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Review of English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth Century
Date: Mon, 23 Aug 2004 11:44:07 -0400 (EDT) From: Kathleen Therese O'Connor-Bater Subject: English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth Century
AUTHOR: Beal, Joan TITLE: English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth Century SUBTITLE Thomas Spence's 'Grand Repository of the English Language' PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2002 (paperback edition; hardback edition, 1999)
Kathleen Therese O'Connor-Bater, SUNY, College at Old Westbury
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK'S PURPOSE AND CONTENTS The intention of this book is to make a strong case for the contributions of eighteenth century Scottish social reformer Thomas Spence (1750-1814) to the standardization of English pronunciation. Contrary to the opinions held by many, there were significant changes in Late Modern English (LNE) during the 18th Century, and Spence's work is a key to understanding their nature and development. Best known as an advocate for land reform and considered a radical in his day, Spence held a heartfelt belief that success among the common classes could only be achieved by their approximation of the dominant London pronunciation system. This belief led him to devise a phonetic script in which each sound is represented by a symbol. As a result of this belief, he compiled a comprehensive pronouncing dictionary: the Grand Repository of the English Language. In her book about this great text, Joan Beal poses the question: ''how is it that such a radical and innovative work as the Grand Repository has largely escaped the attentions of historical phonologists, despite Abercrombie's identification of Spence as a 'forgotten phonetician' worthy of serious attention?'' (p. 12)
SYNOPSIS OF CHAPTERS Joan Beal's book places Thomas Spence's Grand Repository of the English Language (1775) within the context of the eighteenth century land reforms throughout Britain. A social activist, Spence made his primary concern that of inspiring the uneducated urban poor as well as all provincials to improve their social and economic lot by emulating the pronunciation of the London elite. Specifically, Spence developed two 'plans': the first called for land proprietary rights for common people; and the second, to which he devoted his remaining years, sought to reform the English spelling system so that provincials could learn to pronounce ''correctly'' by reading lexical items according to a phonetic code.
In the first chapter, ''Thomas Spence: His Life and Works'', Beal unearths the eighteenth century value placed on ''correct'' pronunciation in terms of attitudes. Citing Holmberg (1964), she notes that in the eighteenth century, the snob value of good pronunciation began to be recognized. During this time, the rising middle classes in Britain were loath to betray what came to be called 'vulgar' origins-'vulgar' being the label placed on the urban poor. During the Industrial Revolution, those from the provinces who arose in economic status feared being stigmatized for both 'vulgar' and 'provincial' backgrounds. Thus, the demand for pronouncing dictionaries increased.
In Chapter 2, ''Eighteenth-Century English: The Cinderella of English Historical Linguistics'', Beal addresses the problem of the scholarly neglect of the Late Modern English (LNE) period of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Citing Charles Jones' (1989), who dubbed this period the ''Cinderella'' of English historical studies, Beal laments that phonological studies in the period has been relegated to an even lower level on the importance scale, calling it the ''Cinderella of eighteenth century English''. She suggests that this neglect may be due to the widespread irregularities in English pronunciation which tends to inhibit systematic analyses such as can be done on the Great Vowel Shift (p. 16); but asserts, that these very irregularities reveal an interesting complexity which, in fact, provide insights into the history of English. The chapter continues to survey important works on the phonologies of the period including those developed by Strang (1970), McKnight (1928), Schlauch (1959) and Wyld (1927) along with others who acknowledge that too little significance has been attributed to LNE pronunciations, and who recognize socio-cultural factors in sound changes and allowing that the changes may have been gradual thus facilitating a more interesting study.
Chapter 3, ''Evidence for Eighteenth-Century Pronunciation: The Value of Pronouncing Dictionaries'' cites the dictionaries of Walker (1791), Sheridan (1780), and Burn (1786) and frames the question of whether the various pronouncing dictionaries of the eighteenth century can be useful tools for the historical phonologist; to this Beal answers soundly ''yes''. Beal discusses evidence in terms of being ''direct'' or ''indirect''; direct evidence being that which is provided by public statements about the language made by orthoepists, grammarians and elocutionists of the day; and indirect evidence being that which is found in spellings, rhymes, and puns (p. 37). She gives examples using texts well known in the present day to provide interesting questions, if not answers. A passage from ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'' suggests that the words ''tongues'' and ''wrongs'' might have contained the same vowel, since they were expected to rhyme, although the determination of the vowel in ''correct'' pronunciation as [aw] or [uh] is subject to discussion. For example:
You spotted snakes with double tongues Thorny hedge-hogs, be not seen; Newts and blind-worms, do no wrong; Come not near our fairy queen.
According to Beal, the irregularities should not pose grave problems to contemporary analysis, since, she notes, even the Great Vowel Shift leaves residues of irregular forms which must be discussed independently of predictable phonological patterns.
