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In terms of Her Majesty's Letters Patent to Her Printers for
THE English Language is remarkably simple in its grammatical principles, and governed by fewer rules than any language yet known, not excepting even the Hebrew. The acquirement of it, therefore, either by natives or foreigners, ought to be more easy, while, on the contrary, it is more difficult than that of any other language. This difficulty has arisen from false and capricious orthography. Walker, in his Principles of Pronunciation at the beginning of his Dictionary, says, “ Our modern orthography has done its utmost to perplex pronunciation." And Sheridan, in his Prosodial Grammar, observes, « Such is the state of our written language, that the darkest hieroglyphics or most difficult cyphers which the art of man has hitherto invented, were not better calculated to conceal the sentiments of those who used them, from all who had not the key, than the state of our spelling is to conceal the true pronunciation of our words from all except a few well-educated natives.”
To bring order out of this confusion, Walker has laid down in his Principles of English Pronunciation prefixed to his Dictionary, no fewer than 558 rules, as well as numerous observations in almost every page of that most ingenious work, with elaborate reasonings and disquisitions from analogy and custom, to such an extent as almost to justify the exclamation of a Foreigner—" Alas! what English can one learn in thirty years !”
The great difficulty arises from the various sounds given to
each of the vowels, and even to many of the consonants, and from the strango circumstance of almost all the letters being frequently silent, which is a most absurd anomaly in language, when we consider that the very purpose of a letter is to mark a sound of the voice, and yet of all the twenty-six letters of the Alphabet, twenty-one of them at least frequently mark no sound at all. Most of the vowels have five, and one of them has six, different sounds. Three of the consonants have four varieties of sound.
Some single characters have double sounds, while single sounds are marked by double characters. The proofs of these observations will be found by consulting the Key to the Orthoepy of this book.
But though the difficulties are very great, they are far from being insurmountable. The simplicity of this new plan of marking the pronunciation consists in leaving the vowels unmarked when they have their name-sounds, and the consonants when they have their common sounds.
Dots are used to mark all other sounds, and a perpendicular line the total want of sound. A semicircle or crescent uniting h to p, t, s, or c, marks their union in producing only one sound.
By these simple means, the sound of each letter may be precisely marked without mis-spelling the words, which was the method adopted by even our most scientific Orthoepists, but which produced the most uncouth combinations, such as dzhudzh for judge, tshurtsh for church, ank'shus for an'xious, luk'shure for lux'ury, masheen for machine. Capital letters were by some Orthoepists introduced even into the middle of words, and German characters among the Roman letters, to express English sounds.
A peculiar advantage of the Author's present system is, that if a word be mispronounced by a pupil when he reads any other book, and his memory be not tenacious, the proper pronunciation can be easily marked without deforming the typography or changing the orthography. A few dots, straight lines, or curves made with a finely pointed pencil, will completely effect the purpose, while these marks may be easily obliterated when they are no longer needed ; and such is the ease of execution, that the Author has frequently marked a whole page of the Orthoepic Testament in twenty minutes, and so minutely, yet distinctly, as to be quite discernible, but not too perceptible. Oral sounds are so circumscribed, that such a plan, with very little variation, might extend
to all other languages. In the French language, for example, there is only one vowel sound not to be found in the English language, such as eu in peur. In Scotland, this sound is given by the vulgar in pronouncing poor; and the sound being familiar to the Scots, they learn the pronunciation of that French sound more readily than the English do.
Uniformity of pronunciation is certainly very desirable, and it is very obvious that if this or a similar method were universally adopted, the pronunciation would be uniform throughout the British Empire, its colonies, and North America, as well as by all foreigners who choose to learn English. The pronunciation of this work is taken from the very best sources, namely, the Dictionaries of Sheridan and Walker, the latter lexicographer being still deservedly accounted the chief Orthoepist of the English language, and who, in the year 1806, attested that the Author of the present work thoroughly understood and practised all the sounds marked in his Quarto Dictionary.
To attain a thorough knowledge of the language by searching a pronouncing Dictionary, is a labour which few will attempt. The use of a Dictionary is for occasional reference, whereas the pronunciation of every word which the pupil reads being marked as in the Orthoepic Testament, not only saves the trouble of searching a dictionary, but being constantly under the learner's eye, the pronunciation becomes, by continual reiteration, indelibly fixed on the pupil's mind, till the assistance from marks being no longer necessary, books which are unmarked can be read with equal facility.
Some people object to such a method of Macadamizing the path of Literature. They assert that it is better for youth to contend with the difficulties and perplexities of Rules and Exceptions—that labour strengthens the mind as well as the body--that by thus levelling and smoothing the road, youth would be prevented from exerting their energies. But is no exertion necessary in gaining farther instruction? Is it not the end of all teaching to get the better of difficulties, else why could not each boy or girl be self-taught? To such objections it may be replied, that when we find the exceptions very numerous, the rule itself is rendered nugatory. Thus the simplest and most useful rule for the proper pronunciation of English is this, that final silent ę gives the open or name-sound io the preceding vowel. But the exceptions to this rule in words ending with ive alone amount to more than Six Hundred, while
REMARKS ON ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION. in those words which end in ile, ine, and ite, the rule is in some words adhered to, and in others it is departed from, so as to perplex a learner in no ordinary degree. And as this useful rule is frequently departed from likewise in the pronunciation of all the other vowels, we have an additional reason for the propriety of marking every word that comes under that rule. The easiest method of overcoming this difficulty would be to omit the silent ę when it does not serve to show that the preceding vowel is to have its name-sound; but where is the authority for such an innovation upon the orthography of nearly a thousand words? The omission of most of the other silent letters would give an immense facility to the reading and spelling of English, but the language would be almost wholely changed by such a plan.
If so many difficulties occur in following one rule, what a comfort must it prove to teachers and pupils to have all these obstructions removed,- the road levelled and smoothed ?
As not only the natives of England, Scotland, and Ireland, but even those of the different counties of each of these countries, pronounce the same letters differently, it is almost impossible to convey accurate notions of the proper sounds of the letters without oral instruction ; but the Author has endeavoured, in his "Self-INSTRUCTOR,' to arrive at certain data' for elucidating Oral sounds, which he trusts will be effectual, but which could not be properly unfolded in this short introduction.
For ease in referring to the Key, it is bound so as to be folded out either for constant or occasional inspection. The Long or Short quantity of the Vowel Sounds is shown
by the position of the Accent. When the Accent follows the Vowel, the Vowel is Long. When the Accent follows the Consonant, the Vowel is Short.
For Arabic and Roman Numerals, see page 430.