Immagini della pagina

the letter L, namely the sound of aw: as, all, ball, call, fall, gall, hall, malt, pall, tall, talk, wall, walk, water. But the sound which is expressed in the name Ae is a diphthongal sound, which A never bears in any word except when to the a an e is appended, not immediately indeed, but after an intervening consonant: as, ate, bate, cate, date, fate, gape, hate, jape, late, make, nape, pane, rate, state, tale, vale, wane. This final e must be considered as much embodied with its a, as in the corresponding German sound ä which is in fact only a brief way of writing ae. It is difficult to suppose that the name of our first vowel has been dictated by the sound which it bears in the last-mentioned list of instances. There is no apparent reason why that class of instances should have drawn to itself any such special attention, to the neglect of the instances which more truly exemplify the power of the vowel. But there is one particular instance of the use of A which is sufficiently frequent and conspicuous to have determined the naming of the letter. I can only suppose that the name which the letter bears has been adopted from the ordinary way in which the indefinite article A is pronounced.

The vowel E in like manner does not generally represent the sound Ee which its name indicates. It only does so, as a rule, when supported by another e after an intervening consonant. Examples: bere, cere, intercede, intervene.

We are therefore driven to look for some familiar and oft-recurring words, which have the e exceptionally pronounced as Ee. And such we find in the personal pro

The words he, she, me, we, have all the e long, and if they were spelt according to their sound, they would appear as hee, shee, mee, wee. In proof of this may be cited the case of the pronoun thee, which is written with its vowel double, though it has no innate right in this respect over the


pronoun me. The double vowel is expressed in the solitary instance of thee, as a matter of convenience, and to distinguish it readily from the definite article the. It is by reference then to the function of the letter e in the personal pronouns, that we explain the name of Ee by which that vowel is incorrectly designated.

It may be left to the reader to observe by a collection of instances, like hit, bit, nip, wit, dip, fit, sit, &c., &c., that the name which we have given to the vowel I does by no means give a just report of the general sound of that letter in our orthography. In what syllables is that eye sound represented by i? Only in two kinds. The first is where it is supported by an e subscript: as, mine, wine, pipe, bite, kite, &c. The other case is where it has an old guttural after it; as, high, night, might, light, &c. In short, the name of Igh does not represent truly the general use of this vowel. To account for its having acquired so inappropriate a name, we must again seek for a familiar and frequent word in which the vowel does bear this sound. And we find it in the personal pronoun 1, which we might have written as Igh with equal propriety, and on the same principles as have determined the orthography of right, might, &c. The Saxon form was Ic; the German form is Ich, the Dutch Ik, the Danish Jeg, and the Swedish Jag. So that in fact the name we have bestowed on I is not the due of that vowel in its simplicity, but only of that vowel after it has absorbed and assimilated an ancient guttural.

The o offers less to remark on than the other vowels. Yet even here the name De does not represent the sound it bears in the simplest instances of its use. It is quite different from the sound of 0 in do, go, to, dot, top, mop, dog, hop, lop, bog, tor.

But it is the sound which it has when written diphthongally with e, or with e subscript, as toe, foe, roe, hoe, sloe (except shoe); or, tone, doge, fore, rope, hope, slope.

Of the U, it is very obscure what has led to its name. The instances where it represents that sound by which we have chosen to call it, are comparatively few. The pronunciation of the u as yew is probably East-Anglian in its origin. Natives of that province sometimes bring in that sound unexpectedly. When they utter the words rule, truth, Jerusalem, with energy, they have been observed to convert them into ryule, tr-yewth, Jeryewsalem. This tendency, whereby the straining of a u generates a y, may be compared to the instance at p. 107, where i becomes yi, kyind.

Not without an apparent parallelism is our pronunciation of the noun ewe, to which in sound we prefix a y.

Account for it how we may, the fact is plain (and this is what we are now upon) that the vowel has caught its naming from certain strained and exceptional uses of it.

To so great a length have I pursued this subject of the naming of our vowels, because it is in fact a most exceptional and insular phenomenon. As a criterion of the whole case we might refer to the designations of the five vowels in French or German, and the reasonableness of those designations. If this were done, the result would be something as follows. The French and Germans have named the vowels, but the English have nick-named them. When a man is called a king or a servant, he is characterised by what may properly be called a name.

But if we call him Longshanks or Peach-blossom, we nick-name him. And this is analogous to what we have done with the vowels. We have given them names which are expressive, not of their general functions, but of the impression made by

some prominent anomaly or adventitious oddity in their appearance.

One or two of the consonants require some special remarks.

C was invested with its present s-like sound by the French influence which accompanied the Norman Conquest. Before that time it was never used but with the K-sound, which it still has before A, 0, and u, as in call, cod, cut.

G in Anglo-Saxon very generally became x in English; dæg, day: gear, year: ge, ye: git, yet: græg, gray: gearo, yare.

In some cases a reaction ensued. The Anglo-Saxon gifan is in Chaucer to yeve; but it has had the g restored long ago, and we say give.

Such changes were a source of copiousness to the language, which often retained the old form in some special use while adopting the new as a general rule. Thus græg became gray for general purposes, but as designating a grasshopper it became grig.

D has a great affinity for n, and often is brought into a word by the n as a sort of shadow. In the words impound, expound, from the Latin impono and expono, the D is a pure English addition: so likewise in sound from French son, Latin sonus. Provincial phonetics go still further, and call a gown gownd. See above, p. 102.

Tin like manner is sometimes drawn in by s. In Acts xxvii. 40, we read 'hoised up the main-sail,' where we should now say and write ‘hoisted,' not for any etymological reason, but from a purely phonetic cause.

D has also a disposition to slip in between L and R. Thus the Saxon ealra, gen. pl. of eal = all, became first aller and then alder, as in “Mine alder liefest Sovereign,' 2 King Henry VI, i. 1.

H in the ancient language was a guttural. This letter has undergone more change of value since its introduction into our language, than any other letter. It is now a mere dumb historical object in many cases, and where it has any sound it is merely the sign of aspiration. It is almost classed with the vowels, as in the familiar rule which tells us to say an before a word beginning with a vowel or a silent h. It seems almost incredible that it ever had in English the force of the German ch, or rather of the Welsh ch. Yet such was the case.

This ancient guttural is heard now only in those portions of the Anglian provinces which are in the southern counties of Scotland, and the northern counties of England. There you may still hear licht and necht ( = light and night) pronounced in audible gutturals. In the old English (or Anglo-Saxon) these were written with the simple h thus, liht and niht, but pronounced gutturally. As we now regard c and K as interchangeable in certain cases,

Calendar or Kalendar, so in the early time stood c and to each other. There were a certain number of words in which the Anglian c (of the time of Bæda) was represented by a Saxon 1. The word berct, bright, is of frequent occurrence in the Ecclesiastical History of the Angles. It occurs in pro

names, as Bercta, Berctfrid, Berctgils, Bercthun, Berctred, Berctuald, Cudberct, Hereberct, Huætberct. This word was also freely used in Saxon names, but in them the Anglian c became H, beorht or briht: Brihthelm, Brihtnop, Brihtric, Brihtwold, Brihtwulf, Ecgbriht, Cudbriht. This h retained its guttural force down to the middle of the fourteenth century, as may be shewn from the orthography of that period. For example, sixt thou for seest thou, or rather sehest thou, in Piers Plowman i. 5, is evidence that his siht = sight, was gutturally pronounced.

e. g.

« IndietroContinua »