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As the began to be more feebly uttered, and it was no longer regarded as a sure guttural sign, it had to be reinforced by putting a c before it, as in the above licht and necht; or by a g, as in though (Saxon beah), daughter (Saxon dohter), &c. But the gh had little power to arrest the tendency of the language to divest itself of its gutturals, and oh in its turn has grown to be a dumb monument of bygone pronunciation.
J is a character which entered our alphabet in the seventeenth century. The sound of it came into English far earlier, by our adoption of French words that had it. Such were, jangler, jealous, jest, jewel, join, jolly, journey, joust, joy, judge, July, justice. A reflex effect of this our consonantal J has been that we have lent it to the Latin language in our printed books, and in our pronunciation. Such words as maior, peior, iuvare, iam, iuncus, huius, eius, &c., we have printed and pronounced major, pejor, juvare, jam, juncus, hujus, ejus, &c. It appears that the Latin never had the Jsound; for how could Italian have escaped without it? The Latin Ego makes in Italian Io, but in French Je, with a consonantal initial. And this is as much a pure French outgrowth, as certain cases of initial w and y in English are original products of our own. On these grounds it seems that we have been wrong in attributing a consonant u to the Latin language. The best Latin scholars are now correcting this. In Professor Conington's Vergil I do not see a J. As a sample of his text I quote the two opening lines of the most famous of Eclogues :
• Sicelides Musae, paulo maiora canamus!
Non omnes arbusta iuvant, humilesque myricae.' K is not properly a Latin, but a Greek letter. In Roman writing it had a very undefined position as a superfluous character, a mere duplicate-variety of c. This was also its
position through the whole period of Anglo-Saxon literature; it was a mere fancy to write K, and it meant nothing different from the thin c. But very soon after the Conquest, the greater frequency of k is observable; and it went on increasing just in proportion as the value of c became equivocal through its Frenchified employment with the sound of s. Already in the twelfth century, k is found to have a place and function of its own to the entire exclusion of c, namely, before the vowels E and I, the cases in which c had gone off into the s-sound. Thus the old words cene, cempa ( = warrior), Cent, cepan, cyn, cyng, &c., were in the twelfth century written constantly as kene ( = keen), kempa ( = champion), Kent, keep, kin, king, &c. But when it had to be doubled, it was by prefixing c, and not by a repetition of k, that the doubling was effected. Thus, acknowledge, which is only a compound of the particle a with knowledge, the c expressing the reverberation of the K-sound. So also in lack, crack, Jack, &c., and the old-fashioned spellings of politick, æsthetick, &c., CK may be taken as equivalent to KK.
P is a letter that was not so much used in Old English as in some kindred dialects. Our Saxon ancestors seem to have had a repugnance to it as an initial letter of words. In Kemble's Glossary to the Saxon epic poem called Beowulf, he has given only three words under the letter P; and in Bouterwek's Glossary to Cadmon there are only two, both of which are comprised in the former three. Thus, two Glossaries of our two oldest national poems exhibit only three words beginning with P. One of the three is now extinct: but the other two are quite familiar to us; they are path and play. These were, in the eighth century, exceptional words in English, from the fact that they began with P. And to this day it may still be asserted that almost all the English words beginning with P are of foreign extraction.
Q is a Latin letter, which was not recognised in English till the close of the twelfth or the beginning of the thirteenth century. Previous to this the Anglo-Saxon writers had done very well without it; having expressed the sound of qu by the letters cw: examples-cwalm (qualm, pestilence, death), cwæð (quoth), cwen (queen), cwic (quick), &c. At first the qu was only admitted in writing Latin or French words, while cw kept its place in native words. Among the earliest Latin or French words beginning with qu which were adopted in English are quart, quarter, quarterne ( = a prison), quarrel, quarry, quire, quit (from quietus, quiet). This is the position which q holds at this day in the Dutch language; it is used for spelling certain Latin words, while kw is used for the same sound in the words of native origin. In English, on the contrary, the qu very soon prevailed even in the home-born words; and before the close of the thirteenth century we find quake, qualm, quash, queen, quell, quick, besides some other less common words. The name which we give the letter is said to be the French queue, a tail (Q).
