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consonants closer and less musical sounds, but this distinction does not seem to throw much light on the subject. Or we are told that vowels are formed without the stoppage of the breath, and that consonants are formed by stopping or by squeezing the breath. All this is interesting, no doubt, to us as physiologists, but it is no concern of ours as grammarians whether we stop our breath or only squeeze it, whether we vibrate our vocal chords or do something with our larynx or pharynx. This is physiology, not grammar. Our business is to distinguish the sounds when produced, not to determine the mode of their production.
Classification of Consonantal Sounds. Let us now take the consonantal sounds and consider some broad distinctions between them. Compare the four sounds of d', t', dh', th', as represented in the words din, tin, thine, thin, remembering, as before, to make these sounds by beginning to utter the words and stopping short before the vowel is reached. Now in these four sounds, there are two important distinctions to be noticed:
46. Sonants and Surds. (1) In the first place, if we compare d' with t' and dh' with th', we shall observe that although the d' and dh' are not audible at the ordinary pitch of the voice, still they can be just heard, if an effort is made, while the ' and th' are scarcely to be heard at all. The same contrast may be noticed in other pairs of sounds: g, if pronounced when isolated from its vowel, is audible, k' is less so. The sound of j' in jest is audible when it stands alone; ch' in chest is less so. The sound of b' is just audible; p' is almost silent. Various names have been used to express this distinction. Some writers call one set of sounds Hard and the other Soft; others call one set Sharp and the other Flat. Let us compare once more b' and ' and ask ourselves which is hard and which is soft, which is sharp and which is flat. If it strikes us that the application of these metaphors is obvious,-if these terms at once convey their appropriate meaning to our minds,-by all means let us continue to make use of them. Possibly however we may not be struck by the suitability of the
epithets, and in that case the old words Sonant and Surd will express the difference more plainly for us. Sonant means sounding, surd means noiseless. Supposing that we fail to see the fitness of calling hard or sharp and b soft or flat, we can see the fitness of calling surd and b sonant, for we have only to pronounce both letters and observe which of the two we can hear most of. By continuing the experiment, we can distribute all the sonants and surds in their right classes, and this is a much better plan than learning the lists by heart and then putting the wrong names at the top. If we pronounce b, g, d, j, dh, z, zh, v, w, without an accompanying vowel, we can hear them. These we call sonants. If we pronounce their correlatives p, k, t, ch, th, s, sh, f, wh, without a vowel, they are almost inaudible. These we call surds.
To make this distinction clear, we will give these pairs of sounds in two columns with a word to illustrate each. They are variously distinguished as—
The sound represented by wh is pronounced by Scotchmen and Irishmen, but is vulgarly neglected in southern England. Many people make no difference in sound between what and wot, when and wen, where and were, while and wile.
The surd corresponding to the sonant y resembles the German ich sound. It may be heard occasionally in such English words as hue, human.
The letters w and y are used sometimes with the force of consonants, and sometimes with the force of vowels. In wit and yes they are consonants: in few and they, vowels. Hence they are called semivowels. In the sound given to w at the beginning of a word you may detect a close resemblance to the vowel-sound in cool or rude. Pronounce slowly oo-it, oo-et: then increase the speed as you repeat the word, and you will find that you are saying wit, wet. Again, take a word beginning with a y, such as yes, pronounce it slowly, and you will recognise in the sound of its first letter the long vowel sound in feed. A person who gives a hesitating 'yes' in reply to a question says ee-es.
By some writers h is not admitted to a place among the consonants, but is regarded as merely an audible emission of breath before vowels or semi-vowels, and called the 'aspiration.' Thus in Greek the original h ceased to be a letter and became simply a 'rough breathing.'
Now let us return to our four sounds d, t, dh, th, and observe what other distinction can be drawn between them, besides the distinction of sonant and surd.
47. Stops and Continuants. (2) The sounds d and are sudden, abrupt, instantaneous, explosive: it is impossible to prolong them. The sounds dh, th (as in thine and thin, for we often make the sound of dh, though we never use this sign for it) are continuous: they can be prolonged if we keep on breathing. Hence they are called Continuants or Spirants (from the Latin spiro, 'I breathe'). The letters p, b, k, g, t, d, are called Stops or Mutes, because the sounds are silenced with a sudden halt. From the same circumstance they are also called Checks, or Explosives. Grammarians have exercised much ingenuity in finding a variety of terms to express the same distinction, thereby rendering the matter more difficult than it naturally is.
We will now make a second list of consonantal sounds, classified according as they are Stops or Continuants :
Stops, Mutes, Checks, Explosives: p, b, k, g, t, d.
Continuants, Spirants: ch, j, th, dh, s, z, sh, zh, f, v, wh, w, y, h. With the exception of ch and j all these sounds are simple or elementary: ch, pronounced as in church, =t+sh,
tshurtsh, and j, as in jest, d+zh, dzhest. These two composite sounds have been called consonantal diphthongs.
48. To complete the number of our elementary consonantal sounds we must add the Liquids, viz. l, m, n, r, and ng (pronounced as in sing). These are all sonants in English. Owing to the fact that the sounds of l, m, n, r flowed smoothly on and readily combined with other consonants, the Greek grammarians two thousand years ago called them 'fluid' or 'pliant' letters, and this epithet the Latin grammarians translated as 'liquid.'
49. The following list' contains all the simple or elementary consonantal sounds in English:
The reader must keep clearly in mind the fact that we are dealing with elementary sounds, not with our way of writing them. Owing to the deficiencies of our alphabet we are obliged to use combinations of two letters,—digraphs, as grammarians call them,-to represent six of these con
Adopted, as is also the table of Vowel-sounds on p. 45, from Miss Soames's Introduction to the Study of Phonetics. In these sections much use has been made of Miss Soames's book, and also of Mr Nesfield's English Grammar Past and Present, pp. 277-282, to which the student is referred for a more detailed treatment of the subject. At the end of Mr Nesfield's book a note by Professor Skeat on Vocalic Sounds in Modern English has been reprinted.
sonants. But the sounds are simple and indivisible. The sound of z in azure is different from the sound of z in zebra. To mark that difference we have written it zh, but it is not a compound of z+h: it is really an elementary sound. The sounds of dh in thine and of th in thin are different, but they are both of them elementary: they are not compounds of d + h and of t + h. We need a separate letter for each, but we do not possess such a letter for either. And the same thing is true of the other digraphs, sh, wh, and ng.
The letter r is called a Trill, because of the vibration in the sound, or in some part of the vocal apparatus by which it is produced. Roll out an as a Frenchman does, rrrr, and this will be recognised at once. There is very little of a trill about our English pronunciation of the letter. With us the sound of r is heard only when the r is followed immediately by a vowel in another syllable or another word. Thus we can hear it in fairest, starry, stir up, but not in fair play, star gazing, stir the fire. Literary critics are often severe upon such rhymes as morn and dawn, ought and fort, which they describe as execrable. On the contrary, in the ears of educated people south of the Humber such rhymes are perfect, as the r in morn and fort is silent.
Sibilants are hissing sounds. They can be picked out easily from among the spirants: they are s, z, sh, zh.
50. Classification of Consonantal Sounds according to Vocal Organs. These consonantal sounds may be classified on quite a different principle. Hitherto we have dealt with them according to their characteristic differences as sounds. But we can also arrange them according to the part of the vocal apparatus chiefly concerned in their production. Thus we have:
The reader will observe that these classes are not mutually exclusive. Thus, for example, m is both labial and nasal, ʼn dental and nasal, ƒ and v dental as well as labial.
Enumeration of Vowel-Sounds. Vowelsounds are either simple or compound in their character.