An Open Letter to my Fellow Yoruba on sound /h/

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Letter h equates a sound in English and it is called glottal fricative. This sound is a problematic one for many people who speak the English Language as a second language. The /h/ sound is present in some words, optional in some words and silent in some other words. It has however been observed that among Yoruba speakers on English, there are also cases of h-insertion and h-omission.

The sound is found in words like: house, abhor, habit, his, her and so on. It is optional in a word like hotel, which means you may pronounce the word with the glottal fricative sound or leave it out. The sound is not found in words like honour and hour despite the presence of letter h.

Research has shown however that Yoruba speakers of English struggle with this sound and with them are the instances of h insertion and h deletion. In my personal experience, I was once told by a year 5 student when I served in the eastern part of Nigeria that, "Sir, have you observed we laugh collectively when you teach sometimes? It happens anytime you're supposed to pronounce a word with h and you leave out the h." This explains the truth that many Nigerians from the western part struggle with this sound irrespective of our level of education. Aside the three cases of h-ful words (words pronounced with the h sound), h-less words (words pronounced without the h sound) and h-variant words (words that can be pronounced with or without the h), it has been observed that Yoruba have instances of h omission and h insertion.

We talk about h omission when we remove the h sound in h-ful words like houses, abhor, help, harass, hamper, his and so on and h-insertion happens when we insert the sound h into h-less words like egg, ate, earn and many other words. The simple truth is that, like the vowel sounds we have in words like birth and word, the glottal fricative /h/ is another sound that is not found in the Yoruba phonemic repertoire.

Anyone who hopes to speak the English language without blemish must pay attention to words with the h sound, words with letter h but that do not have the sound, words with letter h but that may or may not take h sound, words where we erroneously omit the h sound and words where we incorrectly insert the h sound. The articulation of sounds that are not found in the phonemic inventory of one's language must be done with deliberate effort and carefulness to avoid cases of linguistic interference and also to be able to communicate with global intelligibility.

Fluency is a task; you have to take it seriously!
Yours faithfully,
(c) 2018 Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose (GAB) is a Doctoral student of English, University of Ibadan