First Lessons in Speech Improvement
An excerpt from the beginning of the INTRODUCTION.
This book is primarily a drill book of exercises with a two-fold purpose. The first is training in the manner of producing English sounds. Through such training, pupils learn to form the sounds of their speech effectively and distinctly. Just as for the best and most economical results in writing one must learn control of the muscles of the hand and arm, so for the best results in speaking one must learn control of the muscles of the throat, the tongue and the lips.
The second purpose of the book is to give training to the ear in hearing and distinguishing shades of sound. No normal person probably has any difficulty in hearing any of the sounds of the English language, but it does not follow that every person can clearly distinguish all the sounds he has heard. In music, people sometimes say they cannot tell one sound from another. Now, since sound is merely the vibration of the air striking upon the sensitive parts of the ear, such persons, unless their hearing is defective, must receive these vibrations in exactly the same way as other persons. They hear the sounds, so far as the mere physical side of the production of sound is concerned, but they have not learned to distinguish in their minds the qualities of the several sounds. The ability to hear sounds so as to distinguish them is largely a matter of training. Anyone who says he cannot tell the difference between the initial consonants of thin and that can learn to do so. He must hear the difference, otherwise he would not be able to distinguish between wreath and wreathe when these two words are pronounced.
These two purposes are equally important. Training in one results usually in training in the other. When one produces sounds sharply and distinctly, one is likely to feel and hear them so. And when one has a definite and clear impression of a sound, one is likely to produce the sound definitely and clearly.
The ability to hear shades of sound clearly and distinguishably is not always easy to acquire. This is true not because the hearing is imperfect, as has just been pointed out, but because the judgment of the sounds is confused in the mind by irrelevant considerations. Thus, one is sometimes led to suppose a difference in sound between two words because there is a difference of spelling, though as to sound the two words may be exactly alike. Fair and fare, sound exactly alike, though they are spelled differently, so also pear, pair, pare, are alike. The words doe and dough are exactly alike to the ear but they are different to the eye. The same is true of right, wright, rite, write, all of which have exactly the same pronunciation. Anyone could find dozens of words like these in the English language. In all such words one must guard against allowing one's judgment of the sounds of the words to be confused by the form of the words as they appear to the eye.
The principle involved here is of wide application. One may agree that to the ear, pear, pair, pare all sound alike, but some persons maintain that, being spelled differently, they ought to be made to sound differently. This raises the whole question of the determination of the right or correct pronunciation of words. Perhaps no reasonable person would expect to make pronunciation harmonize altogether with spelling. Thus one would have to pronounce indict with the c sounded and would have to pronounce other words in ways which the ordinary practise of cultivated speakers does not authorize.