Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/188

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

consonants, in combination with the musical vowels. As to the positions and movements of the vocal organs in producing consonants, an excellent account with anatomical diagrams is given in Professor Max Müller's second series of Lectures. For the present purpose of passing in review the various devices by which the language-maker has contrived to make sound a means of expressing thought, perhaps no better illustration of their nature can be mentioned than Sir Charles Wheatstone's account of his speaking machine;[1] for one of the best ways of studying difficult phenomena is to see them artificially imitated. The instrument in question pronounced Latin, French, and Italian words well: it could say, 'Je vous aime de tout mon cœur,' 'Leopoldus Secundus Romanorum Imperator,' and so forth, but it was not so successful with German. As to the vowels, they were of course simply sounded by suitable reeds and pipes. To affect them with consonants, contrivances were arranged to act like the human organs. Thus p was made by suddenly removing the operator's hand from the mouth of the figure, and b in the same way, except that the mouth was not quite covered, while an outlet like the nostrils was used in forming m; f and v were rendered by modifying the shape of the mouth by a hand; air was made to rush through small tubes to produce the sibilants s and sh; and the liquids r and l were sounded by the action of tremulous reeds. As Wheatstone remarks, the most important use of such ingenious mechanical imitations of speech may be to fix and preserve an accurate register of the pronunciation of different languages. A perfectly arranged speaking machine would in fact represent for us that framework of language which consists of mere vowels and consonants, though without most of those expressive adjuncts which go to make up the conversation of speaking men.

Of vowels and consonants capable of being employed in language, man is able to pronounce and distinguish an

  1. C. W., in 'London and Westminster Review,' Oct. 1837.