Page images
PDF
EPUB

no means the short sound of the former long one (in no), but corresponds exactly to that of a in what, with which the words not, lot, and got are perfeci rhymes. The long sound to which the o in not and 80t are short ones, is found under the diphthong au in naught, corresponding exactly to the a in hall, ball, &c.'

Principle 163. Let the reader compare together these illustrations, and determine for himself, whether Walker was not fully acquainted with the radical resemblances and quantitive differences of the sounds referred to. His ó, so far from being objectionable, seems to have been introduced into his key with peculiar felicity, in order to exhibit those resemblances and differences side by side in nor and not. His results, similar to our author's, appear indeed to cost him much less trouble, but at the same time beautifully to combine in their exhibition philosophical accuracy with practical simplicity. Vainly therefore may Mr. Daccuse

our grammarians of exclusively bestowing all their attention on accent and emphasis.' Whoever will take the trouble to examine Walker's key and principles, will find in them the quantity, long and short, of every distinct vocal sound sufficiently, but unpretendingly ascertained. «Non fumum ex fulgore, sed ex fumo dare lucem cogitat.'

Mr. Mitford,' continues our author, ' was not every where equally successful, for he distinguishes between the sound of o in robe, and that of u in but, which he classes as different vowel sounds without considering that, as in the former instance, the difference consists only in the duration. This last vowel sound he calls u short, and the Edinburgh reviewer commenting un his work assimilates it to that of the French diphthong eu. The classification of this sound is undoubtedly a point of extreme nicety, nor are we certain, after making the most careful ex, periinents, that any English ear will recognize, or mouth execute more than a close approximation of it, to the radical tone' belonging to o in robe, Mr. Walker however has coupled them thus. "The short sound of o in tone is nearly that of the same letter in ton (a weight) and corresponding with what is generally called the short sound of u in tun, gun,' &c. and again, “ The fourth sound of the vowel o is that which is found in love, dove, &c. and the long sound, which seems the nearest relation to it, is the first sound of o in note, tone, rove,' &c. Whatever merit, therefore, there may be in Mr. 1—'s classification, it appears that Walker has preceded him. It will be seen hereafter that Walker has also gone before him in classing every other vocal sound in our language, except those which, being either unaccented or under the corrupting influence of the letter r, he justly considered to be undefinable.

These indistinct sounds now claim our attention.

• There is nothing,' says Mr. Duponceau, so difficult for the ear to take hold of, and correctly to discriminate, as the short sounds of the English unaccented vowels. The principal characteristics of our language are strength and rapidity. The voice does not act by pressure on accented syllables as it does in the Italian and Spanish, resting upon them a while, so as to fall gently on those that are unaccented and give them their correct articulation, but strikes with a sudden force cented vowel, and impelled by the momentum which it gives to itself, rolls on rapidly through the unaccented syllables to where it is obliged to renew its stroke. Hence our accented vowels are in general short, and those unaccented are passed over with so much quickness that the vocal organ does not dwell upon them long enough to enable a common ear to catch their precise sound, and perceives only an indistinct vibration, a small vacant space as it were, between the consonants, like the Sheva of the Hebrews and the French e feminine.

the ac.

• This vacant space, this Sheva, the English phonologists (if I may be allowed to use the name), bave almost uniformly represented by u short, from some predilection for this character, for which I cannot, nor do I think it necessary to account. Thus altar, cancer, honor, martyr, when their pronunciation is to be explained, will be spelled for demonstration sake, altur, cansur, honur, martur, as if the vowel sound of the last syllable in all of them were the same. But this similarity is nothing in my opinion, but a deception produced on the ear by the rapidity of the voice passing over the unaccented vowel. If the powers of the auditory sense could be increased by some acoustic instruinent, as those of the organs of vision are by a microscope, I have no doubt that the sounds of the vowels, thus obscurely, but correctly pronounced, would be distinctly heard, but they escape our ear, as minute objects do our eyes, when the sight glances over them with rapidity. A confusion is produced, not unlike that of slurred notes, by an unskilful or inattentive performer on a musical instrument. But the correct speaker, as well as the skil. ful musician, will avoid this disagreeable confusion, and give to every passing sound as much as possible, its clear and distinct uttrance: in common colloquial speech, so much nicety is not required; but neither is it there that the rules of pronunciation are to be sought for, and its licenses should not be converted into principles. This is, however, the fauit which modern grammarians have committed. They have laboured, it would seem to vulgarize our language. They have mistaken the indistinct pronunciation of unaccented vowels in colloquial speech, for their true and genuine sound.'

