Page images
PDF
EPUB

than is generally supposed. There is no doubt that Dr. Webster, in his earlier editions, went further in his desire to reduce anomalies to the analogy of the language than experience has shown to be practicable. These efforts, however, it should be remembered, were all in the right direction,—all tending to greater uniformity,—and, in many cases, were successful in hastening at least a desirable consummation.

But, if Webster carried this tendency too far, the evil has been remedied in the later editions, edited by Prof. Goodrich, to such an extent as to remove all objections on that score. We cannot help thinking that the influence of Dr. Worcester is exerted rather to retard all such improvements, even when a divided usage gives him full liberty to aid in tendencies which he cannot ignore.

Many, however, who admit the superiority of Webster's definitions, and are not frightened by the orthographical bug-bear which has been raised, still suppose that Worcester is more reliable in pronunciation, and that his system of notation is more simple and definite. We confess that we entertained something of the same feeling ourself, until a careful examination of both forced us to abandon our preconceived notions.

And first, with regard to Worcester's system of notation.

In his “ Key to the sounds of the marked letters," he lays down and numbers seven sounds of the letter a, one of them being what he calls the “ obscure " sound. Now, how are we to ascertain what particular sound is here indicated ? By the sound of a in the words given as examples, of course. But we here find “ liar," “ palace," “ courage,” " abbacy.” Does Dr. Worcester then mean that the a when marked with the sign of the obscure sound has the same sound in these four words ? He will not say that.

What then? That a with a dot under it, has some one of

1 As examples under this head, see “benefited," which Worcester gives now with one t; also “ traveled” and “ worshiped," in which, though he doubles the final consonant, he admits usage is not uniform, but that "some" do not double it. (** Some,” we take in this connection, to mean Webster and Perry,—though Webster is not named.) Of words respecting which the usage is not uniform, we will here simply state, that Campbell, in his “Philosophy of Rhetoric,” lays it down as a canon of criticism, that we should choose that usage which is most in accordance with the analogy of language,

these sounds, without designating which. But what then does this mark show us, that we should not have known without it? Nothing

The same may be said of the “obscure sound” of all the vowels. Take i for instance, where “ elixir,” “ ruin," “ respite,” “ ability,” are given as examples; and where the first so marked has a short sound of u, and the three following the short sound of i. From the key, then, we are utterly at a loss to determine what the sign of the “ obscure sound” indicates, and we certainly get from it no aid in giving the proper sound to the vowel thus marked.

But on page 12, paragraph 10th, we are told that “this mark is employed to indicate a slight stress of voice in uttering the appropriate sound of the vowel, rather than to note any particular quality of sound.” But how are we to ascertain what the “ appropriate " sound of the vowel is ? We supposed that was the object of the mark, as it professes to be in the key,—and as it is of all the other marks. The author shall answer for himself. “If” says he, “the syllables on which the primary and secondary accents fall are uttered with a proper stress of voice, these comparatively indistinct syllables will naturally be pronounced right.” What, then, is the use of marking them? But the fact is, the obscurity is not in the sound of the letter, but in the system of notation,—to trace it no farther back. It does not indicate the quality of the sound, but is merely an accentual mark. As the author says on page 12, paragraph 4th, “ The vowels in the syllables which have either the primary or secondary accent have a mark placed over them, denoting a distinct sound; while those which are more feebly uttered have a dot placed under them,”—and we have already quoted his admission that “ this mark is not employed to note any particular quality of sound.” It is true he goes on to say, that “in a majority of cases, this mark may be regarded as indicating an indistinct short sound of the vowel, as intenable,' &c; but in many cases it indicates a slight or unaccented long sound, as in carbonate, &c; and that the letter u in • educate’ is pronounced like yu, slightly articulated.” Now we confess, that, taking Dr. Worcester's definition of “indicate,”—which we think is correct, —we do not see how them ark indicates either a long or a short sound. It may be placed under letters having these sounds; but the mark does not indicate the sound. It indicates merely, that the syllable in which the vowel occurs, has neither a primary nor secondary accent,-a fact, one would suppose, sufficiently indicated by the absence of any mark over it,since all accented syllables are thus marked.

Again, we are told in the key, that “tion” is pronounced like “shun," and “ cean" like “ shan ; " and the words “ nation” and “ocean," are cited as examples. Now,—not to mention the different notation of the same sound,-let us look at the explanation of the diphthongs, &c., on page 15. Here we find a proper diphthong defined as “ one in which both vowels are sounded,” and ea in “ ocean," and io in “nation," are again given as examples. It is further stated that those proper diphthongs beginning with i or e are “pronounced as if y consonant was substituted in place of e or i ; as ocean, (osé yan,) question, (quest yon.)”

