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A HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH ALPHABET AND ORTHOGRAPHY;
WITH A REMEDY FOR THEIR DEFECTS.
BY R. G. LATHAM, M.A., M.D., F.R.S.
FRED. PITMAN, PHONETIC DEPOT, 20 PATERNOSTER ROW, E.C.
ISAAC PITMAN, PHONETIC INSTITUTE.
A DEFENCE OF PHONETIC SPELLING.
The present contribution to the cause of Phonetic Spelling is separated from its predecessors by an interval of more than thirtyfive years. Between the beginning of 1834 and the end of 1835 three short works upon the same subject were published in quick succession.() Signs of zeal of this kind stand in strong contrast to the silence by which they were followed. It is not, however, without a purpose that they are referred to; for the dates are meant to show that I am neither a recent convert nor a laborer of the eleventh hour. Indeed I may truly say that, from first to last, the subject has rarely been out of my mind; so that I have watched with interest what others more courageous than myself effected during the interval. Much was done then; more, however, has to be done now: for the present time not only encourages additional exertion but imperatively demands it.
It is not, however, as a mere observer that I trouble the reader with this introduction, though the difference between the state of opinion in 1872 and .1835 is sufficient to command our best_attention, and to awaken our most sanguine expectations. What I more especially wish to show is that, if I have not been able to form something like a matured judgement on the question, it has not been for want of either time or opportunity.
Again, I have no system of my own either to advocate or abandon. Taking these two facts together we have, perhaps, the elements of a dispassionate criticism.
1. "An Address to the Authors of England and America, on the Necessity of Permanently Remodeling their Alphabet and Orthography," etc. By R. G. Latham, B.A., Cambridge, 1834.
"Abstract of Rask's Essay on the Sibilants, and his Mode of Transcribing Works in the Georgian and Armenian Languages, by Means of European Letters; with Remarks." By R. G. Latham, B.A., Cambridge, 1834.
"A Gramatical Sketch of the Greek Language." By R. G. Latham, B.A., Cambridge, 1835.
The interval has given us,—
1. The construction and promulgation of a truly Phonetic Alphabet.
2. An able"Plea for Phonetic Spelling" by a writer who, even among professed scholars and practised logicians, is, undeniably, master of his subject.
3. A general awakening of public opinion on the matter, the result of which has been an incipient literature connected with the subject, and a free ventilation of opinion.
4. The arrival of a time when everything connected with primary education forces itself upon the mind of every man, woman, and child who speaks the English language.
When once a question becomes one of economy it is sure to command attention: and the economy here involved is of two kinds. The money question I leave to the rate-payers, fully confident that it will not be ignored by them. This, however, is but a small part of the matter. To the child of the poor man everything that takes him away from directly remunerative employment is a tax upon his time, the stuff whereof life is made. And it is much the same, though in a less degree, with the sons and daughters of the rich. But in learning to read, every unnecessary obstacle is so much waste and that the English language abounds and overflows with mischievous obstacles of this kind, is a point upon which it may confidently be said that every competent judge has pronounced a verdict. There is waste throughout,-injurious waste, unnecessary waste, remediable waste; waste which those whom it most injures will soon be constrained to investigate, to condemn, and to abate.
The "Address," etc., which has just been alluded to, was written with a genuine rhetorical exordium, and with a motto for the reformers of the day,
'Tis hard if 'tis not lawful to present
Byron, "Hints from Horace."
and a prophecy of the great efforts in favor of progress, on the part of the writers of the age-that of William IV., the Gulielmian age as it was called. These were, simply and innocently, called upon to do more than ever author did before, or will do hereafter; inaugurate by example a reform of unparalleled importance and transcendent magnitude, by merely writing English in a manner which they had not learned, and never heard of till the time of the "Address.'
The treatise itself was, unfortunately, neither one thing nor the other. It was not wholly phonetic, nor yet wholly according to the old system. It was, rather, an expansion of some innovations exhibited in certain papers of the Cambridge "Classical Museum," proposed by one of the reputed editors, (possibly, sanctioned by the other,) which touched the ed of the past participle, and the 's of the
possessive, or genitive, case. It spelt plucked as pluckt, and father's, etc., as fathers. There was no want of good reasoning in favor of the change, which was indeed so far from being a radical or revolutionary innovation that it was a restoration of the orthography of a better age; and, as such, wounded no one's conservatism. Nevertheless, it was, after a short trial, abandoned by its distinguished proposers. One part of the paper in support of it was the absolute annihilation of the doctrine that the 's of the genitive was the his, in combinations like "Christ his sake." It clenched the last nail in the coffin of this venerable grammatical
Now the interference on my own part with the received spelling was extended to
1. C with the power of s. This was changed into k; giving us such combinations as obskurest, kalkulate, and the like.
2. The substitution of kw for qu―kwestion, ekwalli.
3. The same in respect tu gu-langwages.
4. I final for y-ekwalli, properti.
5. The substitution of the semivowel y for i in diphthongs; one of the leading principles of the work being that the number of vowels in a word should in no case exceed the number of syllables -neynteenth, descreybing, leyk, wreyters, leyf, etc.
6. The same principle substituted w for u in about, amount, pro
7. For p was written f-frases, filosofi.
8. For x, ks-ekspress.
9. For probable, middle,-probabl, middl.
I am not now prepared to say that, if nine alterations were to be made, these were the best to begin with; yet I think that, as a group, they made a legitimate collection of samples.
My defence for thus investing my lucubrations with this parti-colored dress (or undress) was on the principle so well laid down in a short illustration of, I believe, Eastern origin :- If you have a handful of truths, open it by one finger at a time." This was probably a mistake. For the introduction of the whole body of the wedge it was too little; for merely the thin edge, it was too much. Of course, the body of the pamphlet consisted mainly of the anticipation of objections, and the suggestion of the nature of the new signs required for the completion of the English Alphabet. From anything like the entire creation of a new letter I shrank, either from an acquired knowledge of its difficulty, or instinctively. Indeed, I had no inducements to aim at originality at all. For the u in but I proposed either the Greek 8 or an inverted v "A." For the a in fate, and the o in note, I suggested a and ; both of which I now condemn. For the a in fat "x," i.e. the diphthong minus the line which connects the extremity of its right-hand bend with the central column. This I abandon. So, also, I abandon i without the dot, ("1") for the i in pit; and so, also, ü (u with two dots) for