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THE 'FONETIK NUZ," AND THE PLEA FOR PHONETIC SPELLING."
The publication of the Fonetik Nuz was the first practical appeal to the public. It let them know what a radical reform really was. It told them that our alphabet was completed, and showed them what the completion led to. It was, in short, an accomplished fact. It attracted attention; and the question was permanently set afloat. It was canvassed, upon the whole, fairly. The objections fell under two heads.
Everyone thought there was some particular letter which might be improved; and when twenty different persons picked out twenty different letters, the whole alphabet was broken up in detail. It was like the Mahometans who eat the whole hog; each by abstaining from some particular part while they made free of the remainder. Still more like was it to the immortal coat in the Tale of the Tub; where each brother preserved what the others relinquished, and relinquished what the others chose. It was soon found out, however, that letters were not easy things to extemporise: and that the alphabet, if taken at all, must be taken as it was found. Upon this principle the present treatise is written. We have got our tool, and no good workman will complain of it until he has been lucky enough to supply himself with a better.
Other objections lay against the principle. Upon this Mr Ellis's "Plea" may speak for itself. (§ 31). He gives them all in detail. There is (1) the Etymological Objection; (2) the Homonymical Objection; (3) the Pecuniary Objection; (4) the Linguistic Objection; (5) the Conservative Objection; (6) the Pronunciative Objection; (7) the Double Trouble Objection; (8) the Strange Appearance Objection; (9) the Vocalistic Objection; (10) the Book Dearth Objection; (11) the Typical Objection; (12) the Phonetical Objection; (13) the Inutility Objection; and (14) the Partial Success Objection.
At the present time every one of these objections is abated; and I may add that, when the "Plea" was written, every one of them was anticipated.
Of the theoretical ones, the Etymological is the only one which is at all formidable; and it is this more on account of the intellectual culture and influence of the class of writers who maintain it, than from its own intrinsic validity.
The practical ones have answered themselves. The strange-appearance objection is so much a matter of taste as to be unfit for argument: though it is well to recognise its existence. The conservative and inutility objections are mere negations. The double-trouble objection must be dealt with according to the teachings of experience; for it turns upon the question as to what we pay as a price and what we gain as a benefit. Upon the answer to this every
advocate of Phonetic Spelling has, of course, made up his mind. On the other hand, he must, if he desire to make proselytes, convince others. The book-dearth, typical, and the partial-success objections no longer exist; not, at least, in the way they existed when the "Plea was written. There is now no book-dearth at all; there is a great deal more than a partial success.
The Homonymical objection lies midway between the two divisions. It applies to words like wright, write, rite, and right; and to others besides. If they were all written alike, how could we distinguish them? But how do we distinguish them when they are used in conversation, and address themselves to the ear only, without fear; that is, when they are all spoken alike. Easily enough. The context is a sufficient guide. But suppose that it be not so? We may reply to this question that "when a case of real ambiguity occurs, it will be time to think of the remedy." If this be ignored as a mere haphazard answer, another, of a more general character, may be substituted for it. It is the function of writing to represent language, not to improve it: just as it is the business of a portrait-painter to take the features of his sitter as they are presented to him by the proprietor as he sits. He must take each with his own proper character for the time being; wholly irrespective of any dif ferentiation between him and his alias. If the principals or their friends do not know which is which, it is their business. They will probably, if a distinction be really needed, find means of discriminating between them. I do not, however, say that in some very poor languages, and in some exceptional instances, some diacritical mark may not, on rare occasions, be needed. I have heard of such things in China. I have read of such things in the language of the Arrapahos of North America; but I have tried to find an instance of it in English, and failed; though, of course, if a person taxed his ingenuity to invent one, he would probably succeed.
Thus far the question is a point of practice; and I by no means deny the possibility of its being, in some extraordinary instances, a practical one.
In theory, or from the scientific view, the matter stands on a different ground. Rite, right, write, and wright are words originally different; and this original difference may be a fact, not only worth preserving, but going out of our way to preserve for it is a detail in the history of four words-interesting to say the least of it; possibly instructive. Be it so. But the fusion of the four into one, is just as historical, just as interesting, just as instructive. And this the present spelling entirely conceals. One piece of history, in short, is exhibited at the expense of the other. It is doubtful, however, whether any good reason for the preference can be given. Surely, then, instead of raising a discussion upon the doubtful point as to which of two facts should be sacrificed to the preservation of the other, it is better to keep aloof from the question altogether; and this we may do by the simple principle of limiting the spelling
to its proper and exclusive function-the representation of the sounds of which it consists.
Upon the Pronunciative objection something will be said in the sequel, when the merits and demerits of the French orthography come under notice.
In one point and in one point only, Mr Ellis's classification seems imperfect. Perhaps he meant it to belong to the double-trouble objection; but according to his narrative there was no trouble at all. Miss Mitford told him that at two years old she read the newspaper, showing off her ability in doing so. No one was likelier to have done such a thing if it could be done at all. Mr Ellis, however, may have been too polite a man to say this. He might, however, have said that if she read the paper of the day in the twenty-fourth month of her infancy she would have read the Fenetik Nuz in the twelfth, All that this anecdote proves is that Miss Mitford was not as other children are. Upon the ease with which our ordinary spelling may be learned by ordinary readers it is no evidence whatever.
