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imperfect manner, as it now does, the thousand and one dialects and derivations to which it is traced by etymologists and scholars :
"The irregularities in the English orthography have always been a subject of deep regret, and several attempts have been made to banish them from the language. Such is the state of our written language, that our citizens never become masters of its orthography without great difficulty and labor, and a great part of them never learn to spell words with correctness.
gard to the acquisition of the language by foreigners, the evil of our irregular orthography is extensive beyond what is generally known or conceived. While the French and Italians have had the wisdom and policy to refine their respective languages, so as to render them almost the common language of all wellbred people in Europe, the English language, clothed in a barbarous orthography, is never learned by a foreigner but from necessity. To complete the mischief, the progress of the arts, sciences, and Christianity among the heathen, is most seriously retarded by the difficulty of mastering our irregular orthography. From the period of the first Saxon writing, our language has been suffering changes in orthography.
To this day, the orthography of some classes of words is not settled, and in others it is settled in a manner to confound the learner, and mislead him into a false pronunciation. Nothing can be more disreputable to the literary character of a nation than the history of English orthography, unless it is that of orthoAs our language is derived from various sources, and little or no attempt has been made to reduce the orthography to any regularity, the pronunciation of the language is subject to numerous anomalies."-Preface to Dictionary.
Mr. Webster approves of the plan adopted by Sheridan and Walker, of adding to each word a specimen of the spelling adapted to the sound,t and pronounces it *The above remark, from such an authority, serves to show that a field is open for American scholars, in which they might, with due industry and the exercise of a proper independence, shoot ahead of their British predecessors in philological research, and in improving the orthography, and giving fixity to the language.
The system of Walker, however, we need scarcely say, is not to simplify the spelling, but rather to employ additional letters, and sometimes even syllables, so as to represent, as far as practicable, the minutest inflections and shades of sound that occur in the pronunciation of the language as it is actually spoken.
to be highly useful and rational. It is surely a striking instance of the force of prejudice, thus to make use of, without adopting this latter more convenient and rational mode of spelling-or to make it auxiliary to a difficult, unsettled, and pedantic system of orthography, by which the written form of language is rendered hieroglyphic, instead of phonic-or little different from the picture-writing of the ancient Mexicans-through the attempt to represent the derivation instead of the sound of its various words and terms. In addition to the considerations which we have already urged, and the views we have quoted from Mr. Cooper, and other American writers, as forming inducements for our attempting the innovation which we have here ventured to recommend, it must be seen, that a second chop character (to use a Chinese phrase) must necessarily attach to our literature, and the American mind be ever held in a state of intellectual pupilage and subjection, while we are enforced to speak and write the language of another people more advanced in the arts and letters than ourselves. should further be borne in mind, that one war has already originated from this source, and that other similar collisions must inevitably ensue, from our growing naval strength and the difficulty of distinguishing between the seamen of the two countries. The arrogance, also, nurtured in the mind of the mother-country, by her ascendency in literature, and her consciousness of the influence which she thence exercises over the intellect and character of her descendants, is little calculated to lessen the chances of collision between the proud parent and her equally proud offspring. A native, or national language, forms the only groundwork of an original literature; and even to this advantage superior genius and constant patronage must be superadded, in order to bring forth the higher and finer fruits of intellect and art. The genius of Rome, even with the aid of her national and noble language, could not shake off the influence of those Attic models from which it "first drew light"-her literature still bearing the stamp of Grecian imitation in all its departments, except that of satire, in which it has put forth a thorny, but vigorous shoot, which may be considered
as the indigenous growth of her intellectual soil. If such be the case with Roman literature, what must be the future character of ours, writing as we do in the language, and studying no other models than those of the parent country? The example of Europe, where the French has been adopted as the language of courts, and of the polite circles of society, and where the Latin was long used both in diplomacy and composition, sufficiently shows that there is nothing impracticable in the proposed scheme, which is merely to form and introduce a dialect of the existing national speech, and a change of the character in which it is written—similar to that which took place when the Roman alphabet was substituted for the old black-letter or German text.* * Where nations, influenced by mere views of convenience or fashion, have adopted and effected such innovations as these, we should surely evince a lamentable want of spirit and energy, in refusing to attempt an improvement which we are incited to make by so many considerations of patriotism and pride, and which in a literary point of view alone promises advantages which might be expected to recommend it to the patronage and support of every scholar and friend of American letters. By adapting the spelling to the pronunciation, the language would be much simplified, and the rudimental parts of education rendered far less difficult than they now are to the young. By a change in a few of the particles and prepositions, &c., which might be such as would render them both more euphonious and convenient, a sufficient demarcation between the two languages could be established to ef
*It was not until the Germans began to compose in their own language (their literati and diplomatists having previously used the French and Latin) that their literature took a start, and acquired the splendor and repute which it now so justly enjoys. Rich and exuberant as it now is, it is not more than sixty years since Klop stock and Lessing, and a few other independent spirits, by discarding the French, and resolutely writing in, and cultivating their own racy and original language, gave an impulse to the literature and the intellect of their country, that, like a stone thrown into a stagnant lake, created a movement that has continued ever since to spread in ever-widening waves over the national mind.
