Page images

their names ; nor can they be spoken of otherwise ; yet, as the simple characters are better known and more easily exhibited than their written names, the former are often substituted for the latter, and are read as the words for which they are assumed. Hence the orthography of these words has hitherto been left too much to mere fancy or caprice; no certain method of writing them has been generally inculcated; so that many who think themselves well educated, would be puzzled to name on paper these simple elements of all learning:

OBs. 5.- In many, if not in all languages, the five vowels, A, E, I, O, U, name themselves; but they name themselves differently to the ear, accord ing to the different ways of uttering them in different languages. And as the name of a consonant necessarily requires one or more vowels, that also may be affected in the same manner. But, in every language, there should be a known way both of writing and of speaking every name in the series ; and that, if there is nothing to hinder, should be made conformable to the genius of the language. For the names of the letters, in any language, are, in reality, words of that language, and not likely to be very suitable for the same purpose in any other.

OBs. 6.—The letters, once learned, may be used unnamed; and so are they used, always, except in oral spelling, or when some of their own number are to be particularized. The chief use of the written names is, to preserve and teach those which are spoken;—to record current practice, in the hope of thereby preventing or lessening diversity: for, as Walker observes, "The names of the letters ought to have no diversity.”—Principles, No. 483.

OB3. 7.-The occasions, however, for naming the letters are so frequent, and lists of their names are given in so many books, that one cannot but marvel at the absence of these words from the columns of our dictionaries, and at the errors found elsewhere concerning them. So discrepant and erroneous are the modes of writing them adopted by authors of spelling-books, and even by our best authorities—Walker, Webster, Murray, Churchill, w. Allen, and others—that any common school-boy would guess their fórms quite as well. Even John Walker, in his “Principles of English Pronunciation," spells five or six of them wrong; commences all of them with small type, as reckoning them common nouns only; fixes a gratuitous and silly "diversity' in five of them with his own hand, and contradicts himself by preferring zed to izzard at first, and izzard to zed at last !

OBs. 8.-In every nation that is not totally illiterate, custom must havo established for the letters a certain set of names, which are the only true ones, and which of course to be preferred 10 such as are local, or obsolete, or unauthorized. Sundry examples of these objectionable sorts of names may indeed be cited from our school literature ; for, in the lapse of ages, usaga has changed in a few instances, and, in their rash ignorance, some authors of A-Bee-Cee books have taught, in lieu of the right names, both archaisms and innovations at the same time; whilo many others, thinking the naming of letters a matter not worth their attention, have omitted it altogether. have recorded above the true English names of all the letters, as they are now used, and as they have been most fitly, and perhaps most generally, used thus far in the nineteenth century, and, if there could be in human works any thing unchangeable, I should' wish, (with due deference to all schemers and fault-finders,) that these names might remain the same and in good use forever.

II. CLASSES OF THE LETTERS. The letters are divided into two general classes, vowels and consonants.

A vowel is a letter which forms a perfect sound when uttered alone; as, a, e, 0.

A consonant is a letter which cannot be perfectly uttered till joined to a vowel; as, b, c, d.

W or y

The vowels are a, e, i, o, U, and sometimes w and y. All the other letters are consonants.

is called a consonant when it precedes a vowel heard in the same syllable; as in wine, twine, whine; ye, yet, youth : in all other cases, these letters are vowels; as in newly, dewy, eye-brow; Yssel, Ystadt, yttria.


The consonants are divided into semivowels and mutes.

A semivowel is a consonant which can be imperfectly sounded without a vowel, so that at the end of a syllable its sound may be protracted; as, I, n, z, in al, an, az.

A mute is a consonant which cannot be sounded at all without a vowel, and which at the end of a syllable suddenly stops the breath; as, k, p, t, in ak, ap, at.

The semivowels are g, h, j, l, m, n, r, s, v, w, x, y, 2, and c and g soft: but w or y at the end of a syllable, is a vowel ; and the sound of c, f, g, h, j, s, or x, can be protracted only as an aspirate, or strong breath.

