Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/519

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LANGUAGES OF THE AMERICAN INDIANS

ture writing. In the highest development of this, in Mexico, the picture writing took on to a certain degree, but only partially, a phonetic character. Pictures and symbols were sometimes interpreted as such, and at other times read as sounds, almost exactly as in the rebuses with which we amuse idle moments. Even then, however, the characters usually represented whole words, or at best syllables, and as they did not stand for individual sounds they were never true letters, and did not form an alphabet properly speaking.

All Indian philology accordingly rests on an. oral learning of the languages, and all writing of them has had to be in systems applied by the investigator from other languages, or specially devised by him. The former was the earlier and less satisfactory method. The Spaniard used the Roman alphabet with its Spanish values, the Englishman and American the letters of English. Where sounds were encountered which are not present in these languages, they were usually either omitted, or represented by a character whose customary value somewhat resembled the sound in question.

More recent studies have generally been based upon a systematic and scientific modification of the Roman alphabet. In this certain principles have now been universally accepted for half a century. The most important of these are three.

First, every character or letter must represent one and only one sound. Second, each sound, whenever it occurs, must be denoted by one and the same character. Third, single sounds must be written by single letters, and vice versa, double letters are used only for combinations of sounds. If these principles are strictly adhered to, it does not much matter what characters or modifications of the Roman letters are employed, as long as the investigator is sufficiently conversant with the language not to confuse those sounds which are somewhat similar; and provided also that he furnishes a key or explanation giving the exact phonetic value of every character employed by him. In the choice of characters there are, however, certain preferences. English k and c, for instance, are usually only two different ways of writing the identical sound. In any scientific system of orthography k is preferable because it has the same value in every European language that uses the Roman alphabet, as well as in Greek and the alphabets derived from it. The letter c, however, stands for a great variety of different sounds. In English and French it represents not only the sound of k, but of s, in Spanish th, in German ts, and in Italian, in certain cases, ch. K, which can not be misunderstood, is therefore always used in scientific systems.

In the same way the five vowel characters are pronounced in almost exactly the same way in the great majority of the languages of Europe. Philology, therefore, uses these letters exclusively with their "continental" values rather than with the English sounds, which are quite