Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 52.djvu/205

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PROCESSES OF CHANGE IN PRONUNCIATION.

value which remains present to the mind. It would be a mistake to judge of the perfection of a language by the degree to which it has preserved the constituent elements of its words. The language performs greater services the further it is removed from its primary origin. A word is most perfect when it has reached the condition of a simple sign, letting the idea be perceived clearly without obscurity or refraction. Under all these considerations the laws of phonetics are not blind. It may be remarked, for example, that substantives change more readily than adjectives, participles, or adverbs, because the substantive passes more promptly to the state of a simple sign.

It is affirmed by M. Brugmanu that the change in pronunciation starts in the organs before it affects the words; but we can not accept it except in pathological cases. A child born with defective organs will hear and pronounce particular sounds wrong; but this fault, recognized as arising from some deficiency of conformation, has no influence on the development of the language. No matter whether it is corrected or not, nobody imitates it. Minute changes, on the contrary, which in the beginning modify the articulations so slightly that their influence can hardly be perceived, are the important ones, because they are contagious and keep growing larger. It is by changes of this kind, continuing and increasing from generation to generation, that words become shortened, syllables and letters are lost out of them, and the pronounced word becomes so different from the spelled one as to excite remark. In nothing else do we find better illustrated what a modern writer calls the little forces—forces which in the course of ages have differentiated the words of half a dozen languages from their native origins, and have marked the distinctions between the Germanic tongues.

If these changes originated primarily in modifications of the organs, the sounds undergoing the transformations would disappear from the language. Yet we find that the same sounds which are regularly transformed in a larger proportion of words are still maintained in some. Hence the cause of the changes can not be found in modifications of the organs. We still pronounce k in the same way and with the same organs as in the Roman period, although in many of the words in which it once figured it has become ch.

We may obtain some light as to the origin of these phonetic changes by studying a similar phenomenon in writing. The hieroglyphics on the earliest Egyptian monuments are veritable drawings of definite objects. The same signs are found on more recent monuments, but traced as in a current hand, in which the engraver or scribe only indicated the contours. It is very evident that the hand of the scribes had undergone no modification, and that their