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/h/ in Hindi

Pramod Pandey M. Mahesh Hemanga Dutta

Centre for Linguistics Department of English Department of Linguistics
Jawaharlal Nehru University Amity University & Contemporary English
New Delhi 110067 Lucknow 226028 EFL Unversity, Hyderabad 500007

Phonetics-phonology literature is replete with the discussion of [h] in different languages

from a variety of points of view- its asymmetrical behaviour in phonotactics and in
phonological contrast patterns, its role in diachrony, its phonological representation in terms
of distinctive features, its production, its perception and its sociolinguistic significance. This
paper takes up the acoustic properties of [h] in Hindi for investigation as a pretext for
inquiring into two relevant issues- a resoluition of the controversy regarding the status of /h/
as a fricative (e.g. Catford 1990) or an approximant (e.g. Ladefoged 1990) and the possibility
of predicting the patterning laryngeal consonants. The data are drawn from the speech of
eight speakers of Standard Hindi from Delhi, four male and four female. There is clear
evidence for both fricativized [h] and approximant [] in Hindi in well-defined contexts. The
approximant [] is examined for its relation to the adjacent vowels in formant values. The
paper argues that the IPA description of the segment can be retained as a fricative where it
has fricative realizations and that the patterning of laryngeal consonants in contrastive and
complementary relations can be shown to be governed by independent properties of

Keywords: Distinctive Features, Laryngeal Neutralization, Prosodic Licensing, Licensing by

Cue, Feature Economy

1 Introduction

The voiceless glottal fricative [h]1 is generally known to be involved in phonological

structures of languages in multiple ways, including phonological change, sociolinguistic
variation, synchronic processes and phonotactic asymmetries (e.g. Kenstowicz 1994, Lahiri
2000). The sound is also found to be controversial with regard to its articulatory and acoustic
characteristics (e.g. Ladefoged 1982, Dixit 1987, Keating 1988) as well as its characterization
in terms of distincitive features (e.g. Kim 1970, Halle & Stevens (1971), Ridouane et al.
The present paper investigates the realizations of /h/ in Hindi with the goal of addressing
the following questions:
a. Given controversial views on the articulatory and acoustic characterizations of [h] in
world languages, what position can be defended on the grounds of data from the
variant realizations of /h/ in Hindi?
b. What theoretical predictions can be made regarding the role of /h/ in variant
realizations and phonological change?
The paper is organized as follows. In section 1, I present an overview of some aspects of
the phonetic and phonological behaviour of /h/. In section 2, I take up for a detailed
discussion the acoustic characteristics of /h/ in Hindi. In section 3, I attempt to discuss an
answer to the questions raised in (1). My answer to question (1a) regarding the phonetic
character of the segment is based on adding up the evidence from Hindi in favour of keeping
the IPA treatment of the sound as a fricative. I seek to answer question (1b) by taking into
account the facts of phonological patterning of laryngeal segments and the role of the
principle of feature economy (e.g. Clements 2003) in the patterning of segments.

2. An overview of the phonetic and phonological behaviour of [h]

2.1 Phonetic and phonological literature is replete with the discussion of [h] in different
languages from a variety of points of view- its production, its perception, its phonological
representation in terms of distinctive features, its asymmetrical behaviour in phonological

The IPA symbol is enclosed in [ ] or / / bracket to suggest, as is the usual practice, its status as a phone or a
phoneme, respectively.

contrast patterns, its role in diachrony and its sociolinguistic significance among others. We
take up some of these below with the purpose of showing the significance of the present
investigation to the questions raised above.
2.2 The phonetics of [h]
The phonetics of [h] is of interest on two main grounds. The first is its defintion. The IPA
includes it in the chart for pulmonic consonants as a voiceless glottal fricative. Ladefoged
(1982) argues that [h] is not a glottal sound, and defines it as a voiceless counterpart of the
following sound. Keating (1988) shows that this feature of [h] may be present in some
utterance-initial cases, but elsewhere it must be assumed to be underspecified for a feature, as
in those positions its formants are found to be interpolated between two vowels. Keating
shows [h] to be an exemplar case of underspecification of segment-internal features. On these
grounds, Ladefoged (1990) further argues that [h] is not a fricative as it has very little
friction at the glottis. The vocal cords are apart and any turbulent airflow that there might be
is due to "cavity friction" rather than local friction at a particular point. [h] has no more
friction at the glottis than [f] or any other voiceless sound with a comparable airflow. (1990:
24). Ladefoged proposes that [h] must be treated as a voiceless approximant. On similar
grounds, [] should be treated as breathy voiced approximant. Catford (1990: 25), on the
contrary, suggests that ...[h] and [] stay where they are as glottal fricativeshonorary
glottal fricatives, if you like!.. My reason for wanting to keep [h] and [] in the chart is
perhaps more phonological and practical than strictly phonetic. There are so many languages
in which one or both of these sounds functions as a syllabic margin
Thus, as far as the label for the sounds repesented as [h] and [] is concerned, we are in a
conflicting situation. They should either be changed to approximants or kept as glottal
The second ground for interest in the phonetics of [h] and and [] is the use of the
distinctive feature(s) for them, based on their phonetic properties. The earliest attempt at
assigning a distinctive feature to them was made by Chomsky and Halle (1968). They gave
an aerodynamic account of the sounds, with specific reference to the aspirates in Hindi, and
assigned them the feature Heightened Subglottal Air-pressure (HSAP), which means an
accompanying oral constriction and a momentary lowering of air-pressure. Ohala (1972)
argued against the consistent presence of an accompanying oral constriction and a momentary
lowering of air-pressure in the production of aspirated consonants. Kim (1970) in a study of
Korean sounds proposed the feature spread glottis to characterize aspirates. The proposal was

taken up, as recounted in Ridouane et al. (2011), by Halle & Stevens, who assigned the
feature [+spread glottis, -constricted glottis] to aspirated consonants. They also used the
features [stiff vocal cords] and [slack vocal cords] to distinguish voiceless and voiced

aspirated plosives, respectively. Voiceless aspirated plosives, e.g. [p p], were proposed to be

