Skip to main content

Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

See other formats

8o                 The Loom oj Language
the course of a hundred years, while wilting lags behind for centuries
This explains the behaviour of our capricious GH, which is usually
silent and sometimes like an / It survives from a period when the
pronunciation of light was more like the Scots hM> in which there is
a rasping sound represented by x ID. phonetic symbols In such words
the earlier English conventional GH stands for a sound which was
once common in the Teutonic languages, and is still common in Ger-
man When we meet GH, we know that the word in which it occurs
is a word* of Teutonic origin, and it is a safe bet thai the equivalent
German word will correspond closely to the Scots form. Thus the
German for light is Licht^ for brought brachte, for eight acht> for night
Nacht,, for right Recht and for might Macht, English is not the only
language which has changed in this way At one time the German W,
now pronounced like an English V, stood for a softer sound, more like
ours So phonetic spelling would make it more difficult to recognise
the meaning of Windy Wasser^ und Wetter (wind, water, and weather)
A third way m which spelling gets out of step with speech i& con-
nected with how grammar evolves Like other languages tn the same
great Indo-European or Aryan family, English was once rich in endings
like the '$ in father's Separate words have now taken over the function
of such endings, as when we say of my father, instead of my father7s
Having ceased to have any use, the endings have decayed, and because
writing changes more slowly than speech, they have left behind in the
written language, relics which have no existence in the spoken. This
process of simplification, dealt with in Chapter III, has gone much
further in English than in her sister languages On this account written
English is particularly rich in vowel endings which are not audible
This way in which pronunciation changes in the course of time is
responsible for spelling anomalies m most European languages. Two
English examples illustrate it forcibly. On paper there is a very simple
rule which tells us how to form the plural (i e, the derivative we use
when we speak of more than one object or person) of the overwhelming
majority of modern English nouns We add -s* There is also a simple
paper rule which usually tells us how to form the past form of most
English verbs We add -#4> or ğd (if the dictionary form ends in ~<2), as
when we make the change from part to parted, or love to loved* Nowa-
days we rarely pronounce the final -ED unless it follows d or t. Till
comparatively recently it was always audible as a separate syllable
Sometimes we still pionounce it as such in poetic drama. If we are
* Notable exceptions are haughty (French haut) and dehght.