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THERE is no doubt that much interest has been excited, and just now prevails, about the proposed changes in the spelling of quite a num ber of the words of our language. The principal idea of those who advocate these changes seems to be to make spelling easier to the multitude, by conforming it more closely to the pronunciation; but also the recommendation is urged of saving space and time in writing or setting up for the press.
These objects are good in themselves, certainly. But, as only a limited number of words are proposed to be thus reformed, it may be doubted whether much will be accomplished by the changes advocated. This objection will probably be answered by those who have the matter most at heart, by saying that this limited number of changes is only meant as an entering wedge; they will tell us that to do the business thoroughly at once would scare people off from it, but that when they have found the advantage of phonetic spelling in the words proposed, they will go on and ask for more.
It really does not seem to occur to our reformers that genuine and thorough phonetic spelling is impossible in our language, unless we are ready to introduce a number of new letters to adequately represent the various sounds now represented, after a fashion, by the twenty-six letters of our alphabet. The case is very different with us from that which we Copyright. 1906. THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF ST. PAUI. THE APOSTLE IN THE STATE OF NEW YORK.
find in a really phonetic language like the Italian. The vowels have in such a language a practically unvarying sound, independent of their adjuncts or context; and it is the same with the consonants, with the exception of certain rules which are faithfully kept, and fairly easy to learn. When one sees a g before a, o, or u in Italian, one knows that it is pronounced "hard," and before and i, "soft." We have a similar rule in English, but it is not kept. Evidently with us-for we cannot hope to change our pronunciation-we must have different characters for a "hard" g, and a "soft" one, if we are going to do the business thoroughly. Something, no doubt, might be done, especially with the vowels, by the use of accents or similar marks, such as are found in dictionaries; but the of such marks is so foreign to our practice, that it would be very hard to introduce, to say nothing of its real inconvenience. Even to dot an i is a nuisance.
So, as has been just said, to make a thorough reform, and have real phonetic spelling, we must have a number of new letters, or their equivalents, added to our alphabet. People of this generation, so to speak, do not seem to be aware that this work was done in an absolutely thorough and perfectly logical way, about sixty years ago, in the days of our great educator, Horace Mann. He did not, so far as we are aware, invent the system, but he certainly highly approved of it; the writer, when a guest in his house at that time, easily learned the system, and there would be no difficulty in learning it for any boy of ordinary capacity; for the only real effort of memory was that of learning the letters and the sounds they stood for.
In this phonetic alphabet, there were, if we remember rightly, about forty-six characters, corresponding to all the sounds of the English language. Every illogicality or inconsistency of our spelling was remedied by it. The so-called diphthongs, such as "au," which really represent simple sounds, capable of indefinite prolongation, were represented by single letters; on the other hand, real diphthongs, such as Our socalled "long" a and i, which require an "ee" sound to finish them up, were spelled by two successive letters, as they should be. When one saw a word in this "phonotypy," as it was called, one knew exactly how it was to be pronounced. There was only one possible way to pronounce it. Spelling was performed by simply pronouncing the successive sounds of the
word successively, with a little interval between. The whole scheme was an offshoot of Pitman's phonography, in which a similar system was followed, so that a word written out fully in it could be pronounced properly by simple inspection. The correlation of really similar sounds, such as that of "au" (the English pronunciation of which is always as in "Paul"), and our so-called short o, was also recognized.
Such was the excellent and logically developed system of "phonotypy." Mr. Mann used to take a newspaper printed entirely in it. It was the only reform really worth making, and if we were a really logical people, as logical as Italians, it probably might have been a success. But, in fact, it was a dead failure. It had a life, possibly, of two or three years.
But it was the only thing worth trying. What is the use of having some words spelled with an approximation to the way they are spoken, while others remain in their old form? You do not know, on such a basis, how to pronounce a word when you see it; it may be one which has been tinkered with, or it may not be. And the same divergency which was in vogue in English in the matter of spelling would be sure to return, if the job is not done thoroughly. People seeing some words reformed, would in all probability begin to reform others on their own ideas, and as their analytical powers with regard to vocal sounds had never been trained, their efforts would not coincide. Some, seeing the inadequacy of the changes proposed, and having no real law or universal custom having the force of law, to restrain them, would carry these changes further; some logically perhaps, others illogically or inconsiderately.
To show the absurd incompleteness of the job as it stands, take, for instance, the word "thorough," the last three letters of which are dropped by our reformers to make the spelling what they call phonetic. In fact it is no more so than it was before, for any practical purpose. As it is now, no one dreams of pronouncing these last three letters; the principal question of pronunciation would be regarding the first vowel. The only regular or recognized sounds of the letter o, are what we call the long (which is a diphthong, being the regular European o with what we would describe as an 00 or u to terminate it), and the short one, which is really a short form of our so-called diphthong au, as already noted. To indicate the pronunciation of the first vowel in "thoro" we should have to write for it an