Most Australians refer to my professional title – Environmental Health officer – as “Ee Haitch Oh”  whereas I refer to myself as an “Ee Aitch Oh”.   I was perplexed over why so many Aussies aspirate the aitch, which to me sounds very wrong.  Proper pronunciation had been drummed into me as a kid.  We even had elocution lessons every week.  We were told that people who mispronounce words are poorly educated.

I mentioned my interest in why so many Australians say haitch  to a colleague, who thought I was just being silly. The name of the letter, she said, is haitch, and that is that.  Of course it is.  It is spelt H after all.

I had to go to Wikipedia to prove my point.   There I found:

In most dialects of English, the name for the letter is pronounced /ˈ/ and spelled ‘aitch’[1] or occasionally ‘eitch’. The pronunciation /ˈh/ and the associated spelling ‘haitch’ is often considered to be h-adding and hence nonstandard. It is, however, a feature of Hiberno-English[2] and other varieties of English, such as those of Malaysia, Newfoundland, and Singapore. In Northern Ireland it is a shibboleth as Protestant schools teach aitch and Catholics haitch.[3]In Australia, this has also been attributed to Catholic school teaching and is estimated to be in use by 60% of the population.[4]

This seems very odd, because I went to Catholic schools in New Zealand.

Wikipedia goes on to say …

The non-standard  (my emphasis) haitch pronunciation of h has spread in England, being used by approximately 24% of English people born since 1982[6] and polls continue to show this pronunciation becoming more common among younger native speakers. Despite this increasing number, pronunciation without the /h/ sound is still considered to be standard, although the non-standard pronunciation is also attested as a legitimate variant.[7]

So we can look forward to my (correct) pronunciation becoming quaintly antiquated within a generation.



Another word that annoyed me at first is “anything“. I have noticed here it has the almost universal pronunciation of  ‘anythink‘.  This no longer annoys me, I am gradually revising my stuck-up attitude.   I guess my inner pedant is slowly settling back to sleep.  In order to reconcile myself to this I must now look upon Australian as a distinct dialect of English, just as I do American or Scots.  I am adapting to communication here in much the same way I did when learning Pijin and Roviana in Solomon Islands.   There I had very authoritative texts to learn from.  Well researched books documenting the grammar and vocabulary of both languages, the Roviana one from the 1900s and the Pijin book Pijin Blong Iumi  by Hugh Young and Linda Simons, from the 1970s.  I still have copies of both.

However, I soon learned that neither language was fossilised. Both were fluidly changing and growing. Even Pijin Blong Iumi, only six years old at the time, was growing out of date.   If I wanted to be understood, and to understand, I had to speak and think as my friends and colleagues did.  I believe I was pretty good at it.  I learned both languages quite quickly by making friends with the local kids.  In return for telling them stories and giving them food now and then, or letting them listen to my music collection, I gained very patient and helpful teachers.  They were also less inclined than my work colleagues were to try to fool or embarrass me by teaching me rude words to misuse in a sentence.

The main benefit I derived from the Roviana dictionary and grammar was when I first met my In-laws to be.  I addressed them in the very formal, very respectful way of the old days.   This both amazed them and amused them, probably because I mispronounced my words or confused the construction (the grammar is complicated).  I had as much trouble with it as Ziu did with tenses, plurals and the gender of personal pronouns in English.  However I may have mangled it, my attempted use of the formal seemed to touch them deeply.    It certainly immediately cemented my position and status in the family.

How would I sit with them now, I wonder.

About Uisce úr

Though I am old with wandering Through hollow lands and hilly lands, I will find out where she has gone, And kiss her lips and take her hands; And walk among long dappled grass, And pluck till time and times are done, The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun.
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