V. A Latin letter that came in soon after the Conquest, with the French words virtue, visage, vaine, veray, venerie.
W. It has already been said that before the Conquest the character w was little used. Where the Anglo-Saxon printed books have it, the manuscripts have the old Rune p. But after the Conquest, when a great many Romance words beginning with V were coming into the English, and a distinction had to be made between this sound and that of the old
it was effected by a double v. But it must carefully be observed that the novelty as regards the w was only in the character and not in the sound. The sound of w has long been in the language, having been embodied with it when the Wessex speech first assumed shape as a distinct Saxon dialect. It is now one of the chief characteristics of our language
among the other members of its family; and it must be attributed to that intimate mingling with the British Kelts in the fifth and sixth centuries of which history has left us such unmistakeable traces. As an initial, it is emphatically a product of the West, and would hardly have existed, had our language been educated in the Eastern Counties. The sound of the w may be described as a consonantism resulting from the collision of two vocalic sounds, viz. oo and ee. Say 00 first, and then say ee : if you keep an interval between, the vocalic nature of each is preserved, but if you pass quickly from the utterance of oo to that of ee, you engender the consonantal sound w, and produce the word we. And in fact, almost any two vowels coming into such collision will engender the w. This seems to be the cause of the w in ofersawisca, the Saxon translation of transmarinus,
= one from beyond sea. The parts are ofer (beyond), se (sea), and the adjectival termination -isc, from which our modern -ish. The w is the consonantal partition between sæ and isc, and it seems to spring out of the vocalic collision itself. It is said in Grammars that w (like v) is a consonant when it is initial, either of a word or syllable; and a vowel elsewhere. According to this rule (which fairly states the case) we find that w is a vowel now, where once it was a consonant. Take the word few, in which w has now only a vocalic sound; this word was once a disyllable feawa, and then the second syllable wa gave the w a consonantal value.
X has two powers, one its original value, ks4 and the other gs, a development common to English and French. It sounds as gs when the syllable following the x is accented, as exhaust, exalt, exotic, extend; but in other cases with its simple and original value of ks. A crucial example is the word export, which has the accent on the first as a noun, and on the last as a verb. We say “to expórt' with the pronunciation egspórt :
but we speak of 'exports' or éxport-duties' with the pronunciation eksport. This distinction is, however, open to question; and the decision of it is all the more difficult, as we may not trust the report of our own organs in delicate points of pronunciation. Our utterance is warped the moment we set ourselves to observe and examine it. It is sufficient for this place to have indicated the existence of two sounds of the X.
Y is an ancient Greek letter adopted by the Romans, and used in Saxon writing as a fine thin vowel (like French u or German ü) apt to be confused with i. The French call it the Greek I, 'I grec.'
After the Conquest it strangely got a consonantal function added to the former. It succeeded to the place of an ancient G-initial, which was in a state of decay. This is the history of y in such words as ye, yes, yet, year, yard, yare, yearn, yelp, yield, &c., from the older forms ge, gese, git, gear, geard, gearo, georn, gilpan, gield. In the intervening period, while this transition was adoing, there appeared for two centuries or more (the twelfth to the fourteenth) a separate form of letter, neither g nor y, which was written thus 3, and was ultimately dropped. It was a pity we lost this letter, as the result has been a heterogeneous combination of functions under the letter Y which it is difficult for a learner to disentangle. It is true as Lindley Murray said, that y is a consonant when it begins a syllable, and in every other situation it is a vowel. Had we retained the consonant 3 we might have avoided this unnatural combination of vowel and consonant functions in a single letter. In old Scots it was retained in the form of z, as in the following, where year is written zeir :
In witness quhairof we haif subscrivit thise presents with our hands at Westminster the roth day of December, the zeir of God 1568 Zeirs.
JAMES, Regent, &c., &c.'