[+stiff vocal cords, -slack vocal cords], and voiced aspirated plosives, e.g. [b b], to be [-stiff
vocal cords, +slack vocal cords]. The evidence for all these features to be used for aspirates is
not quite strong, specifically for the latter set of features, namely, [stiff vocal cords] and

[slack vocal cords]. The present data reveal that [b] (sic), in accord with the Halle-Stevens

proposal, is correctly considered to have slack vocal cords and that [p] has spread vocal
cords; however there is no evidence that (nor is it necessary to assume that) [ph] has stiff
vocal cords and [bh] (sic) has spread vocal cords. However, more experimental data rather
than mere speculation are needed to settle this point. (Ohala & Ohala 1972: 45). In later
investigations into the articulatory properties of aspiration, Dixit (1982, 1987) and Davis
(1994) claimed that aspiration should be defined in terms of a period of turbulent noise that
accompanies [+spread glottis]. Ridouane et al. (2011) further support this claim:
aspiration noise, i.e. aperiodic energy in the second and higher formants is a necessary
component of the definition of [+spread glottis].
Lisker & Abramson (1964) proposed the articulatory and acoustic feature "Voice Onset
Time (VOT) for aspirated consonants. The feature has been found to be useful for voiceless
aspirated stops, but not for voiced aspirated stops.
An early study of aspiration, Dixit and MacNeilage (1974), investigated the articulation of
/p/, /ph/, /b/, /b/, and/h/ in Hindi and came to the following conclusions: ... (1) the opening
gesture of the glottis is a necessary condition for the production of the glottal fricative and
unaspirated plosives, both voiced and unvoiced; (2) unaspirated plosives, both voiced and
unvoiced, may be produced with or without opening gesture of the glottis; (3) regardless of
aspiration, voiced plosives are produced with uninterrupted vocal-fold vibrations, whereas
unvoiced plosives are not; (4) glottal fricative is produced without interruption of vocal-fold
vibrations; (5) duration and extent of glottal opening do not seem to be systematically related;
(6) there is no apparent direct correlation between the degree of glottal opening at the time of
oral release and the degree of aspiration; (7) the initiation of opening and closing gestures of
the glottis, in relation to oral closure and release, respectively, is variously timed for various

plosives. The study showed clearly that the feature [+spread glottis] was common to
aspirated and unaspirated plosives as well as fricatives.
Vaux (1998) notes that voiceless fricatives, in particular, but not voiced fricatives, must
be specified as [+spread glottis]. This general use of the feature [+spread glottis] is unable to
specifically distinguish aspirated from unaspirated plosives. The feature applies correctly to
aspirated consonants, but not exhaustively, as it also applies to voiceless fricatives. There is
thus need for another feature that, in addition to [+spread glottis], distinguishes aspiration
from other consonants produced with open glottis.
In this context, it is interesting to note that Sanskrit phonetics dealt with the issue of
distinguishing the different types of aspiration. For example, the phonetic treatise Rk
Prtishkhya appended to the Rgveda used the term mahprNa meaning great
breathforce or extra breathforce. The common term used for breath is also shw sa. Voiced
aspirates were saghosh mahprNa voiced extra-breathforce (see Allen (1953), Busetto
(2003) for modern treatments of Sanskrit phonetics). Given the fact that the feature spread
glottis applies non-exhaustively to aspiration, the feature extra breathforce can be added as
a distinctive feature to exhaustively apply to aspiration ([ph], [b] and [h] or []). The term
has been in use in the British approach to the study of aspiration (see e.g. Roach 1983). The
present proposal is in consonance with Clements (2005), who, following Chomsky and Halle
(1968), argues for a focus on articulatory features rather than acoustic features on the grounds
(see also Vaux 2005) that an articulatory feature may have multiple acoustic manifestations.

2.3 The role of [h] in language change

[h] has been found to be involved in language change in various ways. It is the focus of
change in some languages. For example, /h/ is debuccalized to [ ] in the Indic languages
Korku, Mandeali, and Zo (Pandey 2014:142) and to [] in Sanskrit loanwords in Tamil. It
freely varies with the voiceless pharyngeal fricative [] in the Tibeto-Burman languages
Chokri and Koren (Pandey 2014:149). It is the target of change in many languages. For
example, it is has replaced /s/ in Spanish in the context of __C# (Bybee 2001). It plays a
crucial role in the context of change. Foe examle, in Hindi, // is fronted before /h/ as the
onset of a weak syllable (Pandey 1991).
The list of the marked charater of /h/ as a segment as the trigger, the target or the context
of phonological change is large. The most well known case of the involvement of /h/ in
phonological change is the laryngeal theory. The laryngeal theory (see e.g. Ramat and Ramat

1998 for a detailed account) is the theory of the explanation of historical change in Indo-
European languages from the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European (PIE). In brief, the theory
posits three phonemes h, h and h in PIE, also known as the "neutral" laryngeal, the "a-
coloring" laryngeal and the "o-coloring" laryngeal, respectively. Whereas the neutral
laryngeal of PIE remained a laryngeal consonant in Indo-European languages, the other two
laryngeals merged with neighbouring vowels, yielding vowels that lacked in regular
correspondence with the vowels of PIE. The theory was first proposed by Saussure (1879)
and elaborated much later in Mller (1970 [1911]). The different variants of PIE /h/ are called
laryngeals as they are assumed to have been produced in the area of the larynx.

