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The glottal fricative /h/
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Features
A possible feature specification of /h/ is rather controversial; there is no consensus at all which features might apply; but it is sometimes classified as a +continuant.

Phonotactic behaviour
The distribution of /h/ is extremely limited; it only occurs in singleton onsets: it never occurs in codas nor in complex onsets (it is neither preceded nor followed by any other consonant, not even /s/). It seems more marginal in unstressed syllables than in stressed syllables, although it can be found in both. A consequence of this that it also does not occur before schwa in Standard Dutch of the Netherlands, although it does in the Flemish variety of the standard language, albeit in only one word (the neuter definite determiner and personal pronoun het). This can be shown also in vowel reduction, which never applies to syllables with an /h/. After a consonant, /h/ can optionally be deleted, according to Trommelen and Zonneveld (1997):

Example 1

a. Alhambra /ɑlhɑmbra/ [ɑl(h)ɑmbra] Alhambra
b. waarheid /ʋarhɛid/ [ʋar(h)ɛit] truth

Interaction with glide insertion
Trommelen and Zonneveld (1997) observe that syllables starting with a [h] seem to behave as if they are in a hiatus position, undergoing optional glide insertion:

Example 2

a. Teheran /teherɑn/ [teherɑn]  / [tejerɑn] Teheran (place name)
b. mihoen /mihun/ [mihun]  / [mijun] rice vermicelli
c. aloha /aloha/ [aloha]  / [aloʋa] aloha
d. Cohen /ko'hen/ [kohen]  / [koʋen] Cohen (family name)
e. driehoek /drihuk/ [drihuk]  / [driʋuk] triangle

They observe this cannot be understood as a result of h-deletion followed by optional glide insertion, as there is no glide insertion in contexts where there is no h-deletion:

Example 3

a. mahonie /mahonjə/ [mɑhonjə] mahogany
b. Swahili /swahɪli/ [swahɪli] Swahili

Because of the rather exceptional nature of /h/, Trommelen and Zonneveld (1997) propose to analyse it not as part of an onset, but as a voiceless (!) part of the rhyme. Glide insertion thus always applies; it is the optional rule of consonant deletion after /h/ which is responsible for the fact that the glide does not always show up.

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[+] Articulatory information

  • Glottal: speech sounds produced at glottal place of articulation (in the larynx)
  • Fricative: consonant involving turbulent airflow through a narrow channel produced by close approximation of the active and passive articulators. See the human speech organs.  

Dutch /h/ is a glottal fricative, which is most usually realised as voiced /ɦ/(Collins and Mees 2003: 192; see also Gussenhoven 1992; Verhoeven 2005). Since voicing is not distinctive for the Dutch glottal fricative, the actual voicing value may vary depending on the immediate context. /h/ is pronounced in all onset contexts in Standard Dutch, though it is deleted word-initially in dialects of the southwestern Netherlands and in West-Flanders (Voortman 1994: 103).

The consonant /h/’s manner of articulation is traditionally described as fricative. However, since in glottal sounds, the articulators are the vocal folds, there is no distinction between “active” and “passive” articulators as for other fricatives. In addition, voiced [ɦ] is not strictly speaking a fricative in its own right, but a breathy voiced rendition of surrounding vowels (Pike 1943: 140; Laufer 1991).

Figure 1: The human speech organs

[click image to enlarge]

[+] Acoustic information

  • Glottal: very little or diffuse energy, with a formant structure determined by the surrounding oral consonants
  • Fricative: consonant involving aperiodic energy (noise)

Most of the acoustic characteristics of /h/ come from the surrounding vowels. There is little energy produced by /h/ itself, and any formant structure will be similar or identical to that of surrounding vowels.

[+] Examples


Table 1: Soundfiles, waveforms and spectrograms of the above sound files, with indications of the relevant acoustic parameters of Northern Standard Dutch /h/
wordgroup phonological context sound waveform/spectogramme
genoeg hout om jaren achtereen te kunnen stokenenough wood for several years of heating onset
[click image to enlarge]
behalve succesexcept success intervocalic
[click image to enlarge]

Table 2: Soundfiles, waveforms and spectrograms of the above sound files, with indications of the relevant acoustic parameters of Southern Standard Dutch /h/
wordgroup phonological context sound waveform/spectogramme
(...) van pas gesneden hout(...) of freshly cut wood onset
[click image to enlarge]
behalve een stumperexcept a wretch intervocalic
[click image to enlarge]

References:
  • Collins, B. & Mees, I2003The Phonetics of English and DutchLeidenE.J. Brill
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos1992DutchJournal of the International Phonetic Association2245-47
  • Laufer, Asher1991The ‘glottal fricatives'Journal of the IPA2191-93
  • Pike, Kenneth L1943Phonetics: a critical analysis of phonetic theory and a technic for the practical description of soundsAnn ArborMI: University of Michigan Press
  • Trommelen, Mieke & Zonneveld, Wim1997Ha! Een analyse!Nederlandse Taalkunde4318-332
  • Trommelen, Mieke & Zonneveld, Wim1997Ha! Een analyse!Nederlandse Taalkunde4318-332
  • Trommelen, Mieke & Zonneveld, Wim1997Ha! Een analyse!Nederlandse Taalkunde4318-332
  • Verhoeven, Jo2005Belgian Standard DutchJournal of the International Phonetic Association35243-247
  • Voortman, B1994Regionale variatie in het taalgebruik van notabelen. Een sociolinguïstisch onderzoek in Middelburg, Roermond en ZutphenUniversiteit van Amsterdam: IFOTTThesis
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