Chapters 4, ''Spence's Grand Repository of the English Language'' and 5, ''The Phonology of Eighteenth-Century English: Evidence from Spence's Grand Repository and Contemporary Pronouncing Dictionaries'' contain the bulk of Beal's analysis of Spence's work and its significance for contemporary scholarship. In Chapter 4, Beal offers some reasons for Spence's system of notation referring to his work as the first 'phonetic' dictionary, meaning that the ''one sound = one spelling'' system of correlations is established. In 4.2, A facsimile of the table form the Grand Repository, titled ''The New Alphabet'' (Fig. 4.1) is given together with a discussion of the sound symbol correspondence with present day received pronunciation (RP). 4.3 suggests that Spence's ''New Alphabet'' might be characterized more for its value as a phonemic system than as a system of spelling reform, since his goal is primarily that of facilitating ''correct'' pronunciation, leading one to believe that spoken communication was of greater concern to Spence than was orthography. 4.3 also contains Table 4.1 on which Spence's symbols are given alongside the pronunciation word list from J. C. Wells's ''Accents of English'' (1982) and the corresponding RP symbols.
Chapter 5 provides a detailed comparison of wordlists found in the Grand Repository comparing them to equivalent entries found in Walker (1791), Sheridan (1780), and Burn (1786) (and Johnston (1764) who substitutes for Sheridan in 5.2 since he does not recognize the fourth sound of 'a' (/a/) as discussed in that section). Beal chose these three dictionaries believing that their authors would account for lexical, geographical, and social diffusion of sound changes in progress at the time. Walker was a 'self-styled' authority, Burn was a Scot, and Sheridan is referenced in the Grand Repository. The study in Chapter 5 examines the data in terms of three criteria: 1)that there is evidence that the sound changes were still diffusing; 2) that the variability was 'salient' (in the sense of Labov 1966); 3) the sound changes would be characteristic of the eighteenth century in that they represent a shift from the Early Modern English or a contrast from RP. The analysis is applied to the following changes: lengthening of ME /a/; splitting of ME /U/ (foot); later shortening of ME /o:/; yod- dropping; unstressed vowels; weakening and/or loss of word final and preconsonantal /r/; loss of initial /h/; and the merger of /wh/ [wh] and /w/.
Chapter 6, the ''Conclusion'', contains a brief overview of the book as well as some suggestions for further work. The chapter ends with some closing remarks. In the ''Conclusion'', Beal underscores the need for this work to be carried on, noting her own regret to have merely 'scratched the surface' in the analysis of the vast linguistic shifts that took place during this period.
Following the chapters, Appendices 1 through 10 (pp. 187-225) provide numerous wordlists (Appendix 2 goes from 2a through d; 3 runs from a to b; 5 runs a to b; 6, a to d and 7, a to b), beginning with some sample output from the Oxford Concordance Program (OCP), then plowing through each sound given by Spence (there are 4 varieties of 'Open A', for example). The lists give the entry from the Grand Repository, then offer the corresponding entries given by Walker, Johnson, Burn (and Sheridan where available) as well as a rendition according to RP.
EVALUATION In this erudite work on the Grand Repository of the English Language, Joan Beal raises the readers' awareness of the importance of Spence's work to the contemporary analysis of Late Modern English. Aside from being a rigorous work in historical phonetics, the book provides a wealth of historical information about the language of the period and the English speakers who cared deeply about the way they spoke their language. While each chapter is a solid work able to stand in its own right, the continuity of the chapters makes for a cohesive corpus. The argument that Spence's work-- as well as other studies of eighteenth century English--have not been given adequate attention by historical linguists and that they should to be, is a convincing one. Beal has established this both rationally and empirically.
The observations I would offer fall into two categories: the first regards the question of the intended audience for the book and the organization of two chapters; the second addresses Beal's criticism of phonologists' neglect of eighteenth century English.
I note, for example, the absence of a preface or author's statement addressing the book to an appropriate audience. I think it would be perfectly acceptable to inform readers, at the beginning, exactly who will benefit from which parts of the book. In general, the book is accessible to the educated layperson; with the exception of Chapter 5, for which the reader is expected to have some knowledge of the phonological processes. In addition to historical linguists, the book will be a valuable resource for those in the theatre as well as others interested in the sounds of English during the eighteenth century which corresponds to the time of the American Revolution. (Some might want to know, for example, how English was pronounced in the Colonies, and how far it had ''diffused'' from the British variants.) To make the work more accessible to an extended readership, abbreviations and linguistic terms, although defined elsewhere, might be explained in a footnote, or defined in a glossary.