2.4 The sociolinguistic significance of /h/

/h/ is sometimes functions as a sociolinguistic variable. English dialects are known (e.g.
Wells 1982, Lpez 2007) to have variation on account of h-dropping or aitch-dropping,
as the term is known. It is essentially the deletion of the /h/ phoneme in some environments,
most commonly, word-initial. The phenomenon has various aspects- historical, for example,
in the word honest, standard informal, for example, [im], him and [iz] his, and non-standard,
for example, [m] instead of /hm/ for hammer.
Varieties of English are noted to have higher or lower social status depending on the
retention or loss of /h/. The correlation between H Dropping and social factors has been
confirmed by sociolinguistic research. Among London schoolchildren, Hudson & Holloway
(1977) found that middle-class boys dropped only 14 percent of possible /h/s, while working-
class boys dropped 81 percent (Wells 1982: 254). The non-standard phenomenon of /h/-
dropping has been found for many of the colloquial dialects of the English-speaking
countries, including England, Wales, Australia and New Zealand as well as regions, such as
some areas of West Indies.
It is interesting to note that the status issue is connected with the loss or retention of [h].
There is little evidence for the use of /h/ as a sociolinguistic variable in terms of different
laryngeal types, such as voiceless [h] or voiced []. The difference between the voiced and
voiceless fricatives is perhaps too fine for sociolinguistic manipulation (Lpez 2007). We
will return to this point in the discussion of the phonological prediction of the behavior of the
glottal fricative as a fricative or as an approximant.
Another instance of the role of /h/ in sociolinguistic variation is in the phenomenon of
schwa fronting in Hindi (Pandey 1991). The phenomenon involves the fronting of the schwa

phoneme // as [] or [e] in the context of following [h]. The context is a little more
complex- the following /h/ is not followed by any vowel other than //. Thus the words
/bhn/ sister and /bhta:/ flow-3PER-PRES-SING are pronounced as [bhn] ~
[bhn]~ [behen] and [bhta] or [behta:]. The word /bha:na/ excuse, however, is
pronounced as [bha:na], not *[bha:na:]. A fronted schwa is a sociolinguistic variable of
Standard Hindi speech, as noted in Pandey (1991). It has been found to be on the rise in the
speech of speakers of eastern standard Hindi (see also Mohan (2009).

3. Acoustic analysis of Hindi /h/

3.1 Against the backdrop of the phonetic behaviour and characterization of /h/ in different
languages, we take up for investigation the acoustic analysis of /h/ in Hindi in various
/h/ in Hindi has been labelled as a voiceless glottal fricative (Dixit 1963, Ohala 1999). In
the present investigation, it is found to have two variants- a voiceless aspirated fricative [h]
and a voiced approximant [] in both the western and the eastern varieties. The method of
data collection and analysis are discussed below.

3.2 Method
Four female subjects, all native speakers of Hindi, were recruited for the experiment. They all
belonged to the age group 22- 25 years, and were graduate students pursuing M. A.
Linguistics studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Four of the students were born and
brought up in Delhi and four hailed from the State of Bihar. The two groups were selected in
order to compare the relation of /h/ with the surrounding vowels, noted for the difference
between the two varieties (e.g. Shapiro 2003). All subjects reported normal hearing. They
offered to be part of the experiment without receiving any payment.
The participants were asked to read three stories.The stories were first given to them in
typed form and then presented on a 14 inch computer screen. They were advised to read them
naturally at a normal tempo. Each story contained /h/ in different environments in words. The
data were collected through digital recording in a sound proof recording studio using Edirole-
07 high quality digital recorder with a sampling frequency of 44 KHz 16 bit wave form. The
microphone of the recorder was kept at an equal distance of 5 cm from the mouth of each
speaker in order to get controlled data. The acoustic data were edited and analyzed using the
techniques in Praat speech software.

3.2 Factors in the selection of words
The following factors determined the selection of the words.
a. /h/ is clearly audible in the word-initial position and as onset in a stressed syllable, e.g.

/ha:ti;/ elephant, /suha:na:/ [suha:na

:] pleasant.

b. /h/ is weakly audible in the onset position in unstressed syllables and word-finally,
e.g. /bhn/ (stressed on the first syllable) sister, /h/ he.
c. Hindi has a general process of schwa deletion in unstressed syllables (Pandey 1990),
e.g. /kmla:/ [ kmla:] (a name), /la:pta:/ [ la:pta:] lost, but not /kbi:/

[kbi:](a sport). It has been found by the present author that although the schwa

following a /h/ may be heard to be deleted, in speech synthesis based on trained data, the
deletion of the schwa leads to problems2. Alongwith the schwa, /h/ too gets dropped. The
acoustic features of /h/ in relation to the presence of flanking vowels and a following
consonant after the deletion of the following schwa need examining.
e. Standard Hindi shows the process of schwa fronting before a /h/ followed by a
consonant (in turn optionally followed by a schwa, also fronted), e.g. /hna:/ [hna
jewelry and /hr/[hr] city, as discussed in section 2.4.
Taking the above considerations into account, a total number of 35 words including
content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives) and grammatical words (pronouns, auxiliary verbs)
were recorded. Out of these, 28 words were chosen for analysis as they were found to be
representative of all the contexts. Thus, the total number of tokens analyzed for the data were
22x8 =176.
There are two clear manifestations of /h/ in the data- as a fricative and as an approximant.
The approximant realization of /h/ is in turn of two types- one dividable with flanking
vowels, the other merged with the vowels. The difference between the fricativized
approximant and the merged approximant was determined visually from the spectrograms
and oscillograms.

Murthy says (personal communication) that the Hindi speech synthesis programme carried out by her and

colleagues, statistical parametric synthesizers are used in order to take care of the issue relating to the
difficulty in slicing off /h/ as well as some other issues based on the context. See

3.3 The data
The data consisted of the words listed in the contexts below, taking into account the factors
affecting the behaviour of /h/.

