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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/403

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389
ENGLISH PHONOLOGY.

the customary English pronunciation. The open sound of a in the word father is known as Italian a, and it was until the beginning of the present century in almost universal use in England, in a certain class of words in which Walker, and other lexicographers influenced by him, substituted short a, as in hat. The short a never became popular, and it was regarded by many as a species of learned affection, and in these words at the present day the open Italian a is very generally used in England. In the United States, on the contrary, the short a has come to be the sound employed by the vast majority of both the learned and less-educated classes in these instances. This sound of a occurs in a large class of words, such as last, past, after, ask, etc., and unfortunately it is not the explosive short a in hat as recommended by Walker, but a more prolonged and flattened sound, as it is uttered by most Americans, and one not authorized by any lexicographer. Fulton and Knight, and subsequently Webster, advised in this class of words a shortened sound of Italian a. Their intention, which was that this sound should differ in quantity only and not in quality from the Italian a, seems to have been misapprehended by certain cultivated speakers who, not satisfied with the flat a of common speech in this country, have adopted a sound intermediate in quality between short and Italian a. No such intermediate sound is ever uttered by native Englishmen. In the schools and universities, at the bar, in the pulpit, and on the stage, among officers of the array and navy, and among the learned and ignorant alike, the prevailing sound heard in these words in England is the open Italian a. It is not to be overlooked that a minority of New Englanders and a few Southerners have preserved this native English sound in this class of words.

But there is another series of words, like bath, aunt, half, path, calm, palm, etc., in which Americans depart still further from English usage by the employment of the flattened and prolonged a above mentioned. Now, it is needless to say that not only all English precedents but all lexicographers, American as well as British, demand the use of the full Italian a in these words; for, though there may be a choice of the short a of Walker, or of the open a in the first class of terms, there is absolutely no option in this instance. Helmholtz long ago proved that this Italian a has more harmonic overtones than any other vowel, and it is unfortunate that this most sonorous and musical sound should have so largely disappeared from English as spoken in the United States.

Another kind of a, known as long a, as in the word fate, is in reality like most of the vowels, of a composite nature, consisting of a fundamental and initial sound somewhat less open than Italian a, and a vanish in e long. This initial element is more open, and the diphthongal nature of a long more evident in the English than in the American pronunciation. This difference of utterance may be detected in a great many positions of long a, but especially in words