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The continuity of a language consists in its sounds, not in its letters ; in the history of the modifications of pronunciation through which it has passed, not in a fossilized and deceitful spelling. As for etymology, our present spelling, the invention of printers and præ-scientific pedants, is as often false as right. Could, for instance, the past tense of can, has an I inserted in it, because should, the past tense of shall, has one; rime is spelt rhyme as though derived from the Greek pubuds; and it is not so long since lantern was written lanthorn, as sweetard is still written sweetheart. But in a very large proportion of words the spelling no longer suggests even a false etymology ; while to make the spelling of every word declare its own origin is to attempt a sheer impossibility. A different spelling of words which are pronounced in the same way is no assistance to the reader, but a mere burden upon the memory; apart from the fact that no difficulty is experienced in distinguishing the sense of different words written in the same way, such as box or scale, or that words of identical origin and sound, like queen and quean, are sometimes written differently, we never find ourselves at a loss to understand homophonous words when we hear them spoken, although in conversation we have not the same leisure and power of knowing the end of a sentence that we have in reading. As a matter of fact, however, etymology is the province of the professed philologist, not of the amateur, and the absurd paradoxes and lucubrations upon language that even now teem from the press are the result of a belief that anyone who has a smattering of Latin and Greek is qualified to pronounce upon the nature and origin of words. In astronomy or any other of the physical sciences such a presumption is now almost inconceivable; that it should still be possible in linguistic science shows what need there is of impressing its facts and method upon the minds of the young. One who has been properly trained in the principles of comparative philology will at least have learnt that the etymology even of English words is not to be taken up hastily and without preparation, but that it is a difficult and delicate task, which demands all the resources of the practised student of phonology and the philosophy of speech.
To speak of spelling reform, however, is really to speak inaccurately. What is wanted is not a reformed spelling, which though it may approximately represent our present pronunciation, would become an antiquated abuse in the course of a generation or two, but a reformed alphabet. For practical use, an alphabet of forty characters would sufficiently represent the principal varieties of sound heard in educated speech, each character, of course, denoting a distinct sound, and one distinct sound only. The scientific philologist would have his own alphabet, whether Prince L-L. Bonaparte's, Mr. Melville Bell's, Mr. A. J. Ellis's, or Mr. Sweet's, for marking the minute shades of difference in English sounds, as well as those sounds which do not occur in the “ Queen's English,” or in any form of English at all. But the practical phonetic alphabet, of which Mr. Pitman's, notwithstanding certain imperfections, may well serve as a model, would prove an inestimable benefit both to the educator and to the philologist. The child, on the one hand, would have to commit to memory only forty symbols and their values in order to know how to read and write, while the philologist would be able to discover the peculiarities of individual and dialectal pronunciation, as well as the changes undergone by sounds in a given number of years. With a practical alphabet of this kind, too, it would be found that the pronunciation, and consequently the spelling, of the educated classes throughout the country did not differ much more than the spelling of certain words by different printingpresses at the present time. Adults accustomed to the current alphabet would have no greater difficulty in learning the additional characters than they have in learning the Greek or German letters; and they would at any rate have the satisfaction of feeling that they were approximating towards the civilized condition of the ancient Hindu, who had an alphabet of forty-nine characters, each standing for a single distinct sound, and were correspondingly receding from the condition of such semi-barbarous populations as the Tibetans, the Burmese, or the Gaelic, among whom spelling and pronunciation agree as little as in English itself.
No doubt the printers would suffer at first by a change in our spelling, and the change, therefore, would have to be introduced gradually, perhaps by means of transitional modes of spelling. But a time would come when the whole current English literature would be published in the new type, our present books presenting no greater difficulties to the ordinary reader than the poems of Spenser do now. Indeed, the difficulties would be far less, since they would contain no obsolete and unknown words, such as make the task of studying the works of Spenser or Chaucer doubly hard. A page of Pitman's “Phonetic Journal” is not hard to decipher, even without a knowledge of the alphabet in which it is written.
But in order that a reformed alphabet may have the support of the scientific philologist it is necessary that it should be international, that is to say should assign to the symbols of the vowels (and wherever possible of the consonants also) the phonetic powers they possess in the ancient Latin alphabet, and, generally speaking, in the modern continental alphabets as well. The comparative philologist will gain but little, if any, help from an alphabet in which a, for instance, continues to have the value given to it in mane, or i the value given to it in I. The reformed alphabet must be based on a scientific one. Then, and then only, too, will there be a chance of our realizing the dream of linguistic science,-a Universal language. It is towards this end that the comparative philologist works, this is the practical object to which his eyes are turned. And when once the needless stumbling-block of a corrupt spelling is removed, everything seems to point to English as destined to be the common tongue of a future world. Not, perhaps, English as it is now spoken, with a few relics of primitive inflection still clinging to it, but such an English as the Pigeon-English of China which Mr. Simpson has prophesied will become the language of mankind. English may be heard all over the world from the lips of a larger
1 “ China's Place in Philology," in "Macmillan's Magazine," Nov. 1873.
number of persons than any other form of speech ; it is rapidly becoming the language of trade and commerce, the unifying elements of our modern life. Science, too, is beginning to claim it for her own, and it is not long ago that a Swedish and a Danish writer on scientific sub
a jects each chose to speak in English rather than in their own idioms for the sake of gaining a wider audience. Little by little the old dialects and languages of the earth are disappearing with increased means of communication, the growth of missionary efforts, and let us add also, the spread of the English race, and that language has most chance of superseding them which, like our own, has discarded the cumbrous machinery of inflectional grammar. The great Grimm once advised his countrymen to give up their own tongue in favour of English, and a time may yet come when they will follow the advice of the founder of scientific German philology. That a universal language is no empty dream of "an idle day” is proved by the fact that the civilized western world once possessed one. Under the Roman empire the greater part of Europe was bound together by a common government, a common law, a common literature, and, as a necessary consequence, a common speech. When the darkness of barbarism again swept over it, and the single language of civilized Rome was succeeded by linguistic anarchy and barbarism, the Church and the Law, the sole refuges of culture, still preserved the tradition of a universal tongue. It was not until the Reformation shattered Europe into an assemblage of hostile nationalities that language, as the