Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

Chinese jugglers. There is but one man in civilized society who can do these feats. Catch our frend, Prof. Haldeman, — he is the man, – and make a ring about him, and get him to giv you a few specimens, and then tell me how they could hav arisen according to the law of least effort. The fact is, it is fun to make a noise. The healthy animal rejoices in these Fourth-of-July explosions and orations and cheers and tigers; and the tenderer moods hav their own dear delight in the murmurs and croonings and whispers of a summer evening. There is play in language in which effort does not count. The old word for knife (na f) was knif. That the k should be dropt is according to the law of least effort; but why change i to the long diphthong ai? Loud was hlud; the h is dropt according to the law of least effort, but who could hav predicted the rise of the diphthong ou (au)? The fact is, that the peculiar changes of single words ar trickt by whim, and the great changes by which the sounds of a whole language ar moved, ar brought about or modified by causes working often on the physical constitution of whole nations, which we know little of, and with which we could do little if we did know them. We may well despair, therefore, of controlling the history of the spoken language. But the spelling, the written speech, is a different matter altogether; that is only a contrivance, a set of tools, machinery, to record and communicate the speech. It lies parallel with coins, or weights and measures, and the improvement of it is like the improvement of weights and measures, or, indeed, of telegraphs, sewing-machines, reapingmachines, or any labor-saving machinery. Let a language be given, the problem of recording and com

municating it is a problem in the invention of laborsaving machinery. The most natural contrivance was found ready-made in man himself, that microcosm of inventions. The vibrations of the voice that enter his · ear make a permanent modification in him, as in the tinfoil of the phonograph, so that he can repeat the sounds at pleasure. Man is, in short, a phonograph.

The first records of speech wer made by calling in witnesses to hear and repeat the language it was desired to record ; deels of land, achievements of kings, sacred rituals, great poems, Iliads, Beowulfs, wer thus recorded and transmitted. Classes of men wer set apart for phonographs. But man is a costly machine, and very perishable, and always getting out of order. Cheaper, trustier, and more durable phonographs wer wanted ; and they wer not to be had, for tho there was prophecy of an Edison in the first recordant modifications of the brain, the coming man was not to get to New Jersey for some thousands of years.

They tried records on wood and stone, pictures, then signs of words and syllables, and finally alphabetic writing was invented, the most important invention, it bas often been said by philosophers, that man has ever made, by which the memory of twoscore signs of sounds takes the place of that of thousands of signs of things.

Since the invention of letters, improvements hav been made year by year in their forms to adapt them better to legibility, speed, and beauty. A page of Roman type is one of the objects into which most labor has gone. The type-cutter of to-day is heir of all the ages when he works on the Roman types. A new letter has a poor chance to rival the old. All this,

however, has gone on independently of the changes in speech. It would hav gone on faster, if speech had never changed. None of the mystery of the changes of pronunciation attaches to it. The difficulties which prevent the change of types ar like those which attend the change of weights and measures. The introduction of new spelling is like the introduction of the sewing. machine. Everybody knows the old way and nobody knows the new. One generation must hav a deal of trouble. We want to find some powerful class whose interest in the change is such that it is best for them to take the trouble. In the new spelling, this class ar the teachers, whose most irksome labors will be lightend, and the publishers, who will hope to win in the new field of adventure in books. Let the teachers start us, and we shall all find heart.

Another serious hindrance nowadays, while we ar just poised to the start, is found in the comical or ridiculous side of the changes.

It has happend that an author whose scholarly conscience compeld him (noblesse obligc) to make the change, when the proof-sheets came, has found their queer look and their ridiculous associations quite too much for him. We may strengthen ourselves by re

flecting, after Emerson, that nature has no covenant with us that we shall never be ridiculous; or with Burke, that no man ever had a point of weakness that did not some time serve his turn; or with many an awkward lover, that odd things, made familiar in fun, ar by and by chosen in earnest. The world laught at Shakespeare for years, as out of all the rules of all the Greeks and Frenchmen. They laught at him, they laught with him, they wept with him, they loved him; till one day a genius turnd critic said, “Why laugh at him for being unlike them? Let us laugh at them for being unlike him!” And all the world agreed

– slowly. Who knows but the good time may be near when it shall seem ridiculous to write dough for do, and phthisic for tizic?

Other obstacles arise from want of agreement amoug the earnest reformers. We hav tried hard and long to agree. We hav held conventions, national, international; appointed committees, waited years for deliberations and reports, and accepted them. We have gone thru all the motions; but after all we do not agree. New converts ar made every day, and every one makes a new scheme. Converted on Saturday, they incubate Sunday, and print on Monday. Then there are the veterans, Ellis, Pitman, Parkhurst, Longley, Jones, each a tenth legion, an old guard, that never surrenders. Some cannot accept any new letter. Some will take no less than fifteen. Some want digraphs, some diacritical marks. Their stand against the world inclines them to reject all authority and all compromise. Reformers think for themselves and act for themselves more than other men. We shall come together only as we approach our common

goal.

But all things would be in favor of us to-day, if we had money and workers; money, of course, but most of all, activ men. The reform is great in its backing of great names. No reform affecting great vested interests has commanded a more general assent from eminent scholars and educators. But from the nature of the case, their support cannot go much further than assent and advice. To be an eminent scholar in these

days implies mature, generally advanced age, a life devoted mainly to some special field of original research, pledges to the world and to publishers of further researches in the same field, and, most likely, poverty, or a pledge of all available money to carry out long-cherisht plans.

Our own Prof. Whitney, for example, is known to all the world as bringing the accumulated knowledge and sagacity of a lifetime to his work on Sanskrit. All the world would cry out if he were to give it up in order to devote his days and nights to pushing the Spelling Reform. So of our great master of the Algonkin languages, Dr. Trumbull. A new cause needs new men. And this cause needs young men, men of action. To rising teachers who look to be Normal School professors, or superintendents of instruction, not knowing but they may some time fall into politics and get to Washington at last, and who need to store up pleasant memories to cheer the gloom of a senatorship or presidency, to all the hundreds of aspiring young men who would gladly find a good cause to work in, there is none that offers better promise than the Spelling Reform.

Charles Sumner said the year before he died, “ The English language has an immense future. But there must be harmony between the written and spoken word. In helping this reform you ar a benefactor.”

The great scholar-statesman of England, Gladstone, says that he would gladly lead it, if he were younger, and had some things off his hands, meaning, we may suppose, the Iliad, and the Pope, and the Turk, and the Jew. We want a Gladstone for the United States,

« AnteriorContinuar »