Page images
PDF
EPUB

of ai in fair, the organs of speech produce of themselves this identical sound, what practical advantage is to be derived from exhibiting separately in a key, the sounds of a in fate and a in fare? A delicate ear will probably discover that every vocal sound is in some degree modified by the nature of particular consonants with which it is connected. Thus, bait, bake, bathe, bale, bare, (or meat, meek, meath, meal, mere), contain five varieties of sound, dependent on peculiar articulation, which cannot, consistently with the simplicity of any system, be separately presented. Mr Walker is, therefore, contented to prescribe the note which ought to be sounded, and to leave the execution of it to the instrument, for the imperfections of whose vibrations he cannot answer. These imperfections he bas not neglected to study, or as our author would say, to fix his mental ear,' but having accurately ascertained the general powers of all the letters, he has, very judiciously, in our opinion, taken a distinct view of their disturbing infuences on each other. The letter T,' says he, being but a jar of the tongue soinetimes against the roof of the mouth, and sometimes at the orifice of the throat, is the most imperfect of all the consonants. He has accordingly given it admission into his key in two instances only, far and nor, in which it possesses no other power over the preceding vowels, than that of lengthening their sounds, as existing in fat and not. But, after vocal sounds, already long, he has not thought proper to place it; having, probably, considered with Mr. Nares, that it does not perfectly unite with long vowels and diphthongs preceding it, but retains something of the sound of er or ar. Hence it is that the monosyllables bare, bear, and hair, sound very like the dissyllable pruyer; hour like power; beer and fear like freer; fire like Ayer; oar, door, and sore, like rower and slower ; &c. and hence it has been usual to write fiery and wiery for firy and wiry. Shakspeare seems to have used dearly as a trisyllable, &c.'-(Elements of Orthoepy, page 120). May we not then be permitted to say, taking a lesson from Mr. Duponceau in refined illustration, that the letter r, as well as many other consonants, has an indefinite vocal atmosphere of its own, which like the atmosphere of certain planets, prevents any nice observation of its contacts with neighbouring objects, and that Mr. Walker has, there. fore, very philosophically endeavoured to exhibit his results free from the effect of organic refraction. Mr. Duponceau, on the contrary, seems hardly to be aware of the fatal consequence to his own theory of admitting among his simple elements, one consonant-mixture: for if , fol. lowing d, be entitled to peculiar rights, this consonant may fairly claim them after every other long vocal sound. We submit the question to the ear of our readers, cautioning them at the same time against the delusions of the eye, whether there is not the same kind of difference between meat and mere, boat and boar, boot and boor respectively, as our author has stated to exist between fate and fair.

From the imagined errors of our orthöepists, Mr. D. turns to the real imperfections of our alphabet in comparison with a musical scale: and here we are not disposed to deny what all our grammarians have long ago taught, that a perfect alphabet of any language would contain a number of letters precisely equal to the number of its articulate sounds. Every simpie sound would have its distinct character, and that character be a representative of no other sound, which is far from being the state of the English alphabet.'

We agree with our author, that there is no analogy in nature between written signs and words spoken, any more than between words and ideas'-that although alphabets may have been originally intended to represent mere sounds, the various combinations of their characters form at last, in fact, a written language, which, like that of the Chinese, conveys ideas directly to the mind,' and which may be learned by the deaf and dumb; though they have no conception of the sounds which the letters represent'-that the eye and the ear are different senses, each of which is capable of being employed as a medium for the communication of thoughts between man and man, by means of visible or aucible signs previously agreed upon-that the oral and written language of every country in Europe have deviated widely from each other, that the orthography of the English in particular, is one of the most anomalous that we know'-that, in short, it is impossible to judge from the sound of most of our words what is the orthography, or from orthography what is the sound. We acknowledge that ere are at present in the English language, simple sounds which can only be expressed singly by combinations of letters, such as oo, ee, au, sh,'--that . there are others, the idea of which cannot be conveyed to the mind through the eye by any character or characters in our alphabet, unless connected with others as parts of a word, of which habit has taught us to recognize the sound in a certain group of letters,'-that there are several letters and combinations of letters, the names of which have no affinity to the sounds such as h, w, y, ch, th, sh, gh, ph, ough, &c.;' that . in the word thought there is only one letter (1) the name of which contains one of the component sounds of the word correctly pronounced.' But from all these facts, and the whole metaphysical disquisition from which they are extracted, we are by no means led to the conclusion which our author desires to establish, namely, that alphabetical signs are aitogether treacherous elements of speech, inadequate instruments' lor restoring with any tolerable degree of success' the lost connexion between our oral and written tongue. The latter might, indeed, even within the last century, be justly compared to a confused and imperfect heap of ruins, from which no idea could be formed of the building they composed; but our skilful architects, by re-assembling the greater part of its scattered and disjointed, though imperishable materials, and by supplying the smaller vacancies with happy ingenuity, have presented to us a model, which if not perfect in its kind, is, we believe, far superior to any which could have been constructed by other means.