This long quotation, a fair specimen of Mr. D—'s ingenious theories, suggests to our recollection some of the speculations of father Castel, who being, certainly a musician and a member of a philosophical society, a phonologist for aught we know, and certainly a micrologist, invented for his own and the world's temporary amusement, an ocular harpsichord, intended to exhibit clearly the sounds of colours, and the colours of sounds. Our author attempts, in our opinion, equal impossibilities. Having, on several occasions, adduced the conflicting opinions of our lexicographers, in order to prove that none of them had certain ground to rest upon,' he cannot deem it unfair on our part, if we now take the liberty of bringing to his recollection, his own opinion, ex pressed a few years ago, when commenting on this subject, in the article Alphabet, in Brewster's Encyclopædia.

• Indeed,' says hé, there is an immense number of unaccented syllables in the English idion, in which any one of the six vowels may be substituted for another, without any perceptible change in the sound. Take for instance the word labour: the last syllable of it may be written with any one vowel between the two consonants 6 and r; thus, labar, laber, labir, labor, labur, labyr, and the pronunciation will not be varied by the change. The same may be done with a in inadvertence, e in aperture, &c.' A nice ear may perhaps discern some small shade of difference between the proper sound of a in respectable, and that of i in contemptible, &c.'

We must remark, en passant, to guard against any misconceptions on the part of our readers, that our ear differs materially from Mr. D's, except in those instances where the effect of the letter r, and that of the absence of accent are combined.

Now we may ask, has the standard of our language changed, or has our author's ear become more discriminating? During the interval between his two opinions, so entire a metamorphosis of speech could hardly have occurred, even if the genius of dandyism had presided over our tongues; and it is equally improbable that Mr. D's auricular faculties, which were sufficiently delicate, when he analysed the alphabet, to discover semi-tone, and even quarter-tone vowels, have lately acquired superior susceptibilities. May we not with more reason conjecture, that he has been misted by his present desire to establish a system, co-operating with his early impressions concerning the nature of accent, so different in the English from what it is in other languages, and particularly from what it is in the French, where it can scarcely be said to have existence. • Plus un auteur est ingenieux, et plus il obscurcit la ma. tière quil n'entend pas.' Does it not occur to him that he has changed places with our orthoepists, whom he accuses of studying only their letters? They, intent upon existing sounds, can discover no differences, where he now believes that the sounds of the vowels may be distinctly heard.' We admit that the definite sounds of some of the unaccented vowels in certain predicaments ought to be, as they are by well bred speakers, carefully attended to, and that such words as gloruffy, mag. nufy, justuffy, &c. which, though not the native productions of our own city, occasionally disgrace its pulpit orators, should no where be tolerated: but the study of Walker alone on this subject will, we believe, reinstate in its legitimate rights, every unaccented vowel that can be rendered distinct, until the magic powers of phonology shall effect a complete re volution in the English language. We must, however, be contented to appeal to the decision of our readers, submitting to their car a few instances only.

• Cannot we show,' says Walker, that cellar, a vault, and seller, one who sells, have exactly the same sound. The a in abłe, being under the accent, has its definite and distinct sound; but the same letter in

tolerable goes into an obscure indefinite sound, approaching the short uz .. nor can any solemnity or deliberation give it the long open sound it has

in the first word. The e in the penultimate syllable of incarcerate, reverberate, &c. seems, in solemn speaking, to admit of a small degree of length and distinctness, it ends a syllable; but as no solemnity of pronunciation seems to admit of the same length and openness of the e in tolerate, deliberate, &c. it is united with r, and sounded in the notation by short u. It ought, however, to be carefully observed, that though the e in this situation is sometimes separated from the r, there is no speaking, however deliberate and solemn, that will not admit of uniting it to 1, and pronouncing it like short u, without offending the nicest and most critical ear.'

The supposed predilection of our orthoepists for the short u, is sufficiently acounted for by Mr. Mitford, that acute and discriminating philosopher,' who says that this . vowel is uttered with less effort to the organs than any other;' that it wants nothing of the protrusion of the lips, necessary for sounding oo; and as to the degree of aperture of the

[ocr errors]

mouth, appears to hold a middle position between the open and the close vowel sounds. Now the powerful stress, which the genius of our language causes us to lay upon certain syllables, renders some remis. sion in the efforts of the organs necessary, and they naturally fall in uttering other syllables, into the easiest positions. Facility of enunciation," says Mr. Mitford, appears to have recommended the short u as a substitute, occasionally, for all the other vocal sounds, so that in syllables less strongly offered to the ear, every vowel character may be found representing it. Before the rough consonant r, even in syllables the most forcibly uttered, e and i are in a manner its regular indicants.'

• But accented syllables in general,' as Walker remarks, ' have their vowels as clearly and distinctly sounded as any given note in music;' and before the difference between accented and unaccented sounds can cease to exist, our ears must not only be converted into hearing trumpets, but our mouths into musical instruments.