Now, which is right ? Are ea in “ ocean," and io in “ question” proper diphthongs, as asserted on page 15, or improper diphthongs, according to the key? If we turn to the words in the body of the dictionary, we shall find that Dr. Worcester follows the key, in the pronunciation of " ocean,” (oshan), but makes a proper diphthong of io in “ question ” (quest yon).

Why this inconsistency? Is it because the author forgot to mention in the key that “tion " when immediately preceded by the sound of s is pronounced like “ chun; ” as "question,” “ suggestion,” &c. ?

Now, this change of the sound of t in certain combinations to the sound of ch in “church” is just as evident in such words as “question,” “ bastion,” “mixture,” &c., as the change to the sound of sh is in “nation," " notion," &c. But as the author has not recognized this modification of the sound of t in the key, he is driven into this inconsistency. Nor does this apply merely to the words we have enumerated, but to a very large class of words.

Look again, at the word “peculiar," pronounced (peculyar) by the principle laid down on page 15, and already referred to, that the diphthongs which begin with e and i are pronounced as if y consonant was substituted in place of e or i ; then look at " peculiarity" which, according to the rule should be pronounced (peculyarity), but which the author respells and marks thus,-(pe-kul-ye-ăr-e-te),—not substituting y, but prefixing it to the i, and thus making one syllable more in the word than if he had followed the principle he had laid down. He, however, seems determined to be right about half the time,- for the very next word “peculiarize” he marks thus, (pe-kūl-yar-iz), and not (pe-kūl-ye-ăr-iz) as we might have expected.

One of our most popular writers has said, “ Don't be consistent, but be simply true.” Dr. Worcester certainly heeds the first half of the injunction.

The inconsistencies and obscurity of Dr. Worcester's notation have annoved us much. We had hoped, that in this last great work he would “reform it altogether." He has not, and we are disappointed.

[ocr errors][merged small]

THERE are times when we think with great seriousness of the future life, and query what we shall be. In seasons of trial, in times of affliction, or when we feel that we have nearly completed the journey of life, we ask ourselves, what of the future? The Christian who has ever reposed confidence in God, and has exercised a pious trust in him, having made himself acquainted with divine truth, feels that it will be well with him when he has gone down into the solemn shadows of death, and has passed the dark valley which separates time from eternity. But he who has lived a thoughtless, irreligious life, may have no idea of that world towards which he is hastening, and so makes the exit from life in uncertainty and doubt. It is a sad thing to die without any well-grounded hope of another and better life, without any assurance that the desires for immortality will be gratified. It cannot but be agreeable to every one to have clear views of the future life, and a firm conviction that that life will be every way desirable. This is necessary to composure of mind amidst many of life's changes, and it adds much to the common enjoyments of time.

But when we look into the Scriptures we do not find all things clearly revealed which we wish to know. The simple fact of a blessed immortality is announced with great clearness, but the condition and characteristics of that better world are shadowed forth rather than fully disclosed ; and the connection between this and the future life is left in such obscurity that pious and devoted Christians differ much respecting it. Hence it does not become us to dogmatize on this subject, but rather to examine and investigate in the spirit of earnest inquiry. Where we cannot be guided by the light of revelation we must let reason and judgment be our guides, being careful not to build a theory which will conflict with the teachings of the gospel, or one which will not harmonize with the known character of God. When we ask ourselves what will be the effect of our present culture, attainments, and acquisitions upon our future selves, or what our intellectual and moral status will be at the beginning of the future life, we may not find a definite answer on any page of the Bible, and we may not feel certain that any man, however wise and learned, has given us reliable information concerning it. We may think it probable, or even feel certain, that there is some connection between this life and the future, without knowing what that connection is, or precisely how, or to what extent, our future condition will be affected by our present conduct and attainments. It is proposed to express some thoughts on this subject, but as it is an important one, and as a careful investigation will require extended remark, it is deemed advisable to treat only of the effect of intellectual culture and attainments on our future selves, leaving that division of the subject which relates to moral culture for consideration at another time.

Do we enter upon the future state with the same intellectual culture and attainments that are possessed here ? or do we enter upon that state with enlarged powers and capacities, so that we shall know, as by intuition, all we wish, or all that is needful for us to know? There are few passages in the Bible which contain allusions to this subject,

« PreviousContinue »