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PRINCIPLES OF SPEECH
THE ELEMENTS OF SPEECH.
SPEECH consists of variously modified emissions of breath.
The first modifying agent is the glottis; in passing through which, the breath acquires a rustling, vibratory, or sonorous quality, in proportion to the degree of vocalizing approximation of the edges of the glottis.
When the glottis and the mouth are perfectly open, the breath may be expelled, even forcibly, without audibility. When the glottal aperture is somewhat contracted, the passage of the breath is rendered faintly audible : this is the condition of the glottis in whispering a vowel, or in the softer utterance of the letter H. The glottis may be placed almost in the vocalizing position, and that husky voice is produced which is the natural expression of fear and of the dark passions; and when the edges of the glottis are braced to the clearly vocalizing point, the breath acquires that beautiful sonorous quality which we call voice.
The breath, glottally modified in either of these ways, may be farther modified in its passage through the mouth, by the varied shape and arrangement of the plastic organs of articulation, the soft palate, the tongue, and the lips.
The varying shape of the mouth, with an uninterrupted central channel for the issue of the breath, gives vowel quality to the breath, whispered or vocalized ; and the close approximation, partial, or complete contact of its organs, gives articulative effect to the same voiceless or sonorous current of breath.
In the common analysis of speech, its elements have been divided into two grand classes, called Vowels and Consonants. The
former class is said to contain those elemental sounds which are capable of being uttered alone ; and the latter, those which are incapable of being pronounced without the aid of a vowel. This is incorrect ; for, not only the vowels, but all the “ consonants,” may be perfectly sounded alone. The terms Vowel and Consonant, therefore, thus understood, do not draw a clear line of distinction between the two natural classes of elements, intended to be designated; and either some other nomenclature must be adopted, or a definition of these terms received, which may effect the object of the classification.
To remedy the inconvenience of definitions not generally applicable, numerous subdivisions have been made, and terms have been multiplied; and, as might be expected from so fundamental an error, writers are not agreed as to which class certain seemingly equivocal letters should belong. Y and W have been by some writers declared to be consonants ; by others, vowels ; by others, semi-consonants ; by others, both vowels and consonants. We shall be careful to make our definitions of the different classes into which we divide the elements as little liable to exception as possible. It will be of importance if we can establish a classification which may be generally admitted.
Dr Rush, in his “ Philosophy of the Human Voice,” has proposed a mode of classification into “tonics," (vowels) “subtonics,” (articulations with voice,) and “atonics,” (voiceless articulations.) But this does not show the grand leading and most important division of the elements, intended to be expressed by the terms, Vowel and Consonant. It does not recognise the difference between a position and an action, which this acute author seems strangely to undervalue.
We have shown that the ordinary definition of the term Vowel, would render that name equally applicable to all the elements of speech ; and that the term Consonant, as generally defined, is inapplicable to any one of them.
Writers have subdivided consonants into mutes, semi-mutes, semi-vowels, demi-semi-vowels, liquids, sharp letters, flat letters, soft, hard, &c.; but to most of the terms there has been no clear meaning attached, and in their application there has been no little inconsistency. The names flat and sharp, hard and soft, &c. have been applied by different persons to opposite classes of letters ; and, so little have they been made to convey any idea to the
mind, we have heard the two former terms explained by a public lecturer to be “just like sharps and flats in music," to which, except in name, they have not a shadow of relation.
The most obvious difference among the elements of speech obtains between those sounds which pass freely through the open mouth, and those which are forced through hissing slits, or stopped by organic conjunction. The former may as well be called vowels as by any other name ; only let the term be correctly defined, and the mere name is of little consequence. Those utterances, then, which pass freely from the glottis through a certain open conformation of the vocal canal,-unaffected by any sound originating within the mouth, and independent on any appulsive action of the mouth,—let us call VOWELS. All other elements of speech will be found to coincide in this, that their audible effect is either wholly produced, or very greatly influenced by the mouth ; and that an appulsive action of some part of the mouth is necessary to their formation. Let us call them by a term already in use,--ARTICULATIONS. *
The Articulations are, on obvious principles, divisible into subordinate classes. Some of them owe their audibility solely to the mouth, to the action of the breath against the organs of articulation. As these have no voice, they may be appropriately called Breath articulations. All others will fall under the category of Voice articulations.
