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A perfect alphabet of the English language, and, indeed, of every other language, would contain a number of letters, precisely equal to the number of simple articulate sounds belonging to the language. Every simple sound would have its distinct character, and that character be the representative of no other sound. But this is far from being the state of the English alphabet. It has more original sounds than distinct significant letters; and, consequently, some of these letters are made to represent, not one sound alone, but several sounds. This will appear by reflecting, that the sounds signified by the united letters th, sh, ng, are clementary, and have no single appropriate characters, in our alphabet: and that the letters a and u represent the different sounds heard in hat, hate, hall; and in but, bull, mule.
To explain this subject more fully to the learner, we shall 'set down the characters made use of tu represent all the elementary articulate sounds of our language, as nearly in the manner and order of the present English alphabet, as the design of the subject will admit; and shall annex to each character the syllable or word, which contains its proper and distinct sound. "And here it will be proper to begin with the vowels. Letters denoting the
Words containing the simple sounds.
bull By this list it appears, that there are in the English language fourteen simple vowel sounds; but as i and u, when pronounced long, may be considered as diphthongs, or diphthongal vowels, our language, strictly speaking, contains but twelve simple vowel sounds; to represent which, we have only five distinct characters or letters. Ifa in far, is the same specific sound as a in fat; and u in bull, ıhe same as o in move, which is the opinion of some grammarians; then, there are but ten original vowel sounds in the English language.
as as as as as as as
as as as
The following list denotes the sounds of the consonants being in number twenty-two. Letters denoting the
Words containing the simple sounds.
zed, buzz t
top, mat W
ye, yes ng
ing, sing sh
shy, ash th
thin, thick th
then, them zh
in pleasure Several letters marked in the English alphabet, as consonants, 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. Jis unnecessary, because its sound, and that of the soft y, are in our language the same. Q, with its attendant u, 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 Eng; lish 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 be prepared to uiter, with ease and accuracy, every combination of sounds; and taught to avoid that confused and im
* Some grammarians suppose h to mark only an aspiration, or breathing: But it appears to be a distinct sound, and formed in a particular manner, by the organs of speech.
perfect manner of pronouncing words, which accompanies, through life, many persons who have not, in this respect, been properly instructed at an early period.
Letters are divided into Vowels and Consonants.
A Vowel is an articulate sound, that can be perfectly uttered by itself: as a, e, 0; 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, d, f, 1 ; which require vowels to express them fully.
The vowels are, a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes w and y.
W and y are consonants when they b gin 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 ad. mitting 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, w has the exact sound of u in saw, few, now, &c. and y that of i, in hymn, fly, crystal, &c. See the letters W and Y, Sec. 2.*
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 in the organs of speech, from the moment the vocal sound commences, till it ends.
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.
* The letters w and y, are of an ambiguous nature ; being consonants at the beginning of words, and vowels at the end. Encyclopocdia Britannica.
WALKER's Critical Pronouncing Dictionary, page 24, third edition.
Consonants are divided into mutes and semi-vowels.
The mutes cannot be sounded at all, without the aid of a vowel. They are b, p, t, d, k, and ċ and g hard.
The semi-vowels have an imperfect sound of themselves. They are f, l, m, n, r, 2, 8, 2, 3, and c and g soft.
Four of the semi-vowels, namely, l, 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 obsurve, 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, de, 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, ge, ve, 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 consonant itself, is always a simple sound.
Some writers have described the mutes and semi-vowels, with their subdivisions, nearly in the following manner.
The mutes are those consonants whose sounds cannot be protracted. The semi-vowels, such whose sounds can be continued at pleasure, partaking of the nature of vowels, from which they derive their name.
The mutes may be subdivided into pure and impure. The pure are those whose sounds cannot be at all prolonged: they are k, p, t. The impure, are those whose sounds may be continued, though for a very short space: they are b, d,
The semi-vowels may be subdivided into vocal and aspi raʻed. The vocal are those which are formed by the voice, the aspirated, those formed by the breath. There are eleven vocal, and five'aspirated. The rocal are l, m, n, r, v, w, y, z, th flat, zh, ng: the aspirated, f, h, s, th sharp, sh.
The vocal semi-vowels may be subdivided into pure and
amoure. The pure are those which are formed entirely by the voice : the impure, such as have a mixture of breath with the voice. There are seven pure-l, m, n, r, w, yo ng ; four impure—v, z, th flat, zh.
A diphthong is the union of two vowels, pronounced by a simple impulse of the voice; as ea in beat, ou in sound.
A triphthong is the union of three vowels, pronounced in like manner ; as, eau in beau, iew in view.
A proper diphthong is that in which both the vowels are sounded ; as, oi in voice, ou in ounce.
An improper diphthong has but one of the vowels sounded ; as, ea in eagle, oa in boat.
Each of the diphthongal letters was, doubtless, originally heard in pronouncing the words which contain them. Though this is not the case at present, with respect to many of them, these combinations still retain the name of diphthongs ; but, to distinguish them, they are marked by the term impropei. As the diphthong derives its name and nature from its sound, and not from its letters, and properly denotes a double vowel sound, no union of two vowels, where one is silent, can, in strictness, be entitled to that appellation ; and the single letters i and u, when pronounced long, must, in this view, be considered as diphthongs. The triphthongs, having at most but two sounds, are merely ocular, and are, therefore, by some grammarians, classed with the diphthongs. Section 2. General observations on the sounds of the letters.
A A has four sounds ; the long or slender, the broad, the short or open, and the middle.
The long; as in name, basin, creation.,
The diphthong aa generally sounds like a short in proper names; as in Balaam, Canaan, Isaac ; but not in Baal, Gaal.
Ae has the sound of long e. It is sometimes found in Latin words. Some authors retain this form ; as, ænigma, æquator, &c.; but others have laid it aside, and write enigma, Cesar, Eneas, &c.
Thé diphthong ai has exactly the long slender sound of a as in pail, tail, &c. ; pronounced pale, tale, &c. : except plaid, again, raillery, fountain, Britain, and a few others.
Au is generally sounded like the broad a : as in taught, caught, &c. Sometimes like the short or open a ; as in aunt,