Immagini della pagina

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 still kept its place after it was written could, and at length drew would and should over to the like pronunciation. In the poet Surrey and his contemporaries we find would and even could rhymed to mould; and thus we perceive that could might easily have acquired a pronunciation answering to its new spelling. The word fault used to be pronounced without the sound of L, but here orthography has proved stronger than tradition. In the Deserted Village it rhymes to aught:—

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

This is another instance 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. 160.

169. 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 ar pronunciation was a good Parisian fashion in the fifteenth century. Villon, the French poet of that period, affords in his rhymes some illustrations of this. He rhymes Robert, haubert, with pluspart, poupari; larre with terre; appert with pari}

1 CEuvret completes de Francois Villon, ed. Jannet, p. xxiii.

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 class-fellows by calling that seaport Dirty-mouth. In Chaucer's pronunciation the first syllable represents the same sound as Dart now does. The popular sarmon, sermon, is found in Chaucer. Sarvant and sarvice occur in Ralegh's letters. We pronounce ar in serjeanl. We write ar in farrier; and ferrier is forgotten. Both forms are preserved in the case of person and parson: in Love's Labour's Lost, iv. 2. 78, the old editions are divided on this word. In Ralegh we find parson in the sense of ' person.' Merchant was originally a mere variety of spelling for marchant, but the pronunciation has now adapted itself to the prevalent value of er.

170. 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 Lunnon. 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.

171. The same generation said poonish for punish (a relic of the French u in punir); and when they spoke of a joint of mutton they called it jinle or jeynt. In some cases it approximated to the sound jweynle, and this was heard in the more retired parts among country gentlemen. This is in fact the missing link between the ei or eye sound and the French diphthong oi or oie—in imitation of which the peculiarity originated. The French words lot and joie are sounded as Vwa and fwa. When the French pronunciation had degenerated so far in such words as join, joint, that the 0 was taken no account of, and they were uttered as jine, jinle, a reaction set in, and recourse was had to the native English fashion of pronouncing the diphthong oi. Hence our present join, joint, do not always rhyme where they ought to rhyme and once did rhyme.

That beautiful verse in the 106th Psalm (New Version) is hardly producible in refined congregrations, by reason of this change in its closing rhyme:—

O may I worthy prove to see
Thy saints in full prosperity!
That I the joyful choir may join,
And count thy people's triumph minel

172. The fashion has not yet quite passed away of pronouncing Rome as the word room is pronounced. This is an ancient pronunciation, as is well known from puns in Shakspeare. No doubt it is the phantom of an old French pronunciation, and it bears about the same relation to the French utterance of Rome (pron. Rom) that boon does to the French ion. But it is remarkable that in Shakspeare's day the modern pronunciation (like roam) was already heard and recognised, and the two pronunciations have gone on side by side till now, and it has taken so long a time to establish the mastery of the latter. The fact probably is, that the room pronunciation has been kept alive in the aristocratic region, which is almost above the level of orthographic influences; while the rest of the world has been saying the name according to the value of the letters. Room is said to have been the habitual pronunciation of the late Lord Lansdowne and the late Lord Russell. The Shakspearean evidence is from the following passages. King John, iii. i:

Con. O lawfull let it be

That I have roome with Rome to curse a while.

So also in Julius Casar, i. 2. But in I Henry VI, iii. 1:

Winch. Rome shall remedie this.
Wariv. Roame thither then.

The street in which Charles Dickens went to school at
Chatham bears its evidence here:

Then followed the preparatory day-school, a school for girls and boys, to which he went with his sister Fanny, and which was in a place called Rome (prononnced Room) lane.—John Forster, Life of Charles Dickens, (187a) ch. i. 1816-21.

173. There still exist among us a few personages who culminated under George IV, and who adhere to the now antiquated fashion of their palmy days. With them it used to be, and still is, a point of distinction to maintain certain traditional pronunciations: gold as gould or gu-uld; yellow asj'allow; lilac as leyloc; china as cheyney; oblige as obleege, after the French obliger.

To this group of waning and venerable sounds, which were talismans of good breeding in their day, may be added the pronunciation of the plural verb are like the word air: but not without observing that, in this instance, it is the modern pronunciation that runs counter to orthography. The following quotation from Wordsworth, Thoughts near the Residence of Burns, exhibits it in rhyme with prayer, bear, share:—

But why to him confine the prayer,
When kindred thoughts and yearnings bear
On the frail heart the purest share

With all that live?—
The best of what we do and are,

Just God, forgive!

174. Rarer are the instances in which the number of syllables has been effected by change of pronunciation. A celebrated example is the plural 'aches,' which appears as a disyllable in Shakspeare, Samuel Butler, and Swift. The latter, in his own edition of 'The City Shower' has 'old aches throb'—but modern printers, who had lost the twosyllable pronunciation, found it necessary to make good the metre thus:—' old aches will throb.'

If thou neglect'st, or dost unwillingly
What I command, I'll rack thee with old cramps;
Fill all thy bones with aches; make thee roar
That beasts shall tremble at the din.—Tempest, i. 2.

Can by their pangs and aches find
All turns and changes of the wind.

Hudibras, iii. 2. 407.

Some recent Diphthongs.

176. We will devote the remainder of this chapter to the new English diphthongs: they are among the more conspicuous instances of that revolution in orthography which has caused Saxon literature to look so uncouth and strange in its own native country. To begin with the archaic

EW. Represents a terminal condensation in a small set of early English words, viz. Andrew, Bartholomew, feverfew (French feverfuge), Grew (obsolete for Greek), Hebrew, Jew (French Juif).

AU. It resulted from our peculiar ae sound of a as de

« IndietroContinua »