Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/163

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159
INTERNATIONAL SPEECH

countries. Indeed, there seems to be, at least with us in America, a wide-spread sort of shamefacedness about the use of any other but the flat "ā" and "ă" sounds for "a," and the long "e" and "i" sounds for those letters. "Ask," "alf," "waft" are pronounced far and wide as "ăsk," "hălf" and "wăft," if not indeed "āysk," "hāyff" and "wāyft." "Amen" is "aye-men," "Alabama," "Kansas," "Iowa" are attractive in their vowels, properly pronounced; but "Ail-bay-ma," "Kain-zuss," "Eyé-o-way" or "Eye-ó-wi" are sufficiently common to indicate the trend among the unchecked multitudes. The Spanish "Colo-rä’-do" is beautiful; but what of our universal "Colo-răd’do," to say nothing of the unspeakable, but, alas, not unheard, "Colo-rāy’-do"? Americans, especially western Americans, do seem to feel it an affectation to use correctly the available sound-materials of the English tongue.

The point is, that while our vowel sounds do admit of beauty and euphony in the spoken tongue, and while our better speakers and more cultivated people do actually use their delicate shadings, to the delight of sensitive ears, the general drift among the English-speaking masses is to limit themselves to the use of a few of the least attractive and melodious of these sounds, and to those which are the least familiar to the masses of other nations as applied to the letters in question. This tendency certainly does not add to the allurements of English for foreigners. So far as the consonants are concerned, we undoubtedly possess one combination, the "th" sound, as in "the," which seems to present unusual difficulties to almost all other peoples. Who can formulate a rule that will cover the irregularities exhibited by "gem" and "get," by "ginger" and "gimlet," by "gill," the measure, and "gill," of fish; of "s" in "serve" and "preserve," "sound" and "resound," "hawsers" and "trousers," that will serve to aid the foreigner learning English?

Taking our orthography as a whole, there seems to be but little hope for the success of any radical scheme for revision. Witness the hoots of derision that, from London to San Francisco, have followed at the heels of Mr. Carnegie and his simple spellers, with their little handful of three hundred phoneticized words. As a matter of fact we are proud of our spelling as a national heritage. It preserves for us "the history of the language." We have a word "phthisical" which we should spell "tizical," since that is its peculiar pronunciation. We refuse to spell it in that way, because the combinations "ph" and "th" have been arbitrarily chosen to represent two Greek letters that do not exist in our alphabet! Despite the weakness of the argument for our orthography as preserving the historical origins of words, it remains as the most potent, because the most sentimental obstacle to reform, unless it be that blind subservience to routine, that love of the unchanged thing for its own sake alone. Be this as