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Many (most? all?) Spanish words containing the letter h come from corresponding Latin words containing the letter f. Through what process did /f/ get softened to /h/? During what time period did this change occur?

A few examples include:

  • hablar from deponent Latin verb for, to speak, whose future and past are fābor and fābar. (Funny that it's famously regular in Spanish)
  • hacer from Latin facīo, facere, fēcī, factus, to make or do
  • herir from Latin ferīo, ferīre, ferīvī, ferītus, to strike, smite, slay
  • hierro from Latin ferrum, ferrī, iron
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This is a good question for the Linguistics SE... :D –  Alenanno Nov 30 '11 at 9:17
    
see what Wikipedia has to say about it en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Spanish#Latin_f-_to_Spanish_h- –  Theta30 Dec 1 '11 at 8:48
    
@Alenanno: I agree but it didn't seem to be resolved there whether questions about a single language belonged there, especially when the language had its own site. –  hippietrail Dec 2 '11 at 16:25
    
A side comment: Most, but not all apparences of H come from Latin, many come from Arabic, as Almohada (pillow), Albahaca (Basil), pretty much those beginning with the Arabic definite article al –  Petruza Dec 31 '11 at 2:35
    
And of course there are other loan words with an h. An obvious example: hotcakes (often, but not always, pronounced as with an English 'h' sound) –  Flimzy Feb 24 '12 at 22:28

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I think that transformation is only when the /h/ or /f/ is the first letter.

This transformation is related (in theory) to the preromanic languages, this case it's atributed to euskara substrat that also influences de aspirated /h/ is Gascon language.

Sources:

Historia del español

Where we found: la desaparición de f- inicial en muchas palabras que en latín llevaban este sonido, y, supuestamente, el llamado betacismo, debidos, probablemente, a la influencia del vascuence o del íbero (nótese que la aspiración de /h/ también se da en idioma gascón que habría tenido igualmente un substrato vasco).

The disappearance of initial f in many words that in Latin have this sound, and, presumably, the so-called betacism, is probably caused by the influence of Basque or Iberian (note that the aspiration of /h/ is also found in the Gascon dialect that would have had the same Basque substrate).

Lenguas romances

WHere we found: Igualmente algunos estudiosos consideran que un idioma que sirvió de sustrato para las lenguas ibero-romanas fue el vasco, que posiblemente aportó al cambio /f/ al /h/ al inicio de las palabras en español (el latín farina se convirtió en “harina”), y palabras como “izquierda” (vasco ezkerra).

Some scholars believe that one language that served as a substrate for Ibero-Romance language was Basque, which possibly contributed to the change from /f/ to /h/ at the beginning of words in Spanish (Latin farina became "harina"), and words like "izquierda" (Basque ezkerra).

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