(2) Contexts for /h/ in Hindi

1) Word-initial

/ha:ti:/ [ha: ti:] elephant

/hlki:/ [hlki:] light weight- FEM
/hua:/ [hua:] happened-MASC
/hi:/ [hi:] (emphatic morpheme)
2) Word-medial
(a) stressed
/suha:na:/ [suha:na] pleasant

/nha:na:/ [nha:na:] to take bath

/she:li:/ [sahe:li] female friend

(b) unstressed
(i) Without schwa fronting
/bhut/ [but] a lot, very

/mhila:/ [mhila:] lady

/rhi:/ [rhi:] CONT-FEM

(ii) With schwa fronting
/hr/ [hr] city

/ hr/ [ hr] stay

/nhr/ [nhr] canal

/bhn/ [bhn] sister
(iii) with following schwa deletion
/a:hte:/ [a:hte:] like- OBL
/khta:/ [kehta:] say- 3PER-SING-PRES
/khna:/ [kena:] say- INF
/phle:/ [pele:] before, earlier
3) Word-final

/trh/ [trh] as, like
/h/ [h] place
/kh/ [keh] or [kh] say-IMP
/h/ [eh] or [h] 3PER-SING

4. Discussion
4.1 As mentioned above, the data for experimental analysis in the present paper are from
speakers from two regional sources represented by Delhi and Bihar. For each region, both
male and female speakers were selected. The discussion below revolves around the two
variants of /h/- voiceless aspirated fricative [h] and voiced approximant []. The discussion
is organized around the following points:
Fricative /h/
Approximant []
Intervocalic stressed
Intervocalic unstressed
Following schwa deletion
Before obstruents
Before sonorants

In the end, the the gender and regional differences are also discussed.

4.2 Fricative /h/

In all instances, where /h/ occurs word-initially (examples in 2-1), it has the properties of a
voiceless aspirated fricative. Look at the following graphs for word-initial fricative [h].

Graph-1: Oscillogram and spectrogram of word-initial /h/ in /ha:thi/

Graph-2: Oscillogram and spectrogram of word-initial /h/ in /ha:thi/

The oscillograms of /h/ compared to the following vowel are clearly indicative of the fricative
nature of /h/ in this context/
A fricative, or rather a fricativized, [h] is also found foot-initially (examples in (2-2b).
Hindi feet are moraic trochees (see Pandey 1989, Hayes 1995), which means the first syllable
in a foot in Hindi is stressed. In this position, however, there are instances of both a
fricativized as well as an approximant /h/, as can be seen in Graph-3 and Graph-4 below,
both productions of a Delhi female speaker.

Graph-3: Foot- initial fricativized /h/

Graph-4: Foot- initial approximant []

4.3 Approximant []

/h/ is ambiguous in realization foot initially. However, in all other contexts, including
unstressed intervocalic positions and coda positions, /h/ is realized predictably as an
approximant. The segment is perceived as voiced. An attempt at slicing /h/ in these positions
failed. In all instances, /h/ was inseparable from the surrounding vowels. This feature was
attested in cases where the following schwa is perceived as deleted, discussed in section 4.4
in detail.
As extracting /h/ in the above contexts was not possible, a strong case was found for
characterizing the phenomenon as segment merger. The features of /h/ merged with the
features of the neigbouring vowels in the following way: the aspiration of /h/ was overlaid on
the neighbouring vowels, and the formants of the neighbouring vowels were extended to /h/.
A relevant question that arose in the course of the investigation was, in the intervocalic

position which of the vowels had greater influence on /h/- the preceding or the following? In
order to find an answer to the question, the VhV sequence was sliced into three equal parts.
For objective results, the mdeial 75% portion was selected, with the beginning and ending
12.5% of the sequence kept out for measurement. It was possible to do so in PRAAT,
following the slicing devices available.
The acoustic consequences of the merger of aspiration in [h] with the surrounding vowels
can be read from the following tables:
Intervocalic (Unstressed) [h] formant figures
Without schwa fronted, the average figures show F1 and F2 to be closer to either the
following or the preceding vowel. The variation is gender-based, as will be seen in section
4.6 below.
The abbreviations used in the tables and graphs below have the following full forms:
BF= Bihar female, DF= Delhi Female, BM= Bihar male, DM= Delhi male,
AVG= Average, TAVG= Total average

2350 AVG.DF
1850 AVG.BF
1350 AVG.DM
1100 AVG.BM
F1 F2 F3 F1 F2 F3 F1 F2 F3

Graph-5: Average formants for VhV sequences for Set-2(a)

With schwa fronted

The formant values of the flanking vowels ae not significantly different, although ther eis
tilt of the preceding vowel being closer to the approximant, as can be seen in Graph-6:

2350 AVG.DF
1850 AVG.BF
1100 AVG.BM
F1 F2 F3 F1 F2 F3 F1 F2 F3

Graph-6: Average of six words in Set 2(b)ii with identical flanking vowels around /h/

Schwa Deletion
In the context of schwa deletion noted in Hindi phonological literature (Ohala 1974,
Pandey 1990, Mohan 2014, among others), it came to be observed that in fact the following
schwa is merged with [h]. The tripartite division of the sequence V1-[h]-V2 shows that V2 is
not deleted, but in fact merged with []. In this context, [] is inseparable from the schwa

following it. Two contexts were selected for the consonant following the putative schwa
deletion- obstruents and sonorants. The figures are being produced below for both. Graph-7
presents the figures for the schwa preceding obstruents

2250.00 TAVGDF
1750.00 TAVGBF
1500.00 TAVGDM
1000.00 TAVGBM
F1 F1 F3 F1 F2 F3 F1 F2 F3

Graph-7: Total Average of two words in (2)-b)-iii- /a:hte:/ [a:hte] and /khta:/ [khta:]

As the following schwa in these cases is merged with the preceding [[]], the merger can

only be noted. The IPA convention of transcription allows for representing the merger of []

with a vowel- [e]. The correct representation in these cases is either as [ee]or as [e]. In either

case, the second segment is an approximant without a place of articulation, rather than a
fricative. The segment takes its place of articulation from the surrounding vowels. The above
graph shows that in both its formants, the ranges in the first and the last part are closer to each
other than to the middle part, which is the approximant []
The figures for + sonorant sequences are not significantly different from the figures for
+obstruent sequences, as can be seen in the graph below. These figures show that the
approximant [] takes its features from an adjacent vowel and that there is no strict
directionality involved in the process of the merger of /h/.