fect the object in view, and afford to the American mind an independent vehicle of thought and separate field for intellectual exertion. By causing the proposed system of orthography to be taught in our schools and colleges, and employing it in our diplomacy and public acts, another generation would both speak and use the new dialect, and would not fail to realize the advantages which so happy a disenthralment of the national mind would be calculated to produce. It wants but a little national spirit and effort on the part of our scholars and literati to set a-going and successfully effect the proposed mental dismemberment from the mother-country, who at present so insolently triumphs in our intellectual subjection and dependence. The too near effulgence of British literature and genius dazzles and obtunds, rather than enlightens our native intellect, and the literary arena is crowded with foreign atheletæ, who, crowned with the laurels of previous achievements, receive beforehand the applauses of the spectators, and jostle the native competi tors from the ring. The conquering stream poured from the British press crosses with a Missouri-like confluence, and colors through its whole course the struggling and exiguous current of American literature, and keeps down, like a permanent inundation, the natural growths of the soil. Committees of the scholars and literati of the country, corresponding and co-operating with each other, might easily arrange the details of the scheme-introduce it properly to the public-and cause it to be adopted, and successfully carried into effect. The language, modified in the manner here proposed, taught in our schools, and employed in our negotiations, public documents, and legislative enactments, would, in another generation, become the spoken language of the United States, and would thus lay the foundation of a national literature, no less solid, brilliant, and original, than that of the mother-country. thinks it but candid and ther-country. In conclusion, the writer proper to say, that not much believing in the existence, on the part of his country, of the feelings and spirit to which he appeals, he should not have thought of bringing forward the scheme here advocated at the present time, but from the move made on the subject by
others, which, as far as he has been able |
See the ANGLO-SACSUN newspaper, published in Boston, and printed in the new character and reformed spelling.
English critics not only maintain that the language is incorrectly spoken in this country, but that the style of our writers is marked by provincialisms and inaccuracies, which seem to show that the renewed youth or national rejuvenescence enjoyed by a colonial people is, as usual, accompanied by certain drawbacks and disadvantages, among which a partial oblivion of their mother tongue, a deterioration in manners, an imitative spirit, or want of originality, are the most conspicuous; the mind not participating in, it would appear, any of the benefits of this life-renewing process, or grinding over the body politic.
which the parent country continues to exercise over the national mind, might, we reiterate, by one brave and independent effort, be forever broken and got rid of; and we trust that this effort will yet be made, in spite of the prejudices which we shall have to overcome in making it, and the ridicule which may be employed against it by shallow wits and ephemeral scribblers, for
« Fools would be always on the laughing side.”
