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Pitman has given us a key to unlock, at once, all the mysteries of our most inconsistent and anomalous orthography. And to establish this claim, Dr. Stone exhibited the “ phonetic children” as marvellous spellers. He challenged for them the hardest words, with a structure as remote as possible from the laws of phonography, and would have had it understood by us, that from the working of a system of perfect symmetry there came forth, as a result, a knowledge of such grotesque, chaotic formations, as the words phthisic, and physic, pneumatic and rendezvous.
Phonetics, he would have us understand, taught those bright little prodigies that the word intelligent must be spelled with two l's, and diligent with only one.
Now, we think, that those rare spellers must have become such (whether consciously to themselves, or to their teachers or not, we will not say) in the same way substantially, that all learners become good English orthographists; that is, by close attention to the aphonetic elements of the languageand we will not say that in thus observing all the anomalous facts and forms of our common mode of spelling, they did not derive incidental aid from phonetics. We will go further and admit, that a clear, vivid view of the general phonetic structure of our language would serve to render the exceptions to general laws, equally clear and vivid, and thus assist the memory to retain those exceptions. But the same admission must be made in favor of the common mode of teaching English orthography. The common mode is amply sufficient to produce the same helps, if it be well taught. Every teacher knows that it is essential to success in spelling, that the pupil be established in his knowledge of the nature and powers of the elements of speech, and that if thus grounded he will readily notice the anomalies of the language, and that the greater the anomaly the easier it is for such a pupil to remember it. And therefore, it is, that such words as rendezvous and phthisic, and the like, are not so hard as the words valleys, fiery, intelligent, diligent, fc.
But it is said that the 66 Phonetic children” of Boston have won great distinction over the pupils of the other city schools who have competed with them. If the primary schools of Boston or New Bedford could be taught by a teacher in the common mode of spelling, as earnest in his calling as Dr. Stone seems to be, and if select pupils could be trained with the ex. pectation of being tested in the presence of Governors and Counsellors, and especially in the presence of so grave a body as the Massachusetts Teachers' Association—if they could be drilled beforehand in the spelling of all the hard words carefully culled and tabulated, what might we not still anticipate as the fruits of the old system? And if so humble an institution as an old-fashioned spelling school, could be established in all the school districts of the Commonwealth, and such stimulants were brought to bear as the Boston phonetic children have been favored with, then we are sure that editors and proof-readers would find that the 66 schoolmaster was abroad," and hard at work.
But not to dwell longer on the claims set up for the defence of the phonetic system, we will now refer to some of the positive difficulties and objections, which bear against any attempt to make it a branch of elementary instruction. Its advocates have aimed at nothing less than an entire reconstruction of English Orthography, and they would try to secure the aid of teachers to secure this result.
Against this attempt there are the following objections : 1. It cannot be done.
2. If changes in orthography, to a greater or less degree, are possible, it is not the province of any teacher of the English language to make these changes.
3. The reconstruction proposed ought not to be made, even if it were possible, and we had it in our power to effect it.
We say, first, that the proposed change of the alphabetic forms of the language is a work too difficult to be attempted. Among all the works of man nothing is so enduring as the forms of written language. The alphabet of a mature language used by a noble people, is as imperishable as the literature of that people. Hence we find no monuments of human art or wisdom so ancient as the symbols of thought and speech. We know not the elemental sounds which the Greek or Roman alphabet once represented. They have vanished away, being as frail and as unsubstantial as the lips or the breath that gave them utterance. But the thoughts embalmed in their written 'symbols of speech have been preserved, and they will never die. Their structures of marble and granite have crumbled to the dust, but the “ all-devouring tooth of time" cannot destroy their alphabets. Well, then, might Ovid exult in the confidence of an immortal memory, when he said,
Ore legar populi, perque omnia saecula fama,
Si quid habent veri vatum praesagia, vivam! And the reason of this can be stated in a word, that the highest ends and uses of a written language would be lost, if its forms were mutable or subject to decay. It is comparatively of little account whether they be perfect in theory ; but it is of the utmost importance that they be permanent in fact. When will Homer's Iliad, or the Hebrew Bible be printed phonetically because beginners at first can but
ly oferims were made tages of woman be stated i
“ Just make out to spell ?"
But it may be said that our language does not resemble those just mentioned, because its orthography is not fixed, like the historic languages.
Our language is indeed youthful, though its alphabet is very ancient. It is true that in the course of 100 years many changes have taken place. The Roman alphabet has within that time been adopted. But the reason of these changes is obvious, having their origin in the circumstances which gave rise to our noble language. The elements of our present English speech, made up by the contributions of different climes and ages, and conAlicting races, were long in the process of assimilation. The battle of Hastings made William of Normandy the conqueror of England, and, in part, of the Anglo-Saxon tongue. But King James's translation of the Bible laid the basis of a settled orthog raphy. From that time the forms of the language have been always approximating to a fixed condition, not to one of instability and revolution. And the wider it has been diffused around the world, and the more its readers have been multiplied in all lands, the greater has been the tendency to a uniform orthography.
But, it will be said, changes do after all take place. Johnson made many improvements. Our own great Lexicographer has attempted some excellent innovations, and in part succeeded. All this is admitted. But then the changes have in no case been radical. They have been slowly made, and in spite of great resistance. A life-time is needed to obtain the general consent to spell the word phonetic without the k appended. And what a bearing on this point has the battle of the two dictionaries, Worcester against Webster, with the Boston schools, phonetic and all, arrayed against the great innovator? We verily believe many of the advocates of the phonetic system would give it up sooner than they would abandon Worcester.
