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complete to indicate all the legitimate sounds, and that he was obliged to recur to indirect methods to supply what was wanting
To the letter i Walker assigns only one long and one short sound. Mr. Worcester adds the sound of long e, as in machine, police, mien, marine. Words in which i has this sound are not very numerous. They are derived generally from modern European languages, most of them from the French, and retain the foreign sound of the vowel. He also adds what he denominates the short and obtuse sound, as in fir, sir, bird, virtue. This sound, we believe, is confined to the vowel as followed by the letter r, and does not extend to a great number of words. The larger part, we think, are words compounded of circum, and other words derived from the Latin ; being generally, also, Latin compounds with circum already formed in this language, and merely changed to English forms.
To the sounds of o noted in Walker's table Mr. Worcester adds o like short u ; as in son, done, &c. The former, having assigned no such sound to o in his key, was obliged to exemplify it in the words in which it is found by substituting short u, in spelling them according to their true sound.
To the letter u Mr. Worcester adds to the sounds exemplified in Walker's table the short and obtuse sound, as in fur, turn, &c., the vowel being followed by r. All the words of this class, by Walker's notation, are pronounced with u as in tub, a sound that does not agree with fur. Mr. Worcester adds also the sound of u in rule, rude, true, a class of words in which the vowel is preceded by r, giving it the sound of o in move. Between this sound and the common long sound of u there is, as Walker says in another case, “but a delicate difference.” As we commonly pronounce the long u in tune, tube, and lute, we perceive little difference between these words and rule, true, &c.
But as the sound of u long is modified by the initial consonants in cube, mule, and pure, which last word differs very perceptibly in sound from poor, the ground of Mr. Worcester's distinction is obvious. Walker was aware of the difference, and spells rule, and other words with r preceding the vowel, with 00, in order to exemplify the true pronunciation.
In Walker's table y is wholly overlooked. Mr. Worcester notes it long, as in style, short in symbol, short and obtuse in myrtle.
Having followed Mr. Worcester through his key to the vowel sounds, and taken some pains to examine its application to many words in the dictionary, we are able to speak with confidence concerning his system. It is a great improvement upon that of Walker, whose pronouncing dictionary has long been regarded as the standard in the United States. We think this is shown by the cursory remarks we have made in comparing the two systems. Walker's is evidently defective, and Worcester's appears to us to be as comprehensive as the nature of the subject permits it to be
In consequence of the completeness of his system, he applies the marks of the vowels in the key directly to the words in the dictionary in their true orthography, and is seldom obliged to have recourse to Walker's awkward method of spelling words in an altered orthography, merely to exemplify the pronunciation.
We have spoken thus far of the most determinate vowel sounds. In monosyllables, in the accented syllables of other words, and generally in the syllables upon which the secondary accent falls, the sound of the vowels is so distinct that their power can be marked with such exactness as to be readily comprehended. But in familiar, audible reading and recitation, in animated public speaking, and especially in free conversation, syllables are continually occurring, in which the sounds of the vowels are so indistinct, that it is impossible to settle them by the appropriate varieties of long and short sounds indicated in a key by figures or arbitrary marks. Even in regard to grave and solemn discourse, this cannot be done, in very many cases, without supposing great restraint and extreme stiffness on the part of the public reader or speaker. Walker, attempting to denote the sounds of the vowels heard so imperfectly by the distinct long and short sounds comprised in his table, instead of guiding us to the true pronunciation, makes it more uncertain than if it were left to accident. Indeed, in a great portion of unaccented syllables, the natural, we might almost say the unavoidable, pronunciation is such as to produce uniformity ; and in proportion to the strength of the accented syllables, uniformity in the unaccented is more sure to follow. If, therefore, it were not for the appearance of acknowledging his system of notation of vowel sounds to be defective, the orthoëpist might as well leave the unaccented syllables generally to the natural play of the organs of speech, without any key to the vowel sounds ; for it is impossible to note the degrees of obscurity, as they are variously affected by position, and by connection with different consonants.
In addition to the well defined vowels in his key, Mr. Worcester adds to each a mark for its obscure sound. This, with due limitations, is an improvement upon Walker, since it truly acknowledges that to be obscure which he vainly attempts to make clear. Still, we think Mr. Worcester may have extended this convenient notation too far, especially in regard to initial and final unaccented syllables. Take, for instance, the first syllables of the following words beginnin with a, and pronounced with the consonant after it : - abhor, abjure, ablution, accuse, accustom, advance, admit, alternative. In deliberate speaking, we should say that the short sound of a in these words is distinctly heard. Systems of notation of sounds are made for those who sound all the syllables, except those in regard to which custom has already decided otherwise. If there is any truth in Voltaire's saying, - even after making all due allowance for the exaggeration, - that the English eat up half their words, it becomes those who respect their language to save as many as they can from being devoured. There are degrees of the obscure vowel sounds, which of course cannot be marked by separate notation. Thus, in the word alternative, cited above, if a in the first syllable is obscure, it is much more obscure in the penult. In final unaccented syllables, it is generally too obscure to be noted with the common short sound. Thus, in palace, it departs widely from this a sound and is usually pronounced pal-is ; menace, men-is. Followed by some of the other consonants, it has a sound like short u ; as medial, seaman, pedlar, compass. In polysyllables, its sound is generally very obscure in the penult or antepenult, without the accent ; as in sanatory, temporary.
