am being aggressive, well....
Dec 20th, 2010 4:18 PM #3
I think some people are tempted to say "an history" because they have heard "an historic" so often and they think it sounds more proper. "An historic" is correct in a classic grammar approach because traditionally some words that begin with "h" and have an emphasis on the second syllable can be used with the article "an". The reasoning here is that when the second syllable is the emphasis, the "h" is often fainter, so it's like you're starting with the vowel after the "h". The thing is today, even with these types of words, like "historian" or "hereditary" or "hospitable", we have started to say the "h" as strongly as we do in, say, "happy." So it's a disappearing usage, although it's still somewhat common in the U.K.
Last edited by phedrereine; Dec 20th, 2010 at 5:09 PM."But more wonderful than the lore of old men and the lore of books is the secret lore of ocean."
Dec 20th, 2010 11:02 PM #4
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An is the use of these vowels; AEIOU
And his story, lazserus seemed to think that we don't know that.
Hey! Eh, I owe you, teacher!
Didn't want any Yahwehs now eh?
Dec 29th, 2010 7:48 PM #5
The point I'm making here is that the word history is not Germanic and thus does not follow conventional Germanic stress patterns in speech. Let's reconsider the word history for a moment: Even pronounced as a glottal fricative, the /h/ does not become a syllable on its own. There is no particularly relevant stress of /h/ or /I/ in the word, thus the omission of /h/ in certain English dialects changes nothing. (Consider the phonetic [hɪstəri] vs [ɪstəri].)
In Modern English of any dialect an history (or even an historic) is incorrect in written form.
You mention "classic" grammar, so I'm curious to which period you're referring.
Dec 29th, 2010 8:58 PM #6
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This is why I'm annoyed by the English Department... ;)
But my personal, unprofessional opinion on the matter is that languages are constantly evolving, so the English Department ought to chill a bit. But of course, I am quite ignorant on the subject, so perhaps it's time to put my proverbial foot in my mouth."I was put on trial twice near Y2K for acting like Jesus and claiming to be the Messiah. Its not everyday that a man parks a Chariot of Fire in front of a tomb and stands against the US government with a bow and razor tipped arrows over his shoulder. I wore a suit of armor and was protected by an invisible bubble and my sharp tongue was more than the judicial system could handle."Jake
"The toilet is more than a throne. It is a sacred chamber."-Anton LaVey, High Priest of Satanism
Dec 29th, 2010 10:02 PM #7
I certainly empathize with your frustration. Spoken English and written English are completely different, same as any other spoken language differs from its written form. Written language is not meant to mimic speech, it's meant to recreate speech to a degree. I'm sure you don't write a paper in the same dialect as you speak with your friends, nor do you use the same vernacular. Languages are always evolving - sure - but written language is not changing so much lately. The point is, write right!
I won't go into a linguistic history comparing spoken and written language, but something should be said regarding your frustration:
How one speaks is one thing, and we all change the way we speak, the words we use and the way we pronounce them, dependent on our speech environment. Speech isn't the issue here; writing is the issue. It was fine to write in vernacular 900 years-ago, but it's not fine now. The glottal fricative /h/ in English is not a universally silent consonant. Because it is a non-English word (no natural English word begins in a silent consonant) the /h/ is always treated as apparent in writing.
Dec 29th, 2010 10:27 PM #8
Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels by Michael Grant is how the cover reads.
Also Arnold Toynbee's "An Historian's Approach to Religion" does."Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" G. Santayana
Jan 19th, 2011 4:49 PM #9
"But more wonderful than the lore of old men and the lore of books is the secret lore of ocean."
Jan 29th, 2011 8:25 PM #10
No spoken form is incorrect. Written form has rules that the "establishment" follows. Fortunately, this rule is not one that's frequently observed or enforced. But technically, the rule I mention is intact in all forms of English in the written form. If you have doubts look it up.
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