Consonants have been sometimes called the bones of language,' and are certainly its most durable parts. Depending for their formation on certain definable juxtapositions of the organs of speech, they may be said to have a local habitation; and though they inay want a name, or even be miscalled either in their simple or compounded state, their peculiar inherent powers are sufficiently distinguishable, and may be expressed for the most part in the English language, by single visible signs. We refer to Lindley Murray's excellent analysis of them (corresponding in substance with Mr. Duponceau's), in which the reader will find that, there are but four compound consonant sounds sh as in shy, th as in thin, th as in this, and zh as in vision, each including the letter h. Walker adds tsh as equivalent to ch in chair, and dzh equivalent to j in jail. The power of every other consonant-element, is to be recog. nized in a single character preceding any vowel with which it may be united ng represents the nasal sounds).

To use a figure suggested by our author, the English consonantsounds, whatever fantastic dresses they may have assumed in the masquerade of our written-language, are still somewhere to be recognized in primitive and appropriate garbs. We shall pursue this metaphor even at the risk of trifling unseasonably."

The K-ing may Capriciously beCome inCog in the Cloak of the Clown, or the S-enator be conCealed in the Cincture of the Cit or of Cæsar; The King may also present himself in masQUerade in the grotes Que habiliments and casQue of HarleQUin, while the Queen and her Waiting-Woman' U-nited play the parts of the King and Warrior; The King, changeful as the CHameleon, may Cast off his Crown to ase sume the CHaracter and peruQUe of the CHancellor, while he transfers his costume without his power to the Knight or the mimicK; AleX. ander may be found in 'raGS while the ex-king deCKS himself with the mantle of AleXander; the Zany may uSe the disguise of the S.enator, or the SHoe-black SHine as a CHevalier; The Judge in rtGimentals may look like the General, or without changing his dress display his Genius as, a Jester; the Jester may personate the Gentleman, while the Gentleman permits himself to be mistaken for the Gamester: The Gamester may escape coGnizance in the GUise of a GHost, and the GHost vanish from sight altogether: the German may put on the Gay Garb of the Gaul, or the Foreigner Figure as-a PHiladelPHian PHónologist: But if, at the close of the entertainment, masks and dominos are to be readily removed from this group of Protean forms, why should we neglect to make acquaintance with each in propria persona. Sed tamen-amoto quæramus seria ludo.'

The means of denoting vowel sounds are obviously more defective and indirect, for we have only five vowel characters to represent six long and six short simple vowel sounds (we exclude for reasons already given Mr. Duponceau's seventh long sound of a in mare, and its corresponding short sound of c in merry, considering them only as slight adulterations by the consonant r, of the sounds heard in male and met). But if twelve words are to be found in which these twelve sounds exist in purity, each represented by some one vowel-character, the numbers whích Walker attaches to them must answer every purpose of discri. mination: for though the individual elements be not known at first sight by their features, they cannot fail to be as well distinguished by a fixed asociation, as if they had each a distinct name and character to be referred to. The sound of oo in too, of ee in bee, of au in caul, may each be represented by a single letter as in move, me, and fall.

There is perhaps, as Mr. Nares has remarked, no greater irregularity to be found in our language than the different sounds belonging to the combination of letters ough in the words bough, dough, cough, tough, through, and thought; but since our orthoepists Sheridan and his sucessors availing themselves of an intermediate notation, cleared, to use an algebraical expression, of unknown quantities, have represented to us correctly all these six varieties of pronunciation by bóů, do, kof, taf, thro8, thảwt; can we consent with Mr. Duponceau to reject as delusive this simple and natural means of communication? possessing in our opinion, all the value of the middle term with which the logician compares his extremes and perfects his conclusion?

Our author asserts that the English alphabet with all its accents notes, points, and other auxiliary marks, will not give even to the best English scholar a precise idea of the sound of any word which custom has not previously established.' This is undoubtedly true as applied to the common orthography in books, but not so if Mr. Duponceau mtans, by auxiliary marks, all the arts of modern notation. He instances the proper name Mahomet, by Walker's denotement of which we should be willing to test the justice of the assertion, but as we cannot find the word in the Dictionary, we are forced to respell it for our readers, learing it to themselves to inake a fair experiment by submitting our three representatives of the prophet's name, with proper explanations of Walker's key, to any intelligent schoolboy who may never have heard the word.