F1 F1 F3 F1 F2 F3 F1 F2 F3

Graph-8: Total Average of 2 words in (2)-b)-iii, /khna:/ [kena:] and /phle:/ [pele:]

The approximant character of [] is attested for the word-final position occurrences, too.
Look at Graph-9 for its formant figures and the spectrograms and oscillograms in Graph-10
of the word /kh/ from set (2)-3) above.

2450.00 AVGDM
1950.00 AVGBF
1450.00 AVGDM
F1 F2 F3 F1 F2 F3

Graph-9: Average of the formants of the 4 words in (3)

Graph-10: oscillogram and spectrogram of /kh/ from a Delhi female and Delhi Male

Intervocalic stressed /h/

Formant figures for the intervocalic stressed /h/ tell a slightly different story. In all the
three words in set (2)-2)-a, the vowels preceding and following /h/ are different in quality. On
a close look, we find (Graph-11) that the formant features of /h/ are closer to the following
vowel than to the preceding vowel when occurring as onset in a stressed syllable word-

medially. In this position, /h/ can also be pronounced as a fricative. Look at the table and the
spectrograms and oscillograms of a word in two productions.

2750 AVGDF
2250 AVGBF
1500 AVGDM
F1 F2 F3 F1 F2 F3 F1 F2 F3

Graph-11: Formant values of stressed /h/in /suha:na:/ (Set 4)

Foot- initial fricativized [h] Foot- initial approximant []

4.4 Schwa deletion

Schwa deletion is not attested when it is preceded by /h/. Instead, the schwa is merged with
the preceding /h/, pronounced as an approximant []. In this position, it is not possible to
segment []. Its segmentation in various degrees of its duration gives a breathy vowel instead
of a consonant. The investigation confirms the earlier findings that the sonorant [] is vocalic
in nature, rahter than a spirant.

4.5 Regional difference

It is interesting to observe that with regard to the acoustic features of /h/, there is no
significant regional difference found in the speech of the informants in spite of considerable
geographical distance between the varieties represented here. The only difference that was
noted was that the speakers of the eastern variety showed a greater tendency for a fricativized
/h/ in stressed syllable-initial positions than the speakers of the Delhi variety.

4.6 Gender difference

The figures in Table-1 show a difference in gender. The female figures of the two regional
varieties show /h/ to be closer to the following vowel in formant properties, both F1 and F2,
whereas the male figures of the two regional varieties show greater closeness of /h/ to the
preceding vowel in F1 and F2 properties. The Table presents the figures for the data
mentioned in it. All the data are from (2). The Table should be read in reference to it as
follows: 2)-b-ii should be read as the data presented in (2) under the heading 2)-b-ii.

V1 H V2
F1 F2 F3 F1 F2 F3 F1 F2 F3
AVG.DF 483 1119 2752 775 1255 3132 751 1499 2800
AVG.BF 518 1115 2671 662 1455 2778 639 1539 2959
AVG.DM 498 911 2441 502 897 2517 424 1156 2432
AVG.BM 535 881 2773 561 881 2785 493 1139 2676

AVG.DF 685 2232 3134 728 2308 3098 674 2103 2968
AVG.BF 562 2011 2968 639 2136 3189 583 1981 2879
AVG.DM 503 1822 2612 553 1909 2645 479 1688 2593
AVG.BM 510 1722 2666 550 1671 2711 543 1685 2673
2)-a- [suha:na]

AVGDF 488 1223 3467 839 1576 3161 722 1494 2101
AVGBF 442 1312 3232 701 1460 3021 752 1625 2338
AVGDM 466 931 2496 758 1484 2788 651 1308 2356
AVGBM 431 1101 2598 609 1097 2410 632 1241 2297
AVGDF 771 1848 2994 1165 1898 3283 752 1680 2344
AVGBF 785 1722 2197 1039 1687 2664 822 1716 2336
AVGDM 579 1517 2619 738 1321 2493 672 1386 2482

AVGBM 457 1646 2315 676 1354 2340 639 1295 2291
AVGDF 546 1930 2486 370 2479 3045 437 2153 2844
AVGBF 534 2025 2778 423 2247 2952 466 2250 2984
AVGDM 465 1793 2563 478 1890 2564 418 1968 2562
AVGBM 479 1749 2626 450 1921 2641 414 1938 2648
2)-b-iii-before obstruents-
TAVGDF 522 2210 2836 582 2281 2876 533 2146 2818
TAVGBF 597 2034 2791 652 2087 2978 560 1974 2971
TAVGDM 481 1780 2451 543 1739 2476 462 1692 2629
TAVGBM 474 1539 2265 513 1760 2536 477 1653 2799
2)-b-iii-before sonorant-
TAVGDF 561 2274 2933 612 2335 2948 530 2143 2783
TAVGBF 610 1906 2572 631 2022 2786 570 2063 3073
TAVGDM 556 1845 2557 616 1848 2572 575 1834 2624
TAVGBM 474 1539 2265 513 1760 2536 477 1653 2799
Table-1: Formant values of intervocalic /h/ and the flanking vowels

The issue of gender difference in the formant realizations of /h/, however, needs further