In the beginning of a word, e, forming a syllable by itself, has the long sound, as eclipse, elect ; when it takes a consonant, it has the short sound, as efface, employ, enjoy, erratic, exact. In the last syllable it is short and obscure, as chicken, kindred, kindness. All these examples of the letter en in the unaccented syllables, are noted by Mr. Worcester as obscure. The words chosen in the key to exemplify this obscure sound are brier, fuel, celery. But these sounds are unaccented syllables generally his system of notation, which is much more comprehensive than Walker's, or any other that we have seen, containing all the legitimate vowel sounds, he would, if he had failed to satisfy himself, have succeeded far better than his predecessors in accomplishing the undertaking. Walker, in this particular, may often lead astray those who trust to his guidance without exercising their own judgment. Mr. Worcester, in the same particular, not professing to be an infallible guide, leaves what is necessarily obscure to be learned by imitation and experience.
Orthography, according to the full grammatical import of the word, should correspond exactly to pronunciation. That it falls far short of this in the English language is well known, and is lamented by all who have given any attention to the subject; but it is now the sole duty of lexicographers and good writers to preserve the orthography as it is, in all cases where it is established by general usage, and in case of diversity to regard analogy ; and to be consistent, so far as they are not overruled by custom, with their own principles. No dictation on this subject, which aims at radical changes, can succeed. We can make no essential alterations in order to adapt orthography to the true sounds, which of themselves are not in all cases fixed by custom, but on the contrary are still fluctuating from accident or diversity of taste. London, says Mr. Worcester, the great metropolis of English literature, has incomparably greater influence than any other city in giving law to pronunciation. But in that great Babel, the concert must be very imperfect. The court, parliament, coteries of the fashionable and of the literate, though in some respects independent, yet acting upon each other indirectly, tend to produce diversity and change. It was in the early part of the last century, during the last days of Queen Anne, or soon after, that Swift said, “In London, they clip their words after one manner about the court, another in the city, and a third in the suburbs; all which, reduced to writing, would entirely confound orthography.” The great object should now be to hold fast what we have gained.
It was a favorite notion of Dr. Webster, that " such gradual changes should be made in orthography, as shall accommodate the written to the spoken language, when they do not violate established principles, and especially when they purify words from corruptions, improve the regular words ; for it is certain that no Englishman ever pronounced them according to Walker's notation. In attempting this, we chiefly regard the true accent, and the power of the letter i, which Walker represents by ē. Thus, beau’-tif-ful, des'-pik-a-ble, cir-cu-it-ous, ed'-it-ur, de'-if-fy, fe-lis'-it-ty, as here spelled, and divided, seem to give the true sound of i short. In a matter so subtile, we would avoid dogmatism ; but it appears to us that in these, and in very numerous words like them, the true sound becomes obscured only by the rapid utterance of the syllable in question, and the want of vocal stress occasioned by the absence of accent.
The great variety in the notation of unaccented vowels among the authors of pronouncing dictionaries shows how futile it is, in many, if not in most, cases of this kind, to fix, by artificial methods, that in which they all agree in practice ; and of which custom, and the modes of articulation that are natural, or appear so from habit, have so established the pronunciation, that we can seldom deviate far, even by accident, if we agree in accentuation. To this agreement there are few exceptions. Mr. Worcester seems to have come pretty much to the same conclusion. After exhibiting a table of words to which he adds the pronunciation of Sheridan, Walker, Jones, Jameson, Knowles, and Smart, a curious piece of patchwork, we do not wonder that he determined to abandon them all, and to place the vowels of unaccented syllables in one category of obscure sounds. Having determined to do this, he did it with the same consistency which is a distinguishing excellence manifested in all the departments of his dictionary.
After presenting the table of words variously pronounced by the distinguished orthoëpists above named, Mr. Worcester remarks, that they agree with respect to two of the most important points in the pronunciation of words ; namely, the syllable on which the accent is to be placed, and the quantity of the vowel in the accented syllable. Though, with regard to the mode of representing the pronunciation of most of the words, there is considerable diversity, yet it is doubtless true, that the pronunciation intended to be expressed differs, in reality, much less than it would seem to do; and that, in numerous instances, these orthoëpists agreed much better in their practice than in their mode of indicating it.”
If, however, Mr. Worcester had chosen to apply to the