“H” and Other Tricky Letters

H is a tricky letter in Australia. In instances where I’ve been taught that H is silent like in the word herb, it most certainly is not. At least, not here anyway. H in the Australian herb is pronounced like the h in house. And yet it remains silent like the American pronunciation of herb when used in the Aussie term dickhead. Additionally, my husband has brought to my attention that certain classes of Australians (yobbos he calles them) often drop the H entirely so their words always start with the first vowel sound instead.

Another letter to watch out for is R. Each time this letter is preceded by a vowel like A or Eit goes silent and morphs into an “uh” or “ah” sound. Take the American pronunciation of “hamburger” for example. Try to Australianize it, if you will–what do you get? “Hambugah.” But this isn’t always the case. When my husband and I were on the hunt to buy stuff for our home, he suggested going to the “SupaCenta” which I assumed was called Super Center. However, when we arrived, I was surprised to see the name on the signs exactly as he had pronounced it: “SupaCenta.”

Next is Z which Aussies refer to as the letter “zed.” Many a goes missing and is instead replaced with an s. Thus, words like materialise, specialise, and realise come into being.  They’re not considered typos here because they are in fact spelled correctly in Australia. And speaking of the word “realise” I find it interesting how Australians use it because in most instances, “realise” seems to be a poor substitute for “recognize” or “reach”–it’s rarely ever used in the more common way, its first definition meaning “to become fully aware of something” or to notice, discern, or perceive.

Lastly is the letter I. It makes random and unexpected appearances like in the word  aluminum which suddenly transforms into a five syllable word al-u-min-i-um.  Why it appears there, I’ll never quite understand. I’ve also noticed how I tends to sneak its way into the pronunciation of the word no. Listen closely the next time you hear someone say no.  Usually it’s some young woman who is really upset or annoyed, but she never says no with just a long “o” sound. Her no always seems to carry with it an extra I so it sounds like the word noise without the “se” at the end. Essentially, no becomes noi.

All of this makes me feel as though I’m in some sort of twisted, backwards version of “My Fair Lady”–instead of learning how to speak with elegance and refinement, I find myself having to cut my words short, speak faster, and enunciate less. I never thought that speaking English abroad in Australia would translate into a perpetual linguistic exercise.

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4 thoughts on ““H” and Other Tricky Letters

  1. The lack of an /r/ is what’s technically called a “non-rhotic” dialect. Rhotic dialects, on the other hand, have /r/.

    Also, can you explain what you mean by “add a silent H to everything”? How would know it is even there if it’s silent? Maybe I add a silent “x” to everything I say… 🙂

    1. Hey thanks! 🙂 I’m relieved to have someone like you sharing your expertise in this area. I’ve probably dumbed down a thousand technical definitions for things so I appreciate you being so forgiving.

      As for the “adding a silent H” I don’t know what I mean either. I think I meant to say “they drop the H.” Perhaps I could fix it or just blame it on my husband for explaining it that way. Ha! Nah, I couldn’t do that. The error would still haunt me!

    1. You’re too right. After almost 8 years of becoming Aussie, I’m realising a lot of things can be categorised as ‘just the Americans.’ 😉

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