Language Grammar

English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth by Charles Jones (auth.)

By Charles Jones (auth.)

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The latter Authors mentioning the former, all Men of no small Note’. ’ (1703: 26) – for the conventions governing the expression of the ‘improper diphthongs’ in which, in his view, false cambrills abound. He notes the inconsistency of the function of the a graph in words like bear, broad (‘to make the e or o long’) against Beatrice and creator (where it has no such function), while in heaven, earth and bread the a symbol is ‘standing for nothing’. Using his usual pictureque language he concludes (1703: 12): ‘when a person is in Commission, he should wear the livery of his Office; but when he signifies nothing, he should not put it on, nay rather, he had better keep at home’.

Watt’s list of acceptable orthographic innovations includes the first in pairs like: Niece/Neece; ingage/engage; imbattle/embattle; public/publick; cattell/cattle; cole/coal; labor/labour; presumtion/presumption; fancy/phancy; bark/barque; center/centre; scixars/scissors; sence/sense; antient/ancient; thro/through; plow/plough; controll/controul; ground/ grownd; fly/flie; lion/lyon; array/array; sum/summ. Of course, Watts at no point goes as far as to even suggest that there should be any overall reform of the spelling system on the basis of any one symbol/one sound paradigm, but at least he is not set against spelling variation per se, and is even prepared to accept a modicum of change (although not new alphabets) where that change reflects a ‘true pronunciation’ however uncertainly he defines that concept.

If Alphabets were perfect, and this maxim was observ’d, no other Rules would be wanted; for every judicious Ear would spell right by using those Letters that express the true Sound; and where that cannot be done, there is some Defect that ought to be considered and mended, if there be not some just Reason for the contrary. But his attempts to ‘paint’ the orthographic picture along these lines are quite limited, his emendations confined to: (1) a rejection of the need to distinguish orthographically synonyms like mote/moat (1724: 52): ‘No body can mistake a Mote in the Sun, for a Moat about a House; and therefore we might very well spell them alike without putting the a to an unnatural task of continuing the sound of o’; (2) introduced foreign words should appear with English spelling, so there is no need to add symbols ‘to make them different’, and he rejects spellings like honour, favour, Creatour and the like, on such grounds; (3) he is especially concerned about what he, and many contemporaries, see as the ‘Harshness of the Number of Consonants’ the English language is willing to tolerate in clusters; the French too, he observes, being ‘remarkable for Clusters’ which they regard as ‘the Delicacies of their Tongue’.

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