Obrazy na stronie

him accustom himself also, when alone, to speak his thoughts aloud, in the same slow manner, and with the same view. Otherwise, though he may get a habit of reading more slowly, he will fall into his usual manner, in discourse and this habit of speaking aloud, when alone, will not only bring him to a more distinct utterance, but produce a facility of expression, in which silent thinkers, are generally defective.


There is one cause of indistinct articulation, which is almost universal, and which arises from the very genius of our tongue; so that unless great care be taken, it is scarcely possible, but that every one should be affected by it, in some degree. Every word, composed of more syllables than one, in our language, has one syllable accented, and peculiarly distinguished from the rest; either by a smart percussion of the voice, or by dwelling longer upon it. If this accented syllable be properly distinguished, the word will often be sufficiently known, even though the others are sounded very confusedly. (This produces a negligence, with regard to the articulation of the other syllables; which though it may not render the sense obscure, yet destroys all measure and proportion, and consequently all harmony in delivery.) This fault is so general, that I would strongly recommend at first, the practice of pronouncing the unaccented syllables more fully, and dwelling longer upon them, than is necessary, as the only means, of bringing those, whose utterance is too rapid, to a due medium. It is true there are some, who through the misfortune of bad instruction, or prevalence of early bad example, have a tedious drawling

utterance, dwelling almost equally on all syllables, (of which I shall speak more under the head of accent); but as this is neither consonant to the genius of the tongue, nor the customary manner of speech in this country, there is no great danger of erring on that side.



WITHOUT entering into a more particular consideration of letters and syllables, which are the component parts of words; (a prolix discussion of that branch of the subject being unnecessary in a work like this :) I shall now proceed to the consideration of that article which constitutes the very essence of words.

As words may be formed of various numbers of syllables, from one up to eight or nine, it was necessary that there should be some peculiar mark to distinguish words from mere syllables, otherwise speech would be nothing but a continued succession of syllables, without conveying ideas: for, as words are the marks of ideas, any confusion in the marks, must cause the same in the ideas for which they stand. It was, therefore, necessary, that the mind should at once perceive, what number of syllables belong to each word, in utterance. This might be done by a perceptible pause at the end of each word in speaking, in the same manner as we make a certain distance between them in writing and printing. But this would make discourse disgustingly tedious; and though it might render words distinct, would make the meaning of sentences confused. They might also be sufficiently distinguished by a certain elevation, or depression of the voice upon one syllable

of each word, which was the practice of some nations, as shall presently be explained. But the English tongue has, for this purpose, adopted a mark of the easiest and simplest kind, which is called accent. By accent is meant, a certain stress of the voice, upon a particular letter of a syllable, which distinguishes it from the rest, and, at the same time, distinguishes the syllable itself to which it belongs, from the others which compose the word. Thus, in the word hab'it, the accent upon the b distinguishes that letter from the others, and the first syllable from the last. Add more syllables to it, and it will still do the same; as, hab'itable. In the word, repúte, the u is the distinguished letter, and the syllable which contains it, the distinguished syllable. But if we add more syllables to it, as in the word, rep'utable, the seat of the accent is changed to the first syllable, and p becomes the distinguished letter. Every word in our language, of more syllables than one, has one of the syllables distinguished from the rest in this manner, and every monosyllable has a letter. Thus in the word hat', the t is accented, in háte, the vowel a. In cub', the b, in cúbe the u. Hence every word in the language, which may properly be called so, has an accent; for the particles, such as a, the, to, in, &c. which are unaccented, can scarce be called words, which seems to be implied in the name given to them, and they are the fitter to discharge their office by this difference made between them. So that as articulation is the essence of syllables, accent is the essence of words; which, without it, would be nothing more than a mere succession of


Thus simple as the state of the English accent is, no article of speech has occasioned more perplexity in those who have treated of it, merely by confounding it with the accents of the ancients, which were quite different things. There is no subject of antiquity which has more puzzled the literary world, than that of the Greek accents; the marks of which have come down to us with their books, but the use of them is utterly unknown. This gave rise to a controversy, which was carried on for a great length of time, by some of the most learned men, in different parts of Europe; but it ended, as most controversies do, when people are not masters of their subject, without producing any thing satisfactory to the world upon that head. It was lately revived by a very learned gentleman in England, with no better success; for whoever will take the pains of reading Dr. Foster's Book upon Accents, though he may see in it great marks of erudition, and deep-reading, will find himself as much in the dark, as he was before. These several controvertists have proved their opponents to be wrong, but none have been able to establish what is right. And this arose from the same cause, which I have had occasion to mention before, that these men of letters were treating of a subject which regarded sounds, in which they were unskilled. Let me now try, without equal pretensions to literary merit, whether the greater attention which I have given to sounds, will not enable me to clear away all the difficulties, in which this intricate subject has been hitherto involved.

« PoprzedniaDalej »