Maolô-met, Ma’hồ-mét, and Ma-hômật, will produce all the varieties of pronunciation with which we are acquainted.

• If usage,' says Mr. Duponceau, ' had established that the group of letters in the word thought should mean the tower of Babel, exhibition to the visual sense would produce the idea of that celebrated edifice, as easily and as promptly as it now produces that of the metaphysical entity which we call thought;' had he however contemplated without prepossession Walker's symbols of the same mental faculty, they might, peradventure, have represented to him instead of the confusion, the gift of tongues.

We heartily agree with him in wishing to see no innovation introduced into the alphabet and orthography of the English language, but such as habit and practice will gradually sanction, without any extraordinary effort in the course of the unavoidable mutations which both written and oral language will undergo from age to age. “In its present state,' says he, it is adequate to every practical object, and we do not find that children learn with more difficulty to read the French and English languages, the orthography of which is the most anomalous of any that we know, than the Spanish, Italian, and German, in which the alphabetical signs in their combinations into words preserve in a greater degree their original sounds, nor can I perceive any good effect that would result from a similar innovation, independent of the difficulty, not to say impossibility of introducing it into use.'

We are at the same time equaily sensible with himself, of the im.. portance of endeavouring to acquire as perfect and accurate a knowledge as possible of the elementary sounds, of which our spoken language is composed.' "This,' he asserts,' has not yet been done with respect to any language that he knows of and certainly not as to the English.'

The various powers of the characters of its alphabet,' he admits, have been described, but the sounds themselves have never been analysed, nor can they be unless they are as much as possible abstracted from the signs which represent them, for the ear alone should be listened to,' &c.

We know not how to account for our authors singular delusion in supposing that our lexicographers have been employed solely in study. ing their letter 8.

To us it is evident that Walker's table of the simple and diphthongal vowels, and the consonant notation adopted by him in connexion with it, are the combined result of the most profound and abstract survey of all

the sounds in our language, and of every practicable and simple method of expressing them.

But let us listen again to our arch-magician who alone holds corres. pondence with the invisible Ariel, and then compare his results with those of Walker, which he seems to have overlooked.

• The component sounds of the English oral language,' says he, considered in the abstract, and independent of the signs which are used to represent them, are the subject of this essay. I have attempted to subject them to the process of a severe analysis, taking the ear alone for my guide, and rejecting the delusive aid of another sense. This has been the most difficult part of my task, for in spite of all the efforts that can be made, that other sense the sight will ever intrude, and almost as certainly as it interferes, is sure to deceive. Such is the force of early habit, and so strong is the association in the mind between the written and the spoken language, that it is almost impossible to abstract or se. parate them from each other. When we have been accustomed to see the same sound represented by different characters, our car involuntarily follows the eye, and perceives differences which do not exist in nature. Hence all the English grammarians that I am acquainted with, except Mr. Mitford in his very ingenious treatise on the harmony of language, have considered the sound of a in all, and that of o in cottage as differing from each

other, whereas it is evident, if the ear only is attende ed to, that they differ in nothing but quantity, the former being pronounced long and the other short. In fortune the difference of quantity vanishes, and it seems impossible for the nicest ear to discriminate between the sound of o in that word, and that of a in all. In hollow and follow again the quantity differs, but the sound is still the same. To try it by a sure test, let the quantity of the words be transposed, and pronounce the word all, åll, and the word hollow, höllow; the similarity of sound cannot fail to strike every ear as it did that of Mr. Mitford, and as it certainly does mine. Here this acute and discriminating philosopher conquered the strong prejudice produced by conflicting senses, and by an early association of ideas.'

We might prove, were it necessary, that the resemblances here pointed out have been long ago considered and understood even on this unlearned shore of the Atlantic; but as our author is well acquainted with Walker, it will be sufficient for our purpose to show that he was not ignorant of it. • If we choose to be directed,' says Walker, ' by the ear in denominating vowels long and short, we must certainly give these appellations to those sounds only, which have exactly the same radical tone, and differ only in the long or short emission of that tone.'

Principle 66. •The radical sound corresponding to o in noi, cot, 807, is found in naught, caught, &c. This o is the short sound of aw.

Rules for natives of Scotland. • The general sound of the diphthong au is that of the noun awe, as taught, caught, &c. or of the a in hall, ball, &c.

Principle 213. • The sound of o in for produced by r final or followed by another consonant, is perfectly equivalent to the dipthong au. Principle 166.

• The o in orchard is as long as the conjunction or, and that in formal as in the word for.

Principle. 168. • The second sound of the letter o is called its short sound, and is found in not, lot, got, &c. though this, as in the other short vowels, is by

VOL. XIV.

« PreviousContinue »