Our author endeavours to make good against our orthoepists, his imputation of vulgarizing the language, by noticing the pronunciation which the words nature and fortune have obtained, and expresses his astonishment that we have orators among us, who not only do, but on the authority of Sheridan and Waiker, affect to pronounce them na-tshure and for-tshune.' He does not favour us with his own pronunciation of these and similar words. We do not suppose it to be nater, for-ten, fe-ter or fu-ter, which, except in a small district of our country, would, for the most part, bespeak vulgarity; but from the general tenor of his remarks, and particularly those on Russian and Prussian, which he says should be sounded Rush-yan, Prush-yan, we take for granted it must be nate-your, fort-yune, feet-your, fute-your, &c. and if so, we cannot better retort the charge of affectation than by the following quotation from Quintilian, in book 8, chap. I.

• We meet with many who are not deficient in good language, but rather speak more curiously than in taste. So an Athenian old woman having remarked in Theophrastus, though otherwise a person of elegant language, the affected pronunciation of a certain word, called him a stranger, and being asked why she thought him so, answered, because his accent was rather too Attic. Therefore, if possible, every word, and the very tone of voice, should bespeak the natural born citizen of Rome, that the language may be purely Roman, and not so by a right different from birth and education. But whatever may be the practice of our modern Lesbians, we are persuaded that if their pronunciation of this class of words does not agree with, or fall in between Sheridan's and Walker's, it must differ considerably from the polite usage which has prevailed for the greater part of a century, both in England and the United States. Mr. D. in the earnestness of argument, awells too much, we think, on some of the acknowledged errors of Sheridan, while he passes over, as unimportant, or scarcely worthy of notice, the happier discoveries of Walker. The latter lexicographer does not even insinu. ate that the sound of the letter t, when followed by u, is always changed into :ch or tsh: on the contrary, he says • it must be carefully remarked, that the hissing sound contracted by the letter t, before certain diphthongs, is never heard but after the accent.' We require nothing more to prove the general tendency of our language, than Mr. D's own assertion, that can't you and don't you, in common conversation, frequently resemble cant-chew and dont.chew; nor could we have desired any more striking examples, than these familiar phrases furnish, of the powerful influence of the accent in preserving the true sounds of the letters subjected to it. The corruption described, can never happen but when the emphasis is upon the verb: if the emphasis be transferred to you, whose sound is identical with that of the diphthong u, the pronoun itself, as well as the e which precedes it, will be kept in their primitive purity, exactly as the same sounds are preserved in the adjective matúre', where the accent follows, but not in the noun na'túre, where the accent goes before the letter 1. We do not maintain that it is either impracticable or improper to avoid blending the final letter of one word with the initial letter of another: but custom, the jus et norma loquendi, appears never to have authorized the efforts of purists to separate, in all cases, the conterminous letters of consecutive syllables,' which, if effected, would only prevent that easy coalescence and flow of sound, which contribute greatly, as Walker justly observes, tu the smoothness, volubility, and real beauty of pronunciation.'

We are inclined to believe, that inactivity of the organs of speech, is almost as characteristic of Englishmen, as the quiescence of their gestures. We Englishmen,' says Milton, in his Treatise on Education,

being far northerly, do not open our mouths in the cold air, wide enough tu grace a southern tongue, but are observed by all other nations to speak exceeding close and inwards, so that to smatter Latin with an English mouth, is as ill a hearing as law-French.' The English do not bring sounds, like some of their northern neighbours, from the depths of their throat; hence their gutturals have been more appropriately denominated palatals. Their nasals do not, like those of the French, cost the organs any effort. Their habits are averse to any considerable protrusion of the lips; hence they can neither whistle the French u with Mr. D. nor the w with the Delaware Indians: in short, their articulate sounds in general, appear to proceed from the middle region of the mouth, and require for their enunciation, so moderate an aperture, that long passages from their books may be read with tolerable distinctness without separating the teeth an attempt which could scarcely succeed in any other idiom. The sound of the long u after the greater number of our consonants, is undoubtedly that of the pronoun you, or'ee and 00,

slurred in a particular manner:' but this diphthongal sound, even when accented or preceding the accent, is, after certain letters, difficult to English organs, chiefly on account of the excessive protrusion of the lips, required to execute it. After r it is impracticable: hence brute is always pronounced broot: after l, which has many striking resemblances to r, it is frequently avoided, and particularly in this country, even by respectable speakers, thus flute, lute, lunar, are sounded floot, looi, loonar. After & and z, t and d, which are articulated in nearly the same part of the mouth, it is by no means easy, even for delicate and well practised organs, to preserve this diphthong in its purity. After 8 and Z; the first part of the diphthong is apt to be lost, or to be converted into the aspirate. In sugar, sure, and their compounds, the aspirate is irrevocably fixed, as shoogar, shoore, and from common mouths, we hear either 800preme, prezoom, or shoopreme, frezhoom. After i and d, the first part of the diphthong is liable to be lost, or to be converted into sh or zh, thus tube and duty are frequently heard as tshoobe, and dzhooty, One lady speaks of her too-lips impearled with the doo, and another, of her jewy chew-lips.

« PreviousContinue »