The time for enumerating and exposing the numberless redundancies, defects, and inconsistencies of our alphabet has, probably, gone by. Denunciation and ridicule may, possibly, have done their duty; for there is a time for all things, and, except on the platform, there is now but little inducement for a reformer to be either funny or indignant. Hard names and strong epithets have, doubtless, done good service in their time, and may, perhaps, do it again. At present, however, there is no one in particular to be blamed, for it is no one's fault that our alphabet is as bad as it has been proved to be. Nor is it the fault of the alphabet and the orthography themselves, though it is their misfortune. The vices of our system have either grown with its growth, or have been forced upon it; and, in the opinion of the present writer, the best way of convincing the public of their existence is to trace them to their origin, and note the stages of their development. By doing this we account for them; perhaps we may be said to excuse them. But what argument is so decisive as to the existence of an evil as the exhibition of the circumstances under which it attained its dimensions, and the evidence of its being neither more nor less than the natural result of the conditions by which it was preceded? Or what is more condemnatory than the excuse which coincides with, and even anticipates, the accusation? Whatever may be the case in other respects, it is certain that, when we take the subject from this point of view, we put ourselves in the place of our opponents, and, in doing this, are in the best position for a clear understanding of the matter under discussion.
THE ENGLISH SYSTEM OF SPELLING AT LEAST TWELVE HUNDRED YEARS OLD-OF LATIN ORIGIN.
The single point upon which all who have taken the pains to form an opinion agree, is the bad pre-eminence of the English language in respect to its spelling. Upon this the most conservative defenders of the existing system and the most advanced innovators are of one mind. In the eyes, perhaps, of the most partial of the former, the French orthography may be backed against our own for badness. The respective demerits, however, are scarcely commensurable. However artificial may be the system of expedients by which the French attempt to combine Etymology and Phonesis, the application of it is comparatively regular, consistent, and systematic. That the system is long in learning is beyond doubt. Nevertheless, when once mastered it can be used. It is not pretended that this is the case with English. At any rate we have this remarkable fact before us, namely, that of these two among the leading languages of civilised Europe being the two in which the representation of a fine form of speech, and a valuable literature, is the most imperfect. We may deplore this, or we may be unwilling to say too much about it. We may look about for a remedy, or we may give up the case as hopeless. Sometimes we may take the pains to expose the more egregious defects of the alphabet of Shakspere and Bacon; and sometimes we may find a grim, malicious pleasure in ridiculing them. Out of all this good of some kind may come; for the public at large may be thus informed of the extent of the evil, and the essential conditions of a reform may be thus established.
It is better, however, (though the attempt may be mistaken for a defence,) to inquire into the causes of such a result. What makes the French orthography so much worse than the Italian or the Spanish? What makes the English so faulty, as compared with the German or the Danish ?
One answer to this presents itself at once. The English alphabet, with its corresponding orthography, is, if not the oldest, one of the oldest of the class to which it belongs-the class being that of those languages whose alphabet is derived from the Latin; namely, those of Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, England, and America; of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland; of France, Portugal, Spain, and Italy; of Poland, Bohemia, and Dalmatia; of Lithuania and of Finland;-in other words, the languages of Western Europe in general; as opposed to the Servian and the Russian, of Greek origin. This division, which nearly coincides with that of the Roman Catholic and Protestant forms of Christianity on the one side, and the Greek Church and Mahometanism on the other, is thoroughly natural. And, as the division is natural, so is the distinction between a Latin and a Greek framework important.
Though this comparatively high antiquity of the English alphabet
is a matter which scarcely requires proof, it is one which is very likely to be overlooked. Compared with the alphabets of Greece and Rome, all the alphabets of modern Europe are of recent origin. The English, however, is older than most of them. It had, probably, taken form, and been applied to spelling, as early as the first quarter of the seventh century, if not earlier. The general rule in the history of the introduction of an alphabet into the languages of modern Europe is that it coincides with the introduction of Christianity; so that where the Gospel enters, civilization and literature follow. Now this means something more than the mere art of spelling. It means the cultivation of the language to which the alphabet is applied; and as this may take place under very different circumstances, it is very uncertain in its extent. In the great countries of France, Italy, and the Spanish Peninsula, where not only the alphabet but the language was Latin, the practice of writing the native tongue came late: for, though the use and the value of the alphabet were known, the only language that was written by means of it was the Latin. Such being the case, we can scarcely compare the alphabets and orthographies of France, Spain, and Italy, in point of antiquity, with our own. The alphabets themselves were, doubtless, as old as the Roman conquests of the different countries. The application, however, of them to the vernaculars of the land was, in all cases, comparatively late.
The first specimen of the language of Gaul, or France, dates from A.D. 842. It is the oath taken by Charles the Bald, the son of Charlemagne, by which his quarrel with his brother Ludwig was checked. It is a hundred years later than a very well spelt fragment of an Anglo-Saxon specimen quoted by Beda. It is Provençal rather than French. Still, it stands alone, nearly two centuries earlier than any succeeding piece of either French or Provençal of equal length. It is fairly spelt; the spelling, however, is not French in the ordinary sense of the term. Except, however, in the combination_dh in ajudha and cadhuna, it is Latin orthography applied to a Latinising language.
Pro Deo amur et pro Xristian poblo et nostro commun salvament d'ist di en avant, in quant Deus savir et poder me dunat, si salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo, et in ajudha et in cadhuna cosa, si com om per dreit son fradre salvar dist, in o quid il me altresi fazet: et ab Ludher nul plaid nunquam prindrai uni, meon vol, cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit."
In Britain and in Germany the case was different; for in Britain and Germany the languages were not of the Latin, but of the Keltic, and Teutonic families. In Britain, then, and in Germany the Latin alphabet was applied to the native languages earlier than elsewhere. The Polish, Bohemian, Lithuanian, Fin, and the other less important alphabets of Latin origin are of much later introduction ; the conversion of the countries to which they applied being later than that of either Germany or the British Isles.
Our A.B.C, then, has been in work for upwards of twelve hun