Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/59

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55
HUMAN SPEECH

means that the child is subject to a very considerable period of random and, of course, wholly involuntary experimenting in the production of such articulations as would tend to produce sounds or combinations of sounds approximating more or less closely those the child hears. In the course of this experimenting many failures are produced, many partial successes. The articulations producing the former, inasmuch as they do not give results that match the sounds which it was intended to imitate, have little or no associative power with these sounds, hence do not readily form into habits; on the other hand, articulations that produce successes or comparative successes will naturally tend to become habitual. It is easy to see that the indirect manner in which speech articulations are acquired necessitates an element of error, very slight, it may be, but error nevertheless. The habitual articulations that have established themselves in the speech of the child will yield auditory results that approximate so closely to those used in speech by its elders, that no need for correction will be felt. And yet it is inevitable that the sounds, at least some of the sounds, actually pronounced by the child will differ to a minute extent from the corresponding sounds pronounced by these elders. Inasmuch as every word is composed of a definite number of sounds and as, furthermore, the language makes use of only a limited number of sounds, it follows that corresponding to every sound of the language a definite articulation will have become habitual in the speech of the child; it follows immediately that the slight phonetic modifications which the child has introduced into the words it uses are consistent and regular. Thus if a vowel a has assumed a slightly different acoustic shade in one word, it will have assumed the same shade in all other cases involving the old a-vowel used by its elders, at any rate in all other cases in which the old a-vowel appears under parallel phonetic circumstances.

Here at the very outset we have illustrated in the individual the regularity of what have come to be called phonetic laws. The term "phonetic law" is justified in so far as a common tendency is to be discovered in a large number of individual sound changes. It is important, however, to understand that phonetic law is a purely historic concept, not one comparable to the laws of natural science. The latter may be said to operate regardless of particular times and places, while a phonetic law is merely a generalized statement of a process that took place in a restricted area within a definite period of time. The real difficulty in the understanding of phonetic change in language lies not in the fact of change itself, nor in the regularity with which such change proceeds in all cases affected, but, above all, in the fact that phonetic changes are not merely individual, but social phenomena; in other words, that the speech of all the members of a community in a given time and place undergoes certain regular phonetic changes. Without here attempting