Four of the semivowels,-1, m, n, and r,-are termed liquids, on account of the fluency of their sounds; and four others,V, W, y, and z,

,—are likewise more vocal than the aspirates. The mutes are eight; b, d, k, 7, 9, t, and c and g hard : three of these,-k, 4, and c hard, --sound exactly alike: b, d, and g hard, stop the voice less suddenly than the rest.

OBSERVATIONS. OBS. 1.—The foregoing division of the letters is of very great antiquity, and, in respect to its principal features, sanctioned by almost universal authority. Aristotle, three hundred and thirty years before Christ, divided the Greek letters into vowels, semivowels, and mutes, and declared that no syllable could be formed without a vowel. Some modern writers, however, not well satisfied with this ancient distribution of the elements of learning, have contradicted the Stagirite, and divided both sounds and letters into new classes, with various new names. But, so far as I can see, they have thereby effected no important improvement; and, since mere innovation is not in itself

desirable in such cases, the old scheme is here still preferred. OBs. 2.-Dr. Rush, author of the Philosophy of the Human Voice," resolves the letters into “ tonics, subtonics, and otonics ;” and avers that " sonants alone may form syllables.” S. Kirkham too, though his Grammar teaches the old doctrine as given by Murray, prefers in his Elocution tho instructions of Rush; disparages “the hoary division of the letters of our alphabet into vowels and consonants ;” afirms that, “ A consonant is not only capable of being perfectly sounded without the help of a vowel, but, moreover, of forming, like a vowel, a separate syllable ;” (p. 32;) commends Rush's new “division and classification of the elementary characters of our language, in accordance with their use in intonation ;”. puts an obsolete k into each of the Doctor's new names, giving to novelties the garb of antiques; tells of the Tonicks, the Subtonicks, and the Atonicks ;' and, under these three heads, exhibits his thirty-five “ elements” of the English tongue, by means of Italics and the splitting of syllables, thus:


1. “The Tonicks, twelve: A-te, a-rk, a-11, a-t, eel, e-rT, e-nd, i-de, it, o-ld, 00-ze, ou-t.

2. “The Subtonicks, fourteen: B-oat, d-are, g-ilt, v-ice, 2-one, y-e, w-o, th-at, a-z-ure, so-ng, l-ate, m-ate, n-ot, r-oe.

8. "The Atonicks, nine: U-p, a-t, lar-k, i-f, thi-8, h-e, wh-at, th-in, blu-sh.” -Kirkham's Elocution, pp. 32 and 33.

OBs. 3.-As a mode of classing the letters of the alphabet, (which character is claimed for it,) this arrangement has no fitness whatever. As a classification of the sounds of the language, it is less objectionable, but still very faulty. Its vowel powers are too few, and yet the list contains two which are questionable: for ou in out is a proper diphthong; and, according to Walker, e in err and e in end are sounded alike. The term “i-de,” which is given for a "word,” is not properly such; and the term “g-ilt” is an ill example of the hard g, because g before i 'is usually soft, like j. How the power of wh differs from the sounds of h and w united, I see not, though Bundry modern authors affirm that it is simple and elementary. The assertion, that “consonants alone may form syllables," is a flat absurdity; it implies that consonants are not consonants, but vowels !

OBS. 4.-In Comstock's Elocution, we have the following statement: “The elements, as well as the letters by which they are represented, are usually divided into two classes, Vowels and Consonants. A more philosophical division, however, is into three classes, Vorels, Subvoroels, and Aspirates

. The vowels are puré vocal sounds; their number is fifteen: they are heard in ale, arm, all, an, eve, end, ile, in, old, lose, on, tube, up, full, our. The subvocals have a vocality, but ipferior to that of the vowels; their number is fourteen: they are heard in bow, day, gay, light, mind, no, song, roll, then, vile, wo, yoke, zone, azure. The aspirates are made with the whispering breath, and, consequently, have no vocality; they are nine in number; and are heard in fame, hut, kite, pit, sin, shade, tin, thin, what."-Pp. 19 and 20.

