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Of the letters—of language—and of a perfect alphabet.
Orthography teaches the nature and powers of letters, and the just method of spelling words.
A letter is the first principle, or least part of a word.
The letters of the English language, called the English Alphabet, are twenty-six in number.
These letters are the representatives of certain articulate sounds, the elements of the language. An articulate sound is the sound of the human voice, formed by the organs of speech.
"Language, in the proper sense of the word, signifies the expression of our ideas, and their various relations, by certain articulate sounds, which are used as the signs of those ideas and relations. The faculty of speech is one of the distinguishing characters of our nature; none of the inferior animals being in any degree possessed of it. For we must not call by the name of speech that imitation of human articulate voice which parrots and some other birds are capable of: speech implying thought, and consciousness, and the power of separating and arranging our ideas, which are faculties peculiar to rational minds.
That some inferior animals should be able to mimic human articulation, will not seem wonderful, when we recollect, that even by machines certain words have been expressed in this manner. But that the parrot should annex thought to the word he utters, is scarcely more probable than that a machine should do so. Rogue and knave are in every parrot's mouth: but the ideas they stand for are incomprehensible by any other beings than those endued with reason and a moral faculty.
It has however been a common opinion, and it is sufficiently probable, that, among irrational animals, there is something which, by a figure, we may call Language, as the instinctive economy of bees is figuratively called Government. This at least is evident, that the natural voices of one animal are, in some degree, intelligible, or convey particular feelings, or impulses, to others of the same species. But these, and other animal voices that might be mentioned, have no analogy with human speech.—For, first, men speak by art and imitation, whereas the voices in question are wholly instinctive. That a dog, which had never heard another hark, would notwithstanding hark himself, admits of no doubt; and that a man, who had never heard any language, would not speak any, is equally certain. Secondly, the voices of brute animals are not broken, or resolvable, into distinct elementary sounds, like those of man when he speaks; nor are they susceptible of that variety which would be necessary for the communication of a very few sentiments: and it is pretty certain, that, previously to instruction, the young animals comprehend their meaning, as well as the old ones. Thirdly, these voices seem intended by nature to express, not distinct ideas, but such feelings only, as it may be for the good of the species, or for the advantage of man, that they should have the power of uttering; in which, as in all other respects, they are analogous, not to our speaking, but to our weeping, laughing, groaning, screaming, and other natural and audible expressions of appetite and passion."
Buffbn, in his account of the ouran-outang, says, "The tongue, and all the organs of the voice, are similar to those of men, and yet the animal cannot articulate; the brain is formed in the same manner as that of man, and yet the creature wants reason: an evident proof that the parts of the body, how nicely soever formed, are formed to very limited ends, when there is not infused a rational soul to direct their Qperations,"
move, which is the opinion of some grammarians; then there are but ten original vowel sounds in the English language.
The following list denotes the sounds of the consonants, being in number twenty-two.
Words containing the
T«. yoking, sillg. shy, ash. thin, thick, then, them, pleasure.
Several letters marked in the English alphabet as consoBants, are either superfluous or represent, not simple, but complex sounds. C, for instance, is superfluous in both its sounds; the one being expressed by k and the other by s. G, in the soft pronunciation, is not a simple, but a complex sound; as age is pronounced aidge. J is unnecessary, because its sound, and that of the soft g, are in our language the same. Q, with its attendant«, is either complex, and resolvable into kw, as in quality; or unnecessary, because its sound is the same with k, as in opaque. X is compounded of gs, as in example; or of ks, as in expect.
From the preceding representation it appears to be a point of considerable importance, that every learner of the English language should be taught to pronounce perfectly, and with facility, every original simple sound that belongs to it. By a timely and judicious care in this respect, the voice will he prepared to utter, with ease and accuracy, every combination of sounds; and taught to avoid that confused and imperfect manner of pronouncing words, which accompanies, through life, many persons, who have not, in this respect, been properly instructed at an early period.
* Some erarumariaun suppose h to mark only an aspiration, or breathing: hot it uriprarii to be a distinct sound, and formed hi a particular manner by the organs of •petcii. Encgdepattia Briiannlcc,
Letters are divided into Vowels arid Consonants.
A vowel is an articulate sound, that can be perfectly uttered by itself: as, a, e, o; which are formed without the help of any other sound.
A consonant is an articulate sound, which cannot be perfectly uttered without the help of a vowel: as, b, a, f, I; which require vowels to express them fully.
The vowels are, o, c, t, o, M, and sometimes w and y.
W and y are consonants when they begin a word or syllable; but in every other situation they are vowels.
It is generally acknowledged by the best grammarians, that w and y are consonants when they begin a syllable or word, and vowels when they end one. That they are consonants, when used as initials, seems to be evident from their not admitting the article an before them; as it would be improper to say, an walnut, an yard, &c. and from their following a vowel without any hiatus or difficulty of utterance; as, frosty winter, rosy youth. That they are vowels in other situations, appears from their regularly taking the sound of other vowels: as, to has the exact sound of u in saw, few, now, fcc. and y that of t, in hymn, fly, crystal, &c. See the letters W and Y, pages 17 and 18.*
We present the following as more exact and philosophical definitions of a vowel and consonant.
A vowel is a simple articulate sound, perfect in itself, and formed by a continued effusion of the breath, and a certain conformation of the mouth, without any alteration in the position, or any motion of the organs of speech, from the moment the vocal sound commences till it ends.
* The lettrrs w and y are of an ambiguous nature j heing consonant" fit the heginning of word,, and vowels at the end. F.nci dijaiia Brittmnica.
WALKER'S Criti al Pronounrini; Dictionary, page 21, Ihiril c/ftnwL
A consonant is a simple, articulate sound, imperfect by itself, but which, joined with a vowel, forms a complete sound, by a particular motion or contact of the organs of speech.
Some grammarians subdivide vowels into the simple and the compound. But there does not appear to be any foundation for the distinction. Simplicity is essential to the nature of a vowel, which excludes every degree of mixed or compound sounds. It requires, according to the definition, but one conformation of the organs of speech to form it, and no motion in the organs whilst it is forming.
Consonants are divided into mutes and semivowels.
The mutes cannot be sounded at all, without the aid of a vowel. They are b, p, t, d, k, and c and g hard.
The semi-vowels have an imperfect sound of themselves. They are f, I, m, n, r, v, s, z, x, and c and g soft.
Four of the semi-vowels, namely, I, m, n, r, are also distinguished by the name of liquids, from their readily uniting with other consonants, and flowing as it were into their sounds.
We have shown above, that it is essential to the nature of a consonant, that it cannot be fully uttered without the aid of a vowel. We may further observe, that even the names of the consonants, as they are pronounced in reciting the alphabet, require the help of vowels to express them. In pronouncing the names of the mutes, the assistant vowels follow the consonants: as, be, pe, te,dc,ka. In pronouncing the names of the semi-vowels, the vowels generally precede the consonants: as, ef, el, em, en, ar, es, ex. The exceptions are, ce, pe, cfi, zed.
This distinction between the nature and the name of a consonant is of great importance, and should be well explained to the pupil. They are frequently confounded by writers on grammar. Observations and reasonings on the name, are often applied to explain the nature of a consonant: and, by this means, the student is led into error and perplexity respecting these elements of language. It should be impressed on his mind, that the name of every consonant is a complex sound; but that the consonantit *elf is always a simple sound.