The 'Arse that Jack Built: A Diachronic Study of h-dropping in English
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This thesis carries out a diachronic study of h-dropping throughout the history of English; from the Old English period up to the present day. H-dropping is a variable that is of interest because it has characterised English since Old English and is still present in the language today. The study of how initial /h/ before a vowel varies, and which factors influence its distribution in English, provide clues as to how and why stable variation occurs in the language in general. The changing distribution of initial /h/ throughout history has influenced the rise and spread of the feature that is so prevalent in Present Day English. A small case study of the Early Middle English text Layamon’s Brut was conducted to see if h-dropping was indeed lacking in West Midland dialects despite LALME claims to the contrary and if so, what this might tell us about the geographical distribution of h-dropping in the Early Middle English period. The evidence of h-loss in Old English sources like the Ormulum and the Rushworth Gospels suggest that h-loss was a feature of English before the Norman Conquest and the resulting language contact with French occurred. The results of the case study on Layamon’s Brut suggest that there is an extension of the distribution of h-dropping into the northern parts of the Midlands region, which ties in with the possibly Mercian distribution of the Rushworth Gospels. The spread of h-dropping in modern dialects of English is influenced by a new dialect area called the Home Counties. Its popular vernacular 'Estuary English' is one of the reasons that h-dropping is now no longer socially stratified. This variety of English can be held accountable for the introduction of h-dropping in dialect areas that were historically h-retaining and it is expected to reduce these areas even further in the future.