Each of the chapters reflects a great deal of research, and is very comprehensive. I think, however, that the information presented from beginning to end could be better organized. For example, Chapter 3, ''Evidence for Eighteenth-Century Pronunciation: The Value of Pronouncing Dictionaries'' jumps into the discussion of whether pronouncing dictionaries are useful for scholars. It is not until Chapter 4, ''Spence's Grand Repository of the English Language'', that we find out which dictionaries specifically are to be compared to the ''Grand Repository''. If the discussion of the specific dictionaries were presented first, I think it would make for an easier reading of Chapter 3. Next, Chapter 5 is titled: The Phonology of Eighteenth Century English: Evidence from Spence's Grand Repository and Contemporary Pronouncing Dictionaries. I find it tasking to topicalize the information I expect to read in these chapters with such heavily worded titles. Abridging the chapter titles would enable the reader to identify the content of the chapters more generally within the context of the book as a whole, rather than demanding attention to such a narrow focus more appropriate for journal articles or dissertations.
As far as the second point I want to address, I will first vigorously agree with Beal's call for more descriptive study of the English of this period. I fear, however, that a true phonological study will not be possible without recorded speech samples. It seems to me that the task of the phonologist is to posit rules which illustrate the phonological processes involved in the diffusion of speech sounds, not only within independent lexical specimens, but also to determine the allophonic distribution of sounds within their phonetic environments. Dictionaries enable us to document pronunciation conventions and to prescribe standards, but they will not likely give the rule for the distribution, say, of the /t/ as aspirated, unreleased, or occlusive when found in word-initial, word-final, or following a sibilant-- let alone to describe its systematic cross-over to another phoneme, such as is the case with the geminated 't', which, in my dialect, becomes a tapped [r] (nor, as far as I could tell from the samples in Beal's book, does Spence.) In Spence's Grand Repository, most of the attention is given to the correct pronunciation of vowels, with consonants largely ignored. On page 97, for example, we have a listing of Spence's ''New Alphabet'' showing 4 varieties for the 'a', 2 for the 'e', 2 for the 'o', 2 for the 'u', 3 for the 'w'; but only 1 for the 'k', 't', and 'p', all of which might present significant indicators of native versus non-native speakers in contemporary English. Beal does discuss, of course, some of the processes applied to consonants which are analyzed in Chapter 5, but most of these occur at morpheme breaks -- such as to the /t/ /d/ or /s/ before [+ure], as in 'adventure', 'procedure' and 'pleasure', but, more for the purpose of showing vowel lengthening.
Finally, I would like to offer an esthetic suggestion --admittedly unorthodox for a linguistics review-- to the production department of the book's publisher. English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth Century: Thomas Spence's 'Grand Repository' of the English Language, is not only an informative cataloging of English the way it was spoken during an exciting period in British history, but it is also the story of a book, published in the eighteenth century, which, as the author informs us, was very important in its time. We also learn form the author's research that there are only two known copies of the book that survive. In Beal's book, there are copies of two fragments from the original text in the book, the first, on the unnumbered page 2 and the second pasted into page 81. For my part, I would like to see several pages of photographs of the original, perhaps as an insert, where there might be additional portions of the original text, or photographs of the museums in which the copies are housed, as a visual reference. This would not only provide a pleasant graphic, but would assist the reader not familiar with the RP in understanding Spence's intention and may even stimulate further interest in Spence's work.
REFERENCES Abercrombie, C. C. (1965). Studies in Phonetics and Linguistics. (London: Oxford University Press)
Burn, J. (1786). A Pronouncing Dictionary of the English Language, (2nd ed., Glasgow: Alex, Adam for the Author and James Duncan; 1st ed., 1777)
Holmberg, B. (1964). On the concept of standard English and the history of modern pronunciation. (Lund: Gleerup).
Johnston, W. (1794). Pronouncing and Spelling Dictionary. (London: The author)
Jones, Charles (1989). A History of English Phonology. (London: Longman)
Labov, W. (1966). The Social Stratification of English in New York City. (Washington: Center for Applied Linguistics)
McKnight, G. H. (1928). Modern English in the Making. (New York: Dover Publications)
Schlauch, M. (1959) The English Language in Modern Times (since 1400). (Warsaw: Panstwowe Widawnistwo Naukowe)
Sheridan, T. (1780) A General Dictionary of the English Language. (London: R & J Dodsley, C. Dilly, and J. Wilkie)
Strang, B. M. H. (1970). A History of English. (London: Methuen)
Walker, J. (1791). A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary (London: G. G. J. and J. Robinson, and T. Cadell)
Wells, J. C. (1982). Accents of English. (3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
Wyld, H. C. (1927). A Short History of English (3rd Edition, London: Murray; 1st Edition, 1914)
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Kathleen Therese O'Connor-Bater is a Romance linguist who has published in the area of cognitive semantics, and has a paper forthcoming in the area of sound-sense correspondence. She has also presented several papers on metaphor and poetics. She revised and updated the Random House Dictionary of Latin American Spanish-English (2000). She has taught at Houghton College and Princeton University. In the Fall, 2004, she will begin a position in Spanish and French at SUNY College at Old Westbury.