A strict adaptation of the spelling to the pronunciation is, as we before said, no part of our scheme; as we should be for making some sacrifices of convenience, and many departures from the object in view, euphonia gracia-or for the sake of sound, and of symmetry and melody. But this is a matter of detail, and no specification of the instances in which this might be deemed advantageous or advisable need The author of be made at this time.*
the article on the Anglo-Normans, in the
12th number of the North British Review,
takes occasion to observe that the revolution wrought by the general progress of manufactures and commerce (during the Norman period) led to another equally memorable, the triumph of the English language over the Norman French, which was banished from the House of Commons at the end of the fourteenth century. "French was still, however, the official language of England, the language of all the higher classes. It was spoken by the king, the bishops, the judges, and by all the aristocracy and gentils hommes. It was the language taught their children as soon as they could speak; while the Saxon tongue occupied the degraded position of the Gaelic in Ireland in more modern times. . . . At the same time, the vigorous growth of a native literature favored the English, which was permitted, not ordered, to be used in pleadings before the civil courts, by a statute of Edward III. But the lawyers continued to interlard
A system of accentuation, by which the long and short sound of the letters should be regulated and fixed, would also form a proper and highly useful addition to the scheme. The author, however, forbears entering into any details at this time, as being uncertain what reception a scheme of so extensive and innovatory a character may meet with from the public.
their speech with French phrases for a long time after. From the year 1400, or thereabouts, the public acts were drawn up alternately and indifferently in French and English. The first bill of the lower House of Parliament that was written in the English language bears the date of 1425. In order to be understood by the people, the Normans Saxonized their speech as well as they could; and, on the other hand, in order to be understood by the upper classes, the people Normanized theirs. About the middle of the fourteenth century a great many poetical and imaginative works appeared in this new language; sometimes the two tongues out of which it grew were used in every alternate couplet, or in every second line." We thus see that the English language at length forced itself into general use, in the manner above described, and in spite of the opposition and influence of the more educated classes, who belonged to the dominant or conquering race. This struggle was surely far more difficult than would have been an attempt merely to change the character or modify the spelling of the existing language, in compliance with the indications held out by the pronunciation, and the strong inducement presented by the convenience with which such an innovation would be attended. It may be said, that the obstinacy with which the English maintained the struggle with the intrusive Normans, serves to show how difficult any attempt would be, even partially, to supersede it, or to modify it in the mode here proposed. The convenience, however, attending a simplification of the spelling, and the strong national inducements which we have to adopt the other changes which we have suggested, are calculated, we think, to recommend them to the favorable consideration of the more public-spirited and unprejudiced portion of our scholars and literati, to overcome all objections, and pave the way for their successful introduction. The present mode of spelling is, in fact, a sacrifice of convenience, and in our case, of national independence, to the mere pedantry of etymology, or to an object that could be as well effected by other means as by that of writing the language in a different manner from that in which it is spoken or pronounced. The objection
that the etymology* of words, as traced in the spelling, would be lost sight of, and the significance of the language in this way impaired, must be seen to be wholly nugatory and untenable; it being quite as easy to preserve the derivation of terms, or the history of their transmutations, in appropriate works, as by partially conforming their orthography to that of the originals from which they sprung. The change in the language would not be as great as that which it underwent between the time of Chaucer and Shakspeare; and nothing but a little national spirit and effort is necessary to carry it through, and effect that final separation from the parent country, which is so essential both to our political and mental independence.
Though we have noticed, and, as we trust, duly weighed the difficulties that stand in the way, and are calculated to prevent the adoption of the scheme which we have here ventured to propose, there is yet one obstacle to its success, which we have already adverted to, but which requires to be further dwelt upon, and on which we feel ourselves bound to speak out, with unflinching firmness and patriotic candor. We repeat, then, that it behooves us to bear in mind, as a matter for profitable consideration, that a deficiency of national pride and feeling ever characterizes, and necessarily forms, one of the earlier weaknesses of a people of colonial origin. For such a people naturally long continue to look back to the mother-country with mingled feelings of affection and respect, which even the most unnatural ill-treatment on her part cannot alienate, or wholly destroy.
