Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/189

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171
CONSONANTS.

enormous variety. But this great stock of possible sounds is nowhere brought into use altogether. Each language or dialect of the world is found in practice to select a limited series of definite vowels and consonants, keeping with tolerable exactness to each, and thus choosing what we may call its phonetic alphabet. Neglecting such minor differences as occur in the speech of individuals or small communities, each dialect of the world may be said to have its own phonetic system, and these phonetic systems vary widely. Our vowels, for instance, differ much from those of French and Dutch. French knows nothing of either of the sounds which we write as th in thin and that, while the Castilian lisped c, the so-called ceceo, is a third consonant which we must again make shift to write as th, though it is quite distinct in sound from both our own. It is quite a usual thing for us to find foreign languages wanting letters even near in sound to some of ours, while possessing others unfamiliar to ourselves. Among such cases are the Chinese difficulty in pronouncing r, and the want of s and f in Australian dialects. When foreigners tried to teach the Mohawks, who have no labials in their language, to pronounce words with p and b in them, they protested that it was too ridiculous to expect people to shut their mouths to speak; and the Portuguese discoverers of Brazil, remarking that the natives had neither f, l, nor r in their language, neatly described them as a people with neither fé, ley, nor rey, neither faith, law, nor king. It may happen, too, that sounds only used by some nations as interjectional noises, unwritten and unwriteable, shall be turned to account by others in their articulate language. Something of this kind occurs with the noises called 'clicks.' Such sounds are familiar to us as interjections; thus the lateral click made in the cheek (and usually in the left cheek) is continually used in driving horses, while varieties of the dental and palatal click made with the tongue against the teeth and the roof of the mouth, are common in the nursery as expressions of surprise, reproof, or satisfaction. Thus, too, the natives