4. 7 Conclusions
The main aspects of the acoustic properties of /h/ in Hindi can be stated as the following.
a. The schwa following /h/ is merged with it rather than deleted, unlike after other
consonants. This finding has implications for speech synthesis in Hindi. Schwa deletion does
not apply in this context.
b. The apparently contrasting views about /h/ being a voiceless glottal fricative and a
glottal approximant, as discussed in the beginning, has a resolution in the present
investigation of the consonant in Hindi. It is realized both as a voiceless glottal fricative as
well as an approximant. The fricative allophone is realized intially in words and occasionally
in stressed syllables and the approximant allophone is realized unequivocally syllable-finally
and intervocalically before an unstressed vowel.
On the whole, there is no directionality involved in the process of the merger of /h/ and an
adjacent vowel in Hindi, yielding []. There is evidence, however, about there being some
gender difference in this regard, with females showing rightward merger and males showing
leftward merger with adjacent vowel

5 Phonology of /h/
5.1 The fact that /h/ has both a fricative or fricativized and approximant realizations can be
explained by a combination of both phonetic and phonological facts. Phoneticaly, we have
seen that the fricative [h] is realized uniformaly in the speech of eastern and western standard
Hindi speakers word-initially, when it is not preceded by any other sound.
Aspiration is also realized with voiceless stops, as in the word /ha:thi:/. In some articulations,
especially in the speech of eastern standard Hindi, it is also realized in the stress-initial
position, as in [suha:na:]. This can be explained as owing to greater force of articulation of

the glottal fricative. When preceded or flanked by voiced sounds, it is realized as an

approximant mainly because it is difficult to keep the voiceless contrast adjacent to voiced
segments. It is not surprising that without a place of articulation of its own, the approximant
[] takes the formant features of the adjacent vowels.
Is there a phonological explanation, too, for the complementary distribution of the
fricative and approximant realizations of /h/? As the behaviour of /h/ is phonologically
conditioned, a phonological explanation of the phenomenon is called for, as phonetics alone
cannot account for the patterning and behaviour of sounds.

5.2 Neutralization of laryngeal contrasts and emergence of laryngeal allophones

5.2.1 Laryngeal segments are noted for restricted contrasts among them (e.g. Halle & Stevens
1971, Steriade 1997, Kehrein & Golston 2004). The following laryngeal contrasts are
reported in the literature:
(i). Voiceless glottal fricative /h/ versus voiceless glottal stop //- (common):
E. g. Khasi (Rabel 1961), Kurux (Ekka 1985), Mizo (Fanai 1992)
(ii). Voiced glottal fricative // versus Voiceless glottal stop //- (common):
E.g. Kuvi (Israel 1975), Limbu (van Driem 1987)
(iii). Voiceless glottal fricative /h/ versus Voiced glottal fricative //- (rare):
E.g. Lam (Sachnine1982, Ladefoged & Maddieson 1996), Khezha (Kapfo
(iv). Voiceless glottal stop // versus Voiced glottal stop / /- (doubtful):
E.g. Jingpho (Halle & Stevens 1971)

Of the four possible contrasts, (i) and (ii) are common, (iii) is rare, and (iv) is doubtful.
With regard to the contrast in (iv), Halle & Stevens (1971: 208f) argue that a distinction in
tone in Jingpho (Dai & Diehl 2003), a Tibeto-Burman language spoken in Myanmar, India
and China, is caused by voicing in adjacent consonants. However, on an alternative analysis,
the relation between laryngeal voicing and tone could be seen the other way round, that is, the
tones are causing the difference in laryngeal voicing. Unequivocal evidence for the contrast
between // and // is missing.

Languages which contrast between /h/ and // are rare. The following languages have
been noted (in all five, to the best of my knowledge) in the literature to have a /h/ versus //
contrast: Lam, (Ladefoged & Maddieson 1996), Zulu (Traill et al. 1987), SiSwati (Bradshaw
1999), Musey (Shryock 1995), Wu (Cao & Maddieson 1992) and Khezha (Kapfo 2005, see
also The last one, Khezha is spoken
in the State of Nagaland in northeast India. The syllable in Khezha is open. The glottal
fricative phonemes in Khezha are found to occur word initially and medially, as all other
consonants. A minimal and a sub-minimal pair for the sounds are given below:

/ha/ yawn /keh/ increase

/a/ cut by rubbing (e.g. saw) /ke/ rake, to stir

Given the rarity of contrast between a voiceless and a voiced glottal fricative in world
languages, and the greater realization of the glottal fricative as an approximant, how do we
characterize the glottal fricative/ approximant consonant? In languages that have only the
approximant realization [], it should well be treated as a glottal approximant phoneme with
the feature combination [+voice, +spread glottis]. In languages such as Hindi and Turkish,
that have both the fricative and approximant realizations, the phoneme may be treated as a
fricative with the feature combination [+spread glottis, -voice] that also has an allophonic
approximant realization having the feature combination [+spread glottis, +voice].

There are two important questions that arise at this point and that need to be addressed.
a) How is it that a contrast between a voiceless and a voiced glottal fricative is so rare in
b) How is it that languages that lack in laryngeal voiceless and voiced fricative contrast
have them as allophones?

There appears to be a puzzling situation here. To put it briefly, although languages lack in
both voiceless and voiced glottal fricative phonemes, they have them both as allophones.
An answer to this puzzle lies in my view in the explanations for the structure of
phonological inventories. These are of two types. One explains why a laryngeal contrast is
hard to come by and the other predicts why laryngeal allophones emerge. These are
complementary in nature. We will discuss the first type first.

5.2.2 Neutralization of laryngeal contrasts

There have been attempts at explaining how segmental inventories are determined in terms of
the presence of absence of contrasts. Two of them are discussed below.

