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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. Any one 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. Any one 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.
Where shall one go, then, for the correct pronunciation of the language? One may go to the dictionary. This does not really answer the question, for one must still ask, "Where did the man go who made the dictionary?” In many instances, unfortunately, he merely may have gone to a man who made a dictionary before him, and pronunciations handed on from one dictionary to another do often have a kind of dictionary life like this. But the real question is this, Did the dictionary make the language, or does the language make the dictionary? Obviously the latter. One must go to the ordinary use of the language to find how words are pronounced, and one goes to the dictionary only to supplement or enrich one's knowledge and observation of the language as ordinarily used.
When one thinks of the language as ordinarily used, one means, of course, not the language as carelessly or vulgarly spoken, but as it is spoken by persons whose practises are worthy of respect and imitation. In ordinary use there is a difference, however, between Formal and Familiar Style. When one speaks in a conversational and rapid way, one makes certain sounds less fully and clearly than when one speaks slowly and emphatically. This is especially true of words which are slightly accented. The preposition of, for example, often becomes so slight that it loses its final consonant. When one speaks in Familiar Style of “ "
a man of war,” the first and third words of this phrase may sound exactly alike. For purposes of exercise and discipline, however, one does not take the Familiar Style as a foundation. One takes rather the Formal Style, because the Familiar Style, being the result mainly of haste and negligence, does not call for special training. If the Formal Style is well taken care of, the Familiar Style will take care of itself.
But the Formal Style itself needs to be carefully defined. In the phrase just mentioned, “a man of war,” what would be the formal pronunciation of the third word? The spelling does not offer much help, because f ordinarily stands for a breathed sound such as in loaf, yet the sound in this word, even in Formal Style, must certainly be a voiced sound, v. But what should be the sound of the vowel ? Shall the sound of the vowel be determined by spelling, or shall it be determined by what an ordinarily cultivated person would speak in pronouncing this word in formal diction ? Must it not be determined also partly by position? When one says, What are you thinking of ? ” one pronounces the last word differently from of in the phrase
He thought of doing this.” The conclusion seems inescapable that even in the Formal Style words have variations and shadings in pronunciation which must be determined by observing their actual use in speech.
We have spoken of unaccented words and their variations, but even accented words are sometimes pronounced in several different ways by cultivated speakers. When such differences actually exist in cultivated speech, the purpose of this book has not been to iron them all out by the application of a dogmatic mechanical rule. In fact, it is part of the method of the book that when justifiable differences of pronunciation exist, the particular one preferred may be chosen. Take, for example, the words hot, got, rob, dog, pond, cost, froth. These words are all spelled with o,