Obs. 5.--This again is a classification of sounds, and not of the letters. To call it " a more philosophical division" of the letters, is a ridiculous absurdity. For, of the twenty-six letters, it throws out four,—c, j, 9, and x,- because their sounds may be otherwise expressed; while ten repetitions of the samo letter with a different sound, and six combinations of different letters, making sixteen unalphabetical items, are allowed to swell the number of "elements" to thirty-eight: ou and wh being improperly reckoned among them. The definitions, too, are each of them inconsistent with the fact that all these elements may be either whispered or spoken aloud, at pleasure.

Obs. 6.-The elementary sounds of the language being more numerous than the letters of the alphabet, and not very philosophically distributed among them, no accurate classification of either species can be exactly adapted to the other, and to divide the powers of the letters into one set of classes, and then divide the letters themselves, with reference to their powers,

into an other set, as a few late writers have done, seems to be neither free from objection, nor very necessary to the purposes of instruction. Such is the scheme in Covell's Digest," and also in Greene's “ Elements of English Grammar;" where the sounds used in English, being reckoned forty, by the latter author, and forty-one by the former, are divided into " Vocals, Subvocals, and Aspirates," with an additional class of " Cognates,” or “ Correlatives ;" and then the letters are classed as “vowels and consonants ;" with the suggestion that consonants are either “subvocals” or “aspirates." OBs. 7.--By way of definition, Covell says, “ Vocals consist of pure

doice only., Subvocals consist of voice and breath united. Aspirates consíst of pure breath only. A vowel is a letter used to represent a vocal. A consonant is a letter used to represent a subvocal or aspirate."'--Pp. 11 and 16. Greene says, “The vocals consist of pure tone only. The subvocals cousist of tono united with breath. The aspirates consist of pure breath only, Those letters :hich represent vocals are called vowels. Those letters which represent subxcals and aspirates are called consonants.”—Pp. 2 and 5. Now, since all the elements of words, except silent letters, may be whispered, and whispering consists in the articulation of pure breath only," may not a little whispering show the unfitness of all these definitions ?

OBS. 8.-Greene says, “ By what rule such sounds as f, 8, or c soft, which have no vocality whatever, can be called semivowels, it is impossible to see.'

- Elements of E. Gram., p. 3. This remark must have originated in some wrong notion of what yocality is. Again, it is forgotten that not “sounds," but letters, are by the definition made semivowels. If there is any error in regarding a hiss as half a voice, or in calling “f, s, or c soft” a semivowel, Aristotle himself is answerable for it, as may be seen in the twentieth chapter of his Poetics. But S. S. Greene contradicts the old philosopher nos only by denying all vocality to some of his semivowels, but also by finding the nature of " subvocals" in both of his examples of a mute; namely in g hard and d, or the corresponding Greek letters. See “Table of Elementary Sounds," in Greene's Elements, edition of 1853 ; wherein our sibilant o is blanderingly stereotyped as being an element of two or three different sorts, and as having v for its “ correlative."

OBs. 9.-By an improper recognition of sounds for letters, and of combinations for simples, some authors absurdly reckon the consonants alone to be more numerous than are all the alphabetic characters together. Thus tho Rev. Dr. Mandeville : “A consonant is a letter which, as the name implies, cannot be sounded without the aid of a vowel. The consonants are b, c, d, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, ?, 8, t, v, w, x, y, z; to which must be added th, ch, sh, zh, wh, ng: being plainly elementary sounds, and as such belonging to the alphabet, though not formally included in it.”—Course of Reading, p. 13.

OBS. 10.—The distinction between vowels and.consonants is generally obvious and easy enough; and yet, in reference to certain sounds or letters, when not pure, but combined, it is often very difficult and arbitrary. Some few of our grammarians have long taught that w and y, as well as a, e, i, o, U, are always vowels. The most common doctrine is, that w and y are sometimes vowels and sometimes consonants, and that a, e, i, o, and u, are always vowels. But, the sound of initial w being thought to be sometimes heard in U, likewise in o, and the sound of initial y sometimes in e, or i, or u, somo writers have recognized one; some, two; some, three; and a few, all four, of these letters, as well as w'and y, as being sometimes consonants; thus making a vast diversity of teaching concerning the classification of the sixa diversity which also extends itself equally into each of the new schemes of elements remarked upon above.