* Dr. Johnson, in the preface to his Dictionary, refers to some of the projects broached in his time for adapting the spelling to the pronunciation, but speaks of them with disapprobation; giving, however, no valid or satisfactory reason for his preference of the present system of orthography, by which the language is spoken in one manner and written in another: merely urging that the etymology of the words would by the proposed change be lost sight of, or rendered
more difficult to be traced. As we have no academy, like that of France, to settle and preserve the standard of the language, the National Institute, established at Washington, could, from its high literary and scientific standing, undertake and adjust the details of a national scheme it attract attention or receive any countenance of this extensive and innovatory character, should from the scholars and savans of our country.
This was sufficiently exemplified in the national energy and spirit. A sectional patient endurance and magnanimous for- feeling, indeed, much sooner grows up bearance exhibited by us colonists towards anong such a people, than that animating England during the difficulties which pre- and ennobling national sentiment, which ceded the Revolution, and which arose out informs the whole body politic, as with of the arbitrary and unkind course pur- one soul; and which, to use the language sued and persevered in by the parent gov- of Fisher Ames, occasioned a Roman or ernment, and which was as impolitic as it Spartan "to feel as if the leprosy had was oppressive and unprovoked. The at- broken out on his cheek, whenever the tachment of such a people to the Natale honor of his country was called in quesSolum, or land of their birth, is always of tion, or its interests assailed." Of the gradual growth, and less strong than that wretched and spurious cosmopolitism that felt towards the fatherland, or the nation occupies the place of true patriotism and from whom they sprung. For, as in the national feeling among us, the following case of individuals, the affection of the extract from the New York Evening Post, child for the parent is, as we need scarce- which we copied at the time as a curiosity, ly observe, far stronger than the feelings but of which we neglected to preserve the of local attachment, being indeed the orig- date, affords an apposite and sadly humilinal source of the latter feeling, which is iating evidence: "The victory obtained founded on the early associations and en- by the Democratic party in the municipal dearing recollections that linger around election of yesterday is even more signal the parental hearth, and the home in which than we had anticipated. Not only are we first experienced the care and shared the Natives beaten, but beaten almost out the love of the authors of our being. The of existence.”* A great cause of triumph slow growth of these feelings is sufficient- this, truly; but the editor thus goes on:ly shown, if there were no other proof at "The odious principle of exclusion from hand, by our continued encouragement of political rights, on account of the accident the system of foreign immigration, which, of birth in a foreign land, is solemnly disthough we are accustomed to take credit owned, rejected, flung to the ground, and for it, as an evidence of the superior libe- trampled upon with scorn, by the vast poprality of our institutions, is merely one of ulation of our city." This "vast populathose colonial habits which we have not tion," it should be borne in mind, is largeyet outgrown; but which, like an unshed ly composed of Irish, Germans, and other tooth in the head of youth, forms a linger- foreigners-many, no doubt, very respectaing proof of adolescence, or of our being ble people; but mixed with no inconsidstill on the mere threshold of our national erable portion of paupers and felons, vomand political existence. For such a sys-ited upon our shores from the jails, the tem, it is almost needless to say, could not for a moment be tolerated in an old country, or by any indigenous or long independent people, there being no instance of such a people ever admitting settlers or colonists among them-wholly alien to them in language, habits, and manners--even where they had room for them, or possessed waste lands, in which they might be received, and conveniently accommodated. The present low state, then, of public sentiment among us, which occasions us to fraternize so easily with strangers, and all comers, and which proves that we have lost even the national pride and feeling which we brought with us from the mother-country, forms the chief obstacle to the success of a scheme which requires for its adoption the highest exertion of patriotism and
work-houses, and the hospitals of England and Europe. Proh pudor! how could an American, even while laboring under the excitement of a recent canvass, thus publicly avow the degenerate sentiment, that he considers the tie that binds him to the land of his birth as a mere accidental connection, that places him in no nearer relation to it than the privileges of citizenship do the naturalized foreigner, however recently the letters patent of patriotism may have been issued to him-or however trifling the fee which he may have paid for obtaining them? The naturalization laws, according to the views of the demagogues of the day, are of equal force with those of nature, and by a miraculous pro
The italics in the above are ours.