Maximal Dispersion or Sufficient Contrast

The lack of a contrast between a voiceless and a voiced fricative in world languages is
explainable on account of the theory of Maximal Dispersion or Sufficient Contrast (e.g.
Lindblom 1986, 1992, Lindblom, MacNeilage and Studdert-Kennedy 1983).
The notion of Suffient Contrast is combines constraints on production and perception of
speech sounds According to Lindblom and his colleagues, the critically shapes inventories of
speech sounds in languages. The principle is clearly seen at work on vowel systems, that are
found optimally dispersed (Lilyencrants and Lindblom 1972). A typical eight vowel pattern
in world languages (Maddieson 1980) is as shown in the Chart-1 below:

i u
e o


Chart-1: a typical eight-vowel system

A typical 7 vowel system is as shown in Chart-2 below:

i u
e o

Chart-2: A typical 7 vowel system

The vowel inventories in the above charts show a symmetrical distribution of vowels in
terms of height and front-back parameters. Such symmetrical patterns are also a subject of
phonetic investigation and explanation (e.g. Boersma 1998, De Boer 2001, and Schwartz et
al. 1997). The phonetic explanation rests largely on showing how the perceptual distance
between vowels matches the model of vowel systems as minimizing their potential energy.
The theory of Sufficient Contrast gives a coherent account of symmetrical vowel patterns.
However it hasnt been found to be equally applicable to asymmetrical vowel patterns as well
as consonant systems in general. The distribution of contrast patterns of laryngeal consonants,
however, that we have discussed above, appears to be predictable by the theory. It is not
difficult to see that the distinction between a voiceless glottal fricative and a voiced glottal
fricative is not so easily perceptible. As we saw above for Hindi, following a vowel the
distinction between a fricativized [h] and an approximant [] is blurred. Graph-3 and Graph-
4 are reproduced below for the sake of easy reference:

Graph-3: Foot- initial fricativized [h]

Graph-4: Foot- initial approximant []

In order to maintain a difference between the two, the potential articulatory energy must
be maximized, as it is in the case of vowels that are articulated close to each other, such as [

Prosodic Licensing and Licensing by Cue

The notion of Maximal Dispersion is complemented by theories of Prosodic Licensing

(e.g. Ito 1986, 1989, Lombardi 1991, 1995) and Licensing by Cue (Steriade 1997). According
to the theory of Prosodic Licensing, the prosodic positions in which features occur control the
distribution of the features. For example, voicing distinction is more easily found to occur in
the onset position than in the coda position of a syllable. The notion explains why voicing is
neutralized word-finally, but not word-initially. According to the theory of Licensing by Cue
(Steriade 1997), phonological grammars incorporate knowledge of the conditions under
which feature contrasts are physically implemented. For instance, a voiced or voiceless
obstruent, which is distinguished by the feature Voice Onset Time (VOT), will be devoid of
its VOT cue. In this line of analysis, in the absence of a major distinctive cue, a distinction
between segments is likely to be neutralized. Besides, it helps explain neutralization of
contrasts in languages- in particular, laryngeal contrasts- in terms of an interaction between
the grammatical conditions on sound patterns and the independently known facts about the
perception and production of speech. Westbury and Keating (1985) and Kingston (1985,
1990) discuss at length the articulatory and the perceptual difficulties in realizing
laryngeal features. The fact that word-finally and word-medially the voice distinction
between glottal fricatives [h] and [] is difficult to maintain both articulatorily and
perceptually (e.g. Mielke 2002: 59 on the perception of [h] and [] distinction in Turkish),
explains why /h/ and // contrast is so rare in world languages.

We are now left with the question addressed above: How is it that languages that lack in
laryngeal voiceless and voiced fricative contrast have them as allophones?

5.2.3 Emergence of Laryngeal distinctions: Feature Economy

Clements in a number of studies (e.g. 2001, 2003) drawing from earlier work (e.g. Martinet
1955) and in consonance with a lot of contemporary work on featural economy argues for a
general principle of representational economy according to which representational elements
are specified in a given language only to the extent that they are needed in order to express
generalizations about the phonological system (Clements 2001).

The theory of representational economy departs from earlier versions of feature theory,
namely, full specification (Chomsky and Halle 1968), and underspecification theories (e.g.
Archangeli ) in assuming that only active features are specified. Features should be
lexically distinctive, phonologically involved in alternations, and phonetically pronounceable.
They are thus activated at different levels: lexical, phonological and phonetic. Features can be
ranked on a Feature Accessibility Scale (e.g. Calabrese 1988), given the frequency of their
activation. The feature [sonorant ] thus ranks highest on the scale, because it is contrasts
segments at the lexical level in all languages, whereas the feature [constricted glottis] ranks
lower on the scale, since fewer languages have glottal stops.

Distinctive features that are required in some languages may not be relevant in other
languages. When they are not relevant, it is assumed that they lie dormant and are not
activated in the language. For example, Tamil does not have aspirated consonants either as
phonemes or as allophones. We assume that the feature [spread glottis] is not activated at
any stage in the phonology of Tamil.

On the basis of the theories of Feature Activation and Representational Economy,

Clements proposes the principle of Feature Economy (Clements 2003) that says, if a feature
is used once in a system, it will tend to be used again. Feature Economy predicts the
presence of regular patterns in phonological inventories, and is thus a basic organisational
principle of sound systems. According to this principle, languages tend to maximise the
combinatory possibilities of features across the inventory of speech sounds: features used
once in a system tend to be used again. (Clements 2003: 287)

The principle of Feature Economy is not an absolute principle, it works in coordination

with other related principles (Clemets 2009), one of them being Markedness. Contrasting
marked segments are avoided by the principle.

Clements proposes a way of giving a quantitative measure of economy in terms of the
Economy Index. This is simply the ratio of speech sounds in a system over the smallest
number of features required to characterize them. Thus, given a system with S speech sounds
characterized by F features, its economy index, E, is given by expression (8):
(8) E=S/F
The higher the value of E, the greater the economy. (Clements 2003: 289).
The measure of economy is calculated by counting the number of segments present and by
dividing it with the number of features involved (see Clements 2003: 290 for details).