OBs. 11.—Dr. Lowth, and his improver, Churchill, also Sheridan, and his copier, Jones, represent a, e, i, o, u, w, and y as being invariably vowels, and as having no sounds peculiar to consonants. This opinion makes easy and simple the division of the letters, but it greatly swells the number of diphthongs, shows not why the initial w or y follows a vowel without hiatus, and accounts not for the use of a, in preference to an, before nouns beginning with w or y:

as, a wall, a yard; not an wall, an yard. OBS. 12.–Dr. Webster, 'in his great American Dictionary, says, "Y is sometimes used as a consonant.”Introd., p. lxxviii. Concerning a, e, i, o, u, and w, he appears to agree with Lowth, and the others above named. Fisher, a London grammarian of the last century, treated w as being always & consonant, and y as being sometimes such. Brightland, Johnson, Murray, Walker, Ward Wells, Worcester, and others,—a majority of those who treat of the letters,-maintain the division which I have adopted above.

Obs. 13.-Dr. Mandeville says,.“ I, y, and w, are sometimes consonants.” -- Course of Reading, p. 9. Dr. Pinneo, uttering a strange solecism, and ambiguity of construction, says,

" All the letters of the alphabet, except the vowels, and sometimes i, u, w, and y, are consonants."- Analytical Gram., Stereotype Edition of 1853, p. 7. L. I. Covell says, “ All, except a, may bé consonants.”Digest of E. Gram., p. 16.

OBS. 14.-Sheridan and Jones divide the consonants into mutes and semivowels, then subdivido the mutes into "pure and impure," and the semivowels'into “ vocal and aspirated.In lieu of this, some, among whom aro Herries and Bicknell, divide the consonants into three sorts, " half vowels, aspirates, and mutes." ' Many divide them into labials, dentals, linguals, pala. tals, and' nasals ; classes which refer to the lips, teeth, tongue, palate, and nose, as the effectivo organs of their utterance.

Obs. 15.--Certain consonants or consonantal sounds are often distinguished in pairs, by way of contrast with each other, the one being called flat and the other sharp: as, b and p.; d and t; g hard and k ; j and ch ; and f; th flat and th sharp; z and sharp 8 ; zh and sh. These, with reference to each other, are sometimes termed correlatives or cognates.

III. POWERS OF THE LETTERS. The powers of the letters are properly those elementary sounds which their figures are used to represent; but letters formed into words, are capable of communicating thought independently of sound.

The vowel sounds which form the basis of the English language, and which ought therefore to be perfectly familiar to every one who speaks it, are those which are heard at the beginning of the words, ate, at, ah, all, eel, ell, isle, ill, old, on, ooze, use, us, and that of u in bull.

In the formation of words or syllables, some of these fourteen primary sounds may be joined together, as in ay, oil, out, owl; and all of them may be preceded or followed by certain motions and positions of the lips and tongue, which will severally convert them into other terms in speech. Thus the same essential sounds may be changed into a new series of words by an f; as, fate

, fat, far, fall, feel, fell, file, fill, fold, fond, fool, fuse, fuss

, full. Again, into as many more with a p; as, pate, pat, par, pall, peel, pell, pile, pill, pole, pond, pool, pule, purl, pull.

The simple consonant sounds in English are twentytwo: they are marked by b, d, f, g hard, h, k, l, m, n, ng, P, ?, s, sh, t, th sharp, th flat, v, w, y, z, and . But zh is written only to show the sound of other letters; as of s in pleasure, or z in azure.

All these sounds are heard distinctly in the following words: buy, die, fie, guy, high, kie, lie, my, nigh, eying, pie, rye, sigh, shy, tie, thigh, thy, vie, we, ye, zebra, seizure. Again: most of them may be repeated in the same word, if not in the same syllable; as in bibber, diddle, · fifty, giggle

, high-hung, cackle, lily, mimic, ninny, singing, pippin, mirror, hissest, flesh-brush, tittle, thinketh, thither, vivid, witwal, union, dizzies, vision.

The possible combinations and mutations of the twenty-six letters of our alphabet, are many millions of millions. But those clusters which are unpronounce

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »