Is /h/ phonetically neutral?
Use of /h/ in the phrase, “Say /hVC/ again” has been tacitly assumed to provide a neutral phonetic context in which to study the articulatory characteristics of speech either preceding or following /h/ articulation. Yet, assessment of the stability or neutrality of /h/ has gone untested. The current study sought to determine whether articulation of /h/ differs according to sex and language accent, as well as to examine its influence on subsequent vowel articulation. Selected acoustic features of /hVC/ were measured in 40 speakers of American English (AE) and 40 speakers of Mandarin accented English (MAE). Results of an analysis of /h/ duration revealed no sex differences within each language group, however considerable variation was found according to accented versus unaccented English. Clear sex differences were found for the production of /??, occurring more often among male speakers regardless of language variety. Considerable variation in production of /?/ was found between language groups. Analysis of vowel formant frequencies immediately following /h/ articulation indicated minimal coarticulatory effects for both AE and MAE speakers. The present results appear to support the suggestion that /h/ is not exclusively sex-linked and may indeed vary according to non-biological factors. In spite of these variations, /h/ articulation appears to have a negligible influence on neighboring vowel articulation.