Immagini della pagina

the word. The tch form of this root has fallen out of use. Most probably the prefixing of this w has extinguished it. For it had the effect of creating a confusion between this word and wretch, a word totally distinct, and this is one of the greatest causes of words dying out, when they clash with others and promote confusion. We still retain, however, the verb to reck, and also reckless and recklessness, which means the same as wretchlessness. Examples of whose for hot are found in the writings of the Reformers. An instance may be readily quoted from one of the Martyrs of the Reformation:—“Them which went about to make whole and to furnish their cold and empty kitchens.’ (John Philpot, in Parker Society, p. 414). The Bible-translator, Myles Coverdale (Parker Society, i. 17), spelt raught (the preterite of reach, and equivalent of our reached) with a w. Speaking of Adam stretching forth his hand to pick the forbidden fruit, he says, “he wrought life and died the death.' That is to say, he (raught) snatched at life, and, &c. In the case of whole for hole, the language has been accidentally enriched. A new word has been introduced, and one which has made for itself a place of the first importance in the language. For the expression the whole has obtained pronominal value in English. This prevalence of the initial w is perhaps in some measure to be traced to an influence from the western counties. At any rate, it is there that we still observe an excess of the same tendency. One of the most remarkable instances of this change (remarkable because it was made in the pronunciation only and not in the writing of the word) is that of the numeral ONE. It used to be pronounced as written, very like the preposition on, a sound naturally derived from its original form in the Saxon numeral AN. But it has now long been pronounced as wun or won (in Devonshire woNN), and this change may with probability be placed at the close of the sixteenth century. It was apparently a western habit which got into standard English. In the eastern parts of England, and especially in London, it is well-known vermacular to say UN, commonly written 'un, as if a w had been elided: e.g. ‘a good 'un.” In the West may be heard ‘the wonn en the wother’ for ‘the one and the other.’ One of the features of the Dorset dialect, as exhibited in the poems of the Rev. William Barnes, is the broad use of this initial w, both in the first numeral and in other words such as woak for oak, wold for old, woats for oats, in which the practice has not been generally adopted. ‘John Bloom he wer a jolly soul, A grinder o’ the best o' meal, Bezide a river that did roll, Vrom week to week, to push his wheel. His flour were all a-meåde o' wheat; An' fit vor bread that vo’k mid eat; Vor he would starve avore he’d cheat. “Tis pure,” woone woman cried; “Ay, sure,” woone mwore replied;

[ocr errors]

The same worthy miller sitting in his oaken chair is

[ocr errors]

To the same tendency belongs such spellings as lawoad, mzvore, for “load,” “more,’ &c., which occur in the same author.

But while we point to the western counties as the possible source of this feature, we must not overlook the fact that in Yorkshire, and generally throughout the North, one is pronounced womn, and oats are called wuts, as distinctly as in Gloucestershire and the West of England. Whatever regions we may trace it to, we must regard this w with particular

interest as being a creation of the English speech-genius. To the Danish it is ungenial; they have dropped it in words where it is of ancient standing, and where we have it in common with the Germans, as in week, wool, wolf, &c., which the Danes call uge, uld, uls, &c. The Germans do in fact write the w in these words, §ode, §§osse, Sulf. But they do not properly share with us our w; for they pronounce it as our v, and in this respect they leave us in the sole possession of our w, which is accordingly a distinct feature and special birthright of English, as much so as the G-like J is of the French language. It is plain that in some words this consonant w has grown up out of nothing; in many more (as we began by saying) it has been prefixed assimilatively. This principle of assimilation displays itself in many little peculiarities of our spelling. It was on this principle that the word kiln came to be spelt after milm. This antique form of mill has left its trace in the family name of Milner. This word had inherited the N,-Latin molendinum, Saxon myln. But the other is a native word cyl. Of the three times that it occurs in the Authorised Version of 1611, it is once written kilne, 2 Sam. xii. 31, and twice it is kill, Jer. xliii. 9, Neh. iii. 14. It was on the same principle that the word could acquired its L. This word has no natural right to the L at all, being of the same root as can, and the second syllable in uncouth, viz. from the verb which in Saxon was written CUNNAN. In would and should the L is hereditary; but could acquired the L by mere force of association with them. And it seems probable that the silence of the L in all three of these words may be due to the example of could. The coud sound kept its place alongside of the written could, and at length drew would and should over to the like pronunciation. In L

the poet Surrey and his contemporaries we find would and even could rhymed to mould, and it is quite likely that pedantry forced could for a time into a pronunciation anSwering to its new spelling. It seems that L drops its sound easily before the dentals; for though we now pronounce all the letters in the word fault, yet our fathers ignored the L in this word also. In the Deserted Village it rhymes to aught :

‘Yet he was kind, or if severe in aught,
The love he bore to learning was in fault.”

But this is, in fact, only one of the many instances in which we have dropped a French pronunciation for one of our own making, and in the making of which we have been led by the spelling.

Between spelling and pronunciation there is a mutual attraction, insomuch that when spelling no longer follows the pronunciation, but is hardened into Orthography, the pronunciation begins to move towards the spelling. A familiar illustration of this may be found in the words Derby, clerk, in which the er sounds as ar, but which many persons, especially of that class which is beginning to claim educated rank, now pronounce literally. The pronunciation itself was a good Parisian fashion in the fifteenth century. Villon, the French poet of that period, affords in his rhymes some good illustrations of this. He rhymes Robert, haubert, with pluspart, poupart ; barre with terre , appert with part, despart, &c'.

But it must have been much older than the time of Villon. In Chaucer, Prologue 391, we are not to suppose that Dertemouthe is to be pronounced as it was by the boy who in one of our great schools was the cause of hilarity to his

CEuvres Complètes de François Villon, ed. Jannet, p. xxiii.

class-fellows by calling that seaport Dirty-mouth. The whole word is a trisyllable in Chaucer; but the first syllable repreSents the same sound as Darf now does. Another illustration of er representing the sound of ar is in our word merchant, which at first would have been a mere variety of . spelling for marchant, as it is spelt in Chaucer, according to its French extraction. Both forms are preserved in the case of person and parson. There are other familiar instances in which we may trace the influence of orthography upon pronunciation. The generation which is now in the stage beyond middle life, are some of them able to remember when it was the correct thing to say Zunnon. At that time young people practised to say it, and studied to fortify themselves against the vulgarism of saying London, according to the literal pronunciation. At the same time ‘Sir John' was pronounced with the accent on Sir, in such a manner that it was liable to be mistaken for surgeon. This accentuation of “Sir John’ may be traced further back, however, even to Shakspeare, unless Our ears deceive us. 2 Henry VI, ii. 3. 13:

“Live in your country here in banishment,
With Sir John Stanley in the Isle of Man.’

Also, 4, 77,
“And Sir John Stanley is appointed now
To take her with him to the Isle of Man.’

Compare Milton, Sonnet xi. :

“Thy age, like ours, O soul of Sir John Cheek, Hated not learning worse than toad or asp, When thou taught'st Cambridge and King Edward Greek.’ The same generation said poo-nish for punish (a relic of the French u in punir); and when they spoke of a joint of mutton they called it jinie or jeyni. In some cases it approximated to the sound sweynie, and this was heard in the more retired

« IndietroContinua »