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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Canadians and heritage

Further to my post about whether to use "an" or "a" before words starting with "h", today one of my facebook friends [she is an archaeologist] mentioned "an heritage bridge". When I asked her if she always used "an" before "heritage", she confirmed that she did, and that one of her colleagues also did so "sometimes", though the other never did. I was intrigued by this, and when I did a Google search it became even more intriguing. "A heritage" is vastly, hugely, overwhelmingly more common than "an heritage". But when I eliminated all of the "an heritage" instances that were from the King James Version of the Bible, and those used by non-native speakers of English, the few that remained were predominantly Canadian. Not to say that Canadians prefer "an heritage" to "a heritage", but if you do say "an heritage", you are more likely to be Canadian than not.
This word underwent the same evolution as "history", starting out as "eritage", acquiring an etymological initial "h" in the Renaissance, then acquiring the "h" in the pronunciation in the 19th century.

1 comment:

  1. as an ESL teacher, I have to try to straighten this out for my students. I find it odd that we exceptionally say an heir, but a heritage, though the words obviously have a common root.


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.