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If any one will be at the trouble to compare the following verses from the Bible of 1611 with our present Bible, he will see that the variation is not so great as at first sight appears.
Diuers opinions of him among the people. The Pharisees are angry that their officers tooke him not, & chide with Nicodemus for taking his part.
37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Iesus stood, and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come vnto me, and drinke. 38 He that beleeueth on me, as the Scripture hath saide, out of his belly shall flow riuers of liuing water. 39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that beleeue on him should receiue. For the holy Ghost was not yet giuen, because that Iesus was not yet glorified.) 40 * Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, saide, Of a trueth this is the Prophet. 41 Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee ? 42 Hath not the Scripture saide, that Christ commeth of the seede of Dauid, and out of the towne of Bethlehem, where Dauid was 2 43 So there was a diuision among the people because of him. 44 And some of them would haue taken him, but no man layed hands on him. 45 " Then came the officers to the chiefe Priests and Pharises, and they said vnto them, Why haue ye not brought him? 46 The officers answered, Neuer man spake like this man. 47 Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceiued ? 48 Haue any of the rulers, or of the Pharises beleeued on him? 49 But this people who knoweth not the Law, are cursed. 5o Nicodemus saith vnto them, (He that came to Iesus by night, being one of them,) 51 Doth our Law iudge any man before it heare him, & know what he doth 2 52 They answered, and said vnto him, Art thou also of Galilee ? Search, and looke: for out of Galilee ariseth no Prophet. 53 And euery man went vnto his owne house.
A large part of the strange effect which this specimen has to the modern eye is due to something which is distinct from spelling—namely, to a change in the use of certain characters. The modern distinction of J the consonant from I the vowel was not yet known. The V was not practically distinguished from the U. Instead of judge we see iudge ; and instead of deceived it is deceiued. These may come under the notion of orthography, but they cannot be called diversities of spelling. To these have to be added a few instances of e final, which have since been disused. Also a few more capital letters. Such are the chief elements to which the strange aspect is due. The only real differences in this piece from our present use, are beleeue, layed (for laid), commeth, trueth. Let us glance at a few of the changes which have produced the present settlement. For this purpose we must look back to the last great disturbance, that is to say, to the Conquest and its sequel. At that time there had been a fixed orthography for a hundred years; hardly less fixed than ours now is, after four centuries of printing. We must remember that the Press is a sort of dictator in orthography. If we were to judge of present English orthography by a collection of manuscripts of the day, it would be a different thing from judging of it by printed books. For a manuscript literature, that of the last hundred years of the Saxon period is singularly orthographical. The clashing of dialects in the transition period, and the French influence, combined to raise up a new sort of spelling in the place of the old. The tributary effects of the dialects are mostly obscure and hard to disentangle. The French influence being a strange element is much easier to follow. One of its earliest and most conspicuous results was the quiescence of the old guttural-aspirate H. This produced more than one set of modifications in spelling. The habit of writing whinstead of the old hw was one of these. It seems that the decaying sound of the guttural gave the w-sound more prominence to the ear, and that accordingly the w was put before the H in writing. This alteration had the more effect on the appearance of the language, because many of the words so spelt are among
the commonest and most frequently recurring. The following are some of the more conspicuous examples:—
The modern result is this, that the syllable which was pronounced from the throat (guttural), is now pronounced mainly on the lips (aspirate-labial). The Scotch retained the guttural much longer; and the traces of it are still audible in Scotland. And they wrote as well as pronounced gutturally: thus, quha, quhilk, quhat, &c. Alexander Hume, a learned Scotchman, who was ‘Scholemaester of Bath” in 1592, thus recounts a dispute he had with some Southrons on the point:
“To clere this point, and alsoe to reform an errour bred in the south, and now usurped be our ignorant printeres, I wil tel quhat befel my self quhen I was in the south with a special gud frende of myne. Ther rease, upon sum accident, quhither quho, quhen, quhat, etc., sould be symbolised with q or w, a hoat disputation betuene him and me. After manie conflictes (for we ofte encountered), we met be chance, in the citie of Baeth, with a Doctour of divinitie of both our acquentance. He invited us to denner. At table my antagonist, to bring the question on foot amangs his awn condisciples, began that I was becum an heretik, and the doctour spering how, ansuered that I denyed qubo to be spelled with a w, but with qu.
Be quhat reason? quod the doctour. Here, I beginning to lay my grundes of labial, dental, and guttural soundes and symboles, he snapped me on this hand and he on that, that the doctour had mikle a doe to win me roome for a syllogisme. Then (said I) a labial letter can not symboliz a guttural syllab. But w is a labial letter, quho a guttural sound. And therfoer w can not symboliz qubo, nor noe syllab of that nature. Here the doctour 'staying them again (for al barked at ones), the proposition, said he, I understand; the assumption is Scottish, and the conclusion false. Quherat al laughed, as if I had bene dryven from al replye, and I, fretted to see a frivolouse jest goe for a solid ansuer.” Of the Orthographie of the Britan Tongue, by Alexander Hume (Early English Text Society, 1865), p. 18.
To the same cause must be attributed the motive for changing the spelling of lihi, niht, miht, &c., to light, night, might.
Probably the g was prefixed to the h in order to insist on the h being uttered as a guttural. If so, it has failed. The guttural writing remains as a historical monument, but the sound is no longer heard except in Scotland and the conterminous parts of England.
After it became quiescent, it was apt to be employed carelessly or arbitrarily. For example, Spenser wrote the adjective while in the following unrecognisable manner, whight.
“His Belphoebe was clad
Faery Queene, ii. 3. 26.
So also spright was written instead of sprite ; and although it is now obsolete, yet its derivative sprightly is still retained in use.
This gh has now two treatments. In the one case it is quiescent; as in plough, though, through, daughter, slaughter. In the other it sounds like / ; as, enough, rough, laughter, &c. Probably this arose from the confluence of northern and southern pronunciations. On such a point as this some light might be gained by observations upon local and family names. In some parts of England the name Waugh is pronounced as Waw, and in others as Waff. Can it be shewn that the latter is Anglian and the former Saxon 2
It would appear that gh has been formerly sounded like
f in words wherein it is now quiescent. The following quotation from Surrey seems to indicate that taught in his time might be pronounced as to/?:— ‘Farewell! thou hast me taught, To think me not the first
That love hath set aloft,
And Bunyan, who as a Bedfordshire man would belong to the northern or Anglian dialect, pronounced daughter as dafter :— “Despondency, good man, is coming after, An so is also Much-afraid, his daughter.' There is one word of this orthography whose pronunciation is not yet uniformly established (in the public reading of Scripture), and that is the word DRAUGHT. The colloquial pronunciation is now draft, but in Dryden we find the other Sound:— “Better to hunt the fields for health unbought, Than fee the doctor for a nauseous draught.' A very large proportion of the words beginning with C were now (i.e. after the transition period) spelt either with K or with CH. Examples of a Saxon C turned into K:—
Examples of Saxon words beginning with c, which in modern English have taken CH instead of C:—
Ceafu, chaff Cidan, chide
It is a point of much interest and of some uncertainty, how the ch is to be accounted for in this class of examples. Was the change only in the spelling, and had these words been pronounced with the ch sound even while they were written with the c 2 That this was not the case universally the Scotch form Kirk is a sufficient evidence. But may it have been so partially—may the chirt have been in the