But, in the second place, if changes can be made, who shall make them ? Not the Lexicographers, except to a limited extent. Shall teachers and professors attempt this work? That is not their vocation. Their duty is to teach what is written. 6. What is written is written," is the law not less for the University professor of rhetoric, than for the teacher of a common school. Who, then, may change the forms of written language, if they be changed at all? We reply, the masters of thought and speech-the great poets and orators who write what all the world will read. And the great masters of thought and style, have the right to choose their own forms of expression-and no man may lawfully change those forms thus chosen. Chaucer or Shakspeare will not be printed to accommodate a modern spelling school. The Scotch dialect of Burns will not be altered according to the latest edition of Walker's dictionary. To such as are unwilling to learn his dialect, his deathless words will be and ought to be without meaning. We do not believe that the
and all, armas e advocates abandon Wores can be compte
works of Daniel Webster will ever be printed in the phonetic character for general circulation.
Our final remark is, that the phonetic alphabet and orthography ought not to be introduced into the place of the common one, even if it were possible for us, of our own selves, to do it. “ The gains of such an introduction,” says Mr. Trench, " would be insignificantly small, while the losses would be enormously great." The ends of the fixed forms of a language are other and higher than to teach children how to spell it—be the process ever so easy or ever so hard. The fact that our present orthog. raphy abounds with strange and unreasonable anomalies, is no argument against the use of those anomalies for the interchange of human thought and the perpetuation of that thought. It is enough that those anomalies have the sanction of universal usage, and they will be retained. Do the advocates for their removal, really suppose that they found their way into our language, for the purpose of making our orthography hard for children to learn -even to the shedding of tears ?
These anomalies may be unreasonable in form, but they have a most rational use, derived as they are from the very circumstances which gave birth to our noble language, without which it would never have had existence. It is not then really a fault or dishonor that it contains them. Indeed, it is not even a misfortune, but rather the opposite of all these. For it is a recent language, mixed, not aboriginal. In its vocubulary it has representatives from most modern tongues, and rich contributions from the Latin and Greek. And in its written forms, the scholar's eye at once perceives the paternity of almost all its words. It may be difficult for foreigners to master such a language as ours, and be none the less worthy of their earnest pains-taking on that account, for it contains the garnered treasures of strength and beauty that have belonged to the dialects of all the noblest nations of the world's history. And therefore old Camden has justly, though quaintly said :
“ Whereas our tongue is mixed, it is no disgrace. The Italian is pleasant, but without sinews, as a still fleeting water ; the French delicate, but ever nice as a woman, scarce daring to open her lippes for fear of marring her countenance; the Spanish majesticall, but fulsome, running too much on the o, terrible, like the Divill in the play; the Dutch manlike, but withall very harsh, as one ready at every word to picke a quarrell. Now wee, in borrowing from them, doe give the strength of consonants to the Italian, the full sound of words to the French, the variety of terminations to the Spanish, and the mollyfying of more vowels to the Dutch; and so like bees we gather honey of their good properties, and leave the dregs to themselves. And thus, when substantialnesse combineth with delightfulnesse, fulnesse with finenesse, seemlinesse with portlinesse, and currantnesse with
the balance perceives foreigners to f their earnesves of strength staydnesse, how can the language which consisteth in all these sound other than full of all sweetnesse ?”.
Since, then, our language is derivative, almost all its words must have a history expressed in their written forms ; while with these forms there are associated and blended shades of meaning and force which very often can be determined in no way but by the written form. It would then be an evil, in very truth, to blot out of being at a stroke, all the history of almost the entire language, which is now most happily inwrought into its elementary structure, and which is a repository of truth of surpassing value to the scholar, and of the highest reason also to those "in whom are found knowledge and understanding, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts."
Do not the very names by which we designate the phonetic system give us an illustration of the value of the historic forms of words? They are taken from the common thesaurus of technical terms, bearing the changeless meaning and the imperishable form of the Greek words, which repel from themselves the application of the principles of that very system they are employed to define ; thus in its very title and superscription, showing the whole scheme, in any other light than as an unapplied theory, to be absurd and contradictory.
The facts, then, or the fixed forms of English orthography, however stubborn, or grotesque, or unaccountable, or even unreasonable, they may appear to the uneducated, cannot be forced from the language. There they must remain, and the child has nothing to do with them but to learn them if he can, and learn them well, reserving his obstinate questionings of sense and outward things” for the studies and judgments of his maturer years.
“I can conceive,” says Mr. Trench, 6 of no method so effectively defacing and barbarizing our English tongue, no scheme that would go so far to empty it, practically at least, and for us, of all the hoarded wit, wisdom, imagination, and history which it contains, to cut the vital nerve which connects its present with the past, as the scheme of Phonetic Spelling,' which some have been lately zealously advocating among us — the principle of which is, that all words should be spelled as they are sounded, that the writing should be in every case subordinated to the speaking.
“ The tacit assumption that it ought so to be, is the pervading error of the whole system. But there is no necessity that it should ; every word, on the contrary, has two existences, as a spoken word and a written one for the ear, the other for the eye, and you have no right to sacrifice one of these, or even to subordinate it wholly to the other.
“ A word exists as truly for the eye as for the ear, and in a highly advanced state of society, where reading is almost as uni