American English Phonetics

Another American English Faculty Project

For GA /h/, some friction is created in the glottis, as a result of a slight constriction of the vocal cords. However, additional friction is usually produced by the flow of air through the entire vocal tract, i.e. through the pharyngeal and oral cavity. Since the shape of the vocal tract for /h/ will vary with the quality of the following vowel, the quality of the cavity friction that is produced will vary accordingly. From a purely phonetic point of view, therefore, there are as many [h]-sounds as there are vowels. Cavity friction is strongest for close vowels like /iː/ and /uː/, and weakest for open vowels like /ɑː/, and is thus inversely proportional to the width of the vocal tract, which is obviously greater for open vowels than for close vowels.

Between voiced sounds, as in behind, /h/ may be partly voiced ([ɦ]). This is the usual pronunciation of AN/h/, as in huis, behang.


When GA /h/ is followed by /j/, as in hue, Houston, the two sounds tend to coalesce into a rounded voiceless paiatal fricative, [ç], whose quality is similar to that of the fricative in German ich, nicht. Some speakers omit /h/ in these words.



Advice for Dutch learners:

Dutch /h/ is usually voiced, and the transition to the following vowel is quite smooth. Try to pronounce GA /h/ with somewhat stronger cavity friction, and a relatively abrupt transition to the vowel.