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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/162

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

We spell s-l-o-u-g-h, and call it "sluff" if we refer to an abscess, but "sloo" if we refer to a swamp, over which the wind may be said to s-o-u-g-h— "soff." Remove but the initial "s," and we no longer have a swamp, but a lake—l-o-u-g-h, pronounced "loch." Change but the "o" to "a," and we have l-a-u-g-h—"laff," but c—a-u-g-h-t—"cawt," or dr—a-u-g-h-t—"draft." Or, again we have t-o-u-g-h—"tuff," b-o-u-g-h—"bow," t-h-r-o-u-g-h—"throo" (but th-o-r—o-u-g-h, "thurrow"), c-o-u-g-h, "cawff," d-o-u-g-h, "doe," and p-l-o-u-g-h, "plow."

"Coughing in the chill wind soughing through tough boughs, which overhang the sloughy dough-like slough that joins the dismal lough, the lonely peasant sat beside his plough," would make good verbal gymnastics for the ambitious foreigner.

The sound of "e-i" is one thing in freight and weight, and another in sleight and height; and in "either" it is either eyther or eether, while to the Irishman it is nayther.

B-o-w is the "bōw" to shoot with, or the "bŏw" of a boat. A man may glōw with pride, or glŏwer in wrath. We "mōw" the hay, but put it into the "mŏw." We all agree to say "mōon" on the one hand, and "bŏok" on the other (except in England where they say "bōok"), but some of us say "rōot," "rōof" and "hōof," while others say "rŏot," "rŏof" and "hŏof." We all of us put a "fŏot" into a "bōot"' just as surely as we put a "toe" into a "shoe."

Is it any wonder that our English word system seems to a foreigner a museum of unlabeled curiosities?

Our pronunciation and accent, peculiar in themselves, varying, moreover, to distraction over the English-speaking world, are just as serious stumbling-blocks to others, as, say, French and German accent and pronunciation are to us. The six sounds of "a," the four sounds of "e," the two of "i," the five of "o" and the four of "u" give us those delicate assonances, and that fine shading of sound in words that makes for variety, interest and charm; but the complexity with which those twenty-one unmarked vowels invest the correct pronunciation of our English language is absolutely maddening to foreigners, especially since no one can possibly predict from the pronunciation of the vowels in one word their pronunciation in any other word having essentially the same spelling, and no one can possibly say what extraordinarily diverse combinations of vowels and consonants in English may not be pronounced exactly alike.

The very names, moreover, that we give to our vowels, and which are their principal and most frequently recurring sounds in our words, are, with the exception of "o," peculiar to English alone among the European family of languages, as applied to the letters in question. The so-called "continental" sounds of a, e, i, o, u, as in singing do, re, mi, fa, are practically universal, except in the English-speaking