The spelling 'gh' is pronounced in many ways.
For example, in the case of 'ghastly' or 'ghetto', it is 'g',
while it is 'f' in 'enough' and 'rough'.
Meanwhille, it is not pronounced in 'thought' and 'eight'.
Looking at these words carefully, I found that 'gh' is 'g' at the beginning of the word, 'f' at the end of the word and ZERO in the middle of the word.
Are there any exceptions to this rule?
Also, how native English speakers pronounce 'gh', when they come across unfamiliar words including proper nouns or foreign words?
Yes- it can be silent at the end of a word:
Do bear in mind, however, that it's NOT always "f" sound, if it occurs at the end of a word ONLY, since it ALSO is "f" sound, if it occurs in spellings where "gh" many not occur at the end such as "toughen" or "toughly" (which may be a variation of "tough", but its still a different word with different meaning, gramatically speaking).
Originally Posted by peppy_man
Similarly, another exception I could think of is "high" or "sigh" or "sleigh", where gh has NOT got the "f" sound, but is instead "silent".
As far as the native speakers of English are concerned, in most cases, it comes natural to their tongue when it comes to pronouncing "gh" if it occurs in other languages or non-English sounding name itself, however, having said that they may NOT always be right, since they'd pronounce it bearing in mind the rules of "English", which may not necessarily be the same for OTHER languages.
Simple example would be, I recently went to the "Bergamo" city of Italy. Now in British English "r" sound is ALWAYS silent (unless followed by a vowel sound) & hence when calling this city name, I wasn't pronouncing the sound of "r" making it IMPOSSIBLE for native Italians to understand, UNTIL I realised that I rather roll my tongue & produce the "r" sound so they could understand that I'm talking about "Bergamo" city itself.
Another example would be in Hindi language, where the "gh" sound has NOT got "g" or "f" or "silent" since it's a sound which DOES NOT occur in English language that gets produced with a forced flow of air hitting the top teeth. This means that most Indians won't be able to produce "g" sound (which although occurs in Hindi) when the spelling has "gh" appearing & would instead produce this non-existance English sound i.e. the sound that occurs in THEIR language.
Usually English speakers will apply rules from similar words to find ways to pronounce unfamiliar words. For instance, if I saw a word [[B]phresceigh[B]], I would use cues from familiar words like phrase or weigh and pronounce it "fres-kay". (Don't run for your OED, I just made that word up.)
Thank you for your comments!