Clements illustrates the working of the principle with the help of three consonant systems-
Hawaiian, French and Nepali- that show consonant inventories of different sizes, but involve
feature economy in their patterning

Three consonant systems

a. Hawaiian: 8 consonants

p k
m n
w l


b. French: 18 consonants

p t k
b d g
f s
v z

m n

c. Nepali: 27 consonants

p t ts k

p t ts k

b d dz g
b d dz g
m n ()

Hawaiian is selected for using two places of articulation, labial and non-labial, with
three manners of articulation yielding the maximum number of 6 (2X3) supralaryngeal
consonants. In French voicing is employed with stops and fricatives to yield 12 (2X6)
obstruents. In Nepali, five places of articulation and four manners of articulations are
used fully to give 20 (5X4) stops.

Notice that not all features are utilized in these systems. For example, although there
is /h/ in Hawaiian, but there is no aspirated stop, or there is only one nasal consonant in
it. Similarly, French lacks in palatal stops, and Nepali excludes aspirated sonorants,
although theoretically these sounds were possible in the system.

Now let us see how the Economy measure applies to the three systems. Following the
algorithm described in Clements (2001), the list of features involved in the three systems
is given in (..) below. Features that are checked are distinctive and that are left blank are
non-distinctive in the systems. Thus [dorsal] is non-distinctive in Hawaiian and [spread
glottis] is non-distinctive in French.
Distinctive features in Hawaiian, French and Nepali consonants

Hawaiian French Nepali

[spread glottis]
[constricted glottis]

[lateral] 5 7

The Economy measure yields the following ranking among the three systems:

Distinctive features consonants economy index

Hawaiian 3 5 1.60

French 7 18 2.57

Nepali 10 27 2.70

Table: Economy of the Hawaiian, French and Nepali systems compared

(economy index=S/F).

The theory of Feature Economy presented above provides an explanation of differences in

phonologicl inventories arising out of the differences in (a) activation of features and (b)
explitation of the features. The greater the exploitation of the combination of features, the
more economic the system. The basic tenet of the theory is, at the risk of repetition, if a
feature is used once in a system, it will tend to be used again.
Feature Economy predicts accounts for the puzzle stated above about restricted laryngeal
contrasts and emergent laryngeal segments. In consonance with the theories of Prosodic
Licensing and Licensing by Cue, the Economy Principle does not apply to give contrasting
laryngeal fricatives /h/ and // in a majority of languages Hindi is an unmarked system here.
However, their presence as non-contrasting segments in the language is predicted by the
Principle of Economy. The features [voice] and [spread glottis] are active in the system with

the voiced/ voiceless contrast in the stop series- /p p b b/ etc. As they are already activated
for stops, the feature economy predicts that the combination will apply to other entities as
well to yield more segments. [] thus results from the combination of [+voice] to the
laryngeal node. Tha latter is an abstract category which functions in phonological processes.

6 Summary and discussion

This paper has investigated the acoustic properties of /h/ in Hindi against the backdrop of the
controversy regarding the fricative versus approximant charaterizations of the segment. It has

argued that the phoneme is realized in a non-neutralizing context, such as the word-initial
position, as a fricative and should thus be treated as such. /h/ also has, however, an
approximant realization in neutralizing contexts such as the intervocalic and the word-final
positions. Both the lack of a laryngeal contrast as well as the emergence of laryngeal non-
contrastive segments in world languages are explained by independent but consistent lines of
inquiry, namely Maximal Dispersion, Prosodic Licensing, Licensing by Cue and Feature
Economy. The paper also shows that phonological and phonetic inventories are governed by
both articulatory and perceptual constraints (e.g. Ohala 1980, 1981, Westbury and Keating
1985, Kingston 1990, Hayes et al. 1994, Kingston & Diehl 1995) and abstract phonological
and cognitive constraints, such as Feature Economy discussed above.

An evidence for the argument that phonological inventories are governed by abstract
phonological and cognitive properties in the grammar is forthcoming from the fact that not
only a voiced glottal fricative emerges with the combination of the activated features [+voice]
and [spread glottis], but that other laryngeal segments that function under the laryngeal node
may also emerge as allophones. This indeed is the case in some languages. Cases of the
glottal stop realized from /h/ abound in languages, as, for instance in the Indic languages
Korku, Mandeali and Zo (Pandey 2014: 142). A more interesting case is of the Nigerian
language in which /h/ is realized additionally as [] voiced pharyngeal fricative and []:

How can the approximant realization of the combination of the features [+voice] and
[spread glottis] be explained? The way the combination works can be described thus. /h/ is
devoid of an articulatory gesture in not having a place node, but is associated to the laryngeal
node for phonological functioning. When it takes the feature [+voice], it does so as
assimilation to the neighbouring adjacent vowel(s). In effect, it also takes the formant values
of the adjacent vowel(s). This has the effect of a merger of the vowel features to the glottal
fricative as illustrated in the following diagram:

[-voice] V place


As /h/ is merged with the adjacent vowel, it acquires the properties of an approximant.
An evidence of the merger account of /h/ with the [+voice] and place features of the adjacent
vowel in Hindi comes from difficulty or rather impossibility of separating the fricative
component of /h/ from the following vowel in the appparent cases of schwa deletion in Hindi.
In cases of an lexically intervocalic /h/, attempts at slicing the following vowel from the
preceding [] fail. The resultant sound is still a breathy vowel [] or [e]. If the slicing is

considerable, one gets to hear a glottal stop in stead, as discussed in section above. This is
not the case with the word-initial fricative /h/. The fricative can be sliced off leaving the
following vowel as is.
It appears that most cases of approximant [] arise from a merger of voice and the vowel
place features with the fricative.


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