The nature of the articulative actions gives reason for subdivisions of each of these classes. Those actions which altogether stop the flow of breath or voice may be called obstructive, or shut ; and those which do not, may be appropriately called continuous; the latter being subdivided into close and open.
Thus, the letters B, D, G, are shut voice articulations, and P, T, K, shut breath articulations. F, Wh, Th, S, Sh, are continuous breath articulations, and V, W, Th, Z, Zh, R, Y, L, M, N, NG, are continuous voice articulations. Of these last, the first 7 letters are close, and the remainder open. The reason for making a distinction among the continuous voice articulations is,
* The word articulation has been sometimes applied to vowels, as well as consonants, but its limitation to the latter class of elements is not only convenient, but correct. The vowels are the materiel of speech, and the articulations are the joints or hinges by whose motion the vowels proceed from the mouth, and take their shape and duration.
that L, M, N, NG, are as purely vocal as any vowel ; the stream. of voice having a free channel, and suffering but little compression and consequent deterioration in its passage. Indeed, but for the distinct organic action necessary to each of these letters, they might be ranked among the vowels.
Our alphabet gives us 26 letters ;–5 vowel, and 21 articulation marks. Our language contains 13 vowel formations, and 24 varieties of articulation, besides the mark of aspiration H. A perfect alphabet of English sounds would therefore contain not less than 38 distinguishable simple characters. But, on principle which will be found explained in a subsequent chapter, this number might be obtained from little more than 12 radically distinct characters,—the remainder being produced from these by uniform changes, to represent their uniformity of difference.
Not only is our alphabet deficient in the number of its characters ; it is also redundant, and is burdened with letters which do not represent simple elements, but combinations. The inadequacy of the vowel marks to represent our vowel sounds is most manifest. We have no regular and consistent way of writing any one vowel. Single letters represent diphthongs, and the utmost confusion of diphthongal characters prevails in our ways of writing simple vowel sounds. The alphabet gives us no characters by which to represent six of our articulations—namely, Sh, Th(in), Th(is), Zh, Wh, NG; and we are thus forced to the anomaly of using digraphs to represent simple sounds, while there are simple characters in the alphabet which represent double sounds : it gives us three letters for one articulation, namely, C, K, Q, (besides which we compound a fourth, Ch :) the letter C stands for both K and S: and the letters J and X, each represent a combination of two actions ; the former letter being equivalent to d zh, and the latter,—doing quadruple duty,—representing k-s, and also their vocal forms, g 2.
The great inconvenience of this faulty alphabet has been long felt; and however easy it might be to propose a remedy, it would not be so easy to get the most advantageous plan adopted. We must content ourselves, in the meantime, with clearing away the difficulties that have arisen from the want of a correct and generally recognised principiation of our speech, and leave the reformation of our orthography to be worked by a more thorough acquaintance with its defects. But we fear that until some authoritative effort
be made, by appointed dictators, as in the Academies of France and Spain, any general improvement in the representation of our sounds will not be effected. We shall, however, have aided the work if we succeed in classifying those sounds according to their natural order; and if our attempt to describe, popularly and untechnically, the formations of the elements of speech, happily prove successful, we shall have done something towards giving uniformity to our national utterance.
Before entering on an exposition of the vowel theory, it may be useful to premise some observations on voice--the materiel of the vowels.
Tas organ of Voice is placed beyond the reach of observation in the living subject, and, consequently, has seldom been seen in operation. Circumstances have, however, enabled some eminent observers to see enough of its modes of action to ascertain analogies between it and certain classes of musical instruments. bines the qualities of wind and stringed instruments,—sound being produced by means of a current of air ; and alterations of pitch being effected by elongation and contraction, with comparative slackness or tension of the vocalizing surfaces. All other instruments of sound, however perfect in their kind, fall infinitely short of the compact perfection of this wonderful apparatus ; which, within such a tiny space as mocks the art of man, unites the various registers, and the swell, and thunder of the organ,monarch of the choir, — with the plaintive flexibility and minute play of tone of the violin or Eolian barp.
We shall endeavour to elucidate some important vocal principles, by reference to a simple little instrument, whose sonorous vibrations are, in many respects, analogous to those of the human
lottis. This is the reed of the bagpipe drone. An experimental sonifier of this kind may be constructed from a common quill in the following manner.
Remove from a new quill the feathered end, and the dry and tough matter within and at the other end of the quill, so as to leave only the brittle portion. Seal up one end of this tube with wax, and cut a tongue in the side of it, beginning the slit near to the wax, thus :