In English, "h" in suffix "-ham" (originated from Old English "home") are skipped when pronouncing so "-ham" sound like "-am". Examples are "Fulham", "Tottenham" etc etc.

My question is what causes such phenomenon? Are there other consonants behave similarly? And finally when did this happen? On one hand it seems that this happened only recently as American English still read out the "h", while on the other hand "Tottenham" was spelled as "Totnam" as early as 16th century.

  • 2
    The status of English /h/ has changed since Middle English. Now /h/ occurs strictly before vowels, and constitutes a simple voiceless vocal onset, which is especially difficult to pronounce and to distinguish after consonants. In general, lightly pronounced sounds like [h] are especially prone to get lost, or to alternate with or to mutate into other fricatives, in all the languages of the world; look at "silent H" in Spanish or French, for instance.
    – jlawler
    Jun 18 '14 at 19:50

It is simply a reduction of the common, unstressed element: the vowel is centralised, and the initial /h/ is lost. (Note that there are few English words with /h/ after a consonant, and apart from names they are virtually all compounds like offhand and uphill).

A similar case is the /w/ in -wich and -wick, which in many place-names (but not all) has disappeared: Greenwich, Harwich, Hawick, Alnwick. Also compare the usual pronunciation of -cester as /stə/.

Where the 'h' of -ham follows 's' or 't', many places have a spelling pronunciation: Chesham, Lewisham, with /ʃ/; Grantham, with /θ/. I believe that these pronunciations are quite recent: I remember somebody from Chesham telling me forty years ago that locals said /'tʃɛzəm/.

  • Interesting. There's a locality called Chesham in Bury, Greater Manchester, and I've only ever heard it called /'tʃɛzəm/ (having lived within a mile for well over a decade).
    – AndrewC
    Jun 18 '14 at 22:35
  • Are you sure it was with [z] and not [s] before?
    – Alex B.
    Jun 19 '14 at 3:51

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