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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 66/April 1905/Authority in English Pronunciation

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 66‎ | April 1905

By Professor EDWIN W. BOWEN,


FOR wellnigh two centuries a popular belief has prevailed throughout the English-speaking world that there should be a standard of pronunciation, which should be followed in all those countries where English is the native tongue. Many people, holding this view, assume that some such norm is unconsciously observed by men of education and culture, who, because of their influence and rank, are generally conceded the right to establish the customs of speech. It is but natural, therefore, that men with greater or less claim to culture and education should take it upon themselves from time to time to determine the supposed standard of pronunciation. Thus as far back as the beginning of the eighteenth century we find that the orthoepists of that period undertook to ascertain and record the pronunciation of English as practiced in polite society.

Now, the early orthoepists discovered, apparently to their astonishment, that English pronunciation, even in the most cultured circles, far from being fixed by ironclad rules, was quite an elastic thing, allowing considerable latitude. Indeed, two centuries ago pronunciation in English, as reflected by the best usage, was no more uniform than it is to-day. Then as now, men recognized no fixed and absolute standard of English pronunciation. They followed their own tastes and individual preferences, despite the orthoepical suggestions and recommendations of their contemporaries. Prejudice and caprice, too, in those days, as in the present time, were factors to be reckoned with, so that the path of the would-be authority on pronunciation was beset with no slight difficulty.

It must not be inferred, however, that the orthoepists themselves were a unit and in perfect harmony as to current usage. On the contrary, they were frequently far apart in recording the pronunciation sanctioned by the best society and differed quite as much as their worthy successors of the present day. They sometimes indulged in vituperation and severe censure at each others' expense and made no attempt to conceal their disapproval of a rival's authority, which they expressed in plain, vigorous Anglo-Saxon. Some of their sarcastic remarks furnish spicy and entertaining reading to the student who is willing to plod his way through the dreary waste of those forgotten dust-covered tomes.

The most conspicuous among the eighteenth century orthoepists were Baily, Johnson, Buchanan, Sheridan and Walker. Some of these were Scotch, and some Irish, and some, of course, English. Quite naturally it struck the fancy of an Englishman as somewhat humorous, not to say absurd, for an Irishman or a Scotchman to pose as an authority on English pronunciation. So the damaging taunt of foreign nationality and consequent lack of acquaintance with English usage was flaunted in the face of Buchanan and Sheridan, natives of Scotland and Ireland, respectively.

When Doctor Johnson was informed of Sheridan's plan of producing an English dictionary that was designed to indicate the pronunciation of each word, he ridiculed the idea of an Irishman's presuming to teach Englishmen how to speak their native language as utterly absurd. "Why, Sir," growled the autocrat of eighteenth century literature, "my dictionary shows you the accent of words, if you can but remember them." Then on being reminded that his dictionary does not give the pronunciation of the vowels, "Why Sir," continued he, in his characteristic surly manner, "consider how much easier it is to learn a language by the ear than by any marks. Sheridan's dictionary may do very well; but you can not always carry it about with you; and when you want the word, you have not the dictionary. It is like the man who has a sword that will not draw. It is an admirable sword, to be sure; but while your enemy is cutting your throat, you are unable to use it. Besides, Sir, what entitles Sheridan to fix the pronunciation of English? He has, in the first place, the disadvantage of being an Irishman; and if he says he will fix it after the example of the best company, why they differ among themselves. I remember an instance: when I published the plan of my dictionary, Lord Chesterfield told me that the word great should be pronounced to rhyme to state; and Sir William Yonge sent me word that it should be pronounced so as to rhyme to seat, and that none but Irishmen would pronounce it grait. Now, here were two men of the highest rank, the one the best speaker in the House of Lords, the other the best speaker in the House of Commons, differing entirely."

As this quotation shows clearly and forcibly, even the usage of the very best speakers in England in the eighteenth century was far from uniform and harmonious, as has been intimated in the opening paragraph. Moreover, it is evident from the striking illustration Johnson uses that English pronunciation must have varied much more two centuries ago than it does to-day; for no two speakers of national reputation, such as the leaders of the two chambers of Parliament presumably must have been, would differ so radically at the present time in their pronunciation. The truth is, in those good old days men paid but little attention either to pronunciation or to spelling. It is a fact not so widely known as it deserves to be, that English orthography two centuries ago was just emerging from a state of confusion and chaos; and law and order were then for the first time beginning to appear. The result is the conventional spelling which only since the eighteenth century has been stereotyped in the form now so familiar to all educated people. And not even yet, as we know, has English orthography had its perfect work. As late as Doctor Johnson's time, N the spelling of many English words had not yet been crystallized, and not a few words could be spelled in two distinct ways, either of which was recognized as correct. For instance, the spelling of soap, cloak, choke and fuel, to select only a few examples, as recorded in his dictionary, vacillated between 'sope,' 'cloke,' 'choak,' 'fewel' and the present accepted spelling of these words. These variant spellings, long since rejected, now seem to us either attempts at phonetic spelling or quaint and curious imitations of Chaucerian orthography. Having discussed elsewhere[1] the subject of English spelling, I dismiss the matter here with this passing reference.

The crystallized form of English spelling which has been brought about mainly through the influence of the printing-press in the last few centuries we accept as a matter of course, little thinking of the difficulties innumerable which the printer and the 'gentle' reader encountered three centuries ago. But the very existence of a standard orthography, as a moment's reflection will show, has necessitated as its indispensable adjunct the pronouncing dictionary.

The pronouncing dictionary, therefore, is a modern production; it was hardly known before the first quarter of the eighteenth century. It is held by some scholars, notably Professor Lounsbury in his 'Standard of Pronunciation in English,' that the pronouncing dictionary was called into existence by the desire on the part of the imperfectly educated middle class to know what to say and how to say it. This desire became stronger and stronger as the members of that growing class of England's population rose by degrees into social prominence. Possessing little culture and few social advantages, and lacking confidence in their meager training, such people were not willing to exercise the right of private judgment, and consequently they sought out an authority and guide. They were eager to learn the modes of speech which obtained in the most highly cultured circles, the jus et norma loquendi of the nobility. It was natural therefore, since the occasion appeared to demand it, that self-appointed guides should come forward and offer to conduct the multitudes of social pariahs through the wilderness of orthoepical embarrassment into the Canaan of polite usage. Such was probably the origin of the pronouncing dictionary.

It will prove interesting to consider some of the pronunciations authorized by the early orthoepists as reflecting contemporary usage. How unlike current usage many of those early pronunciations are, the reader will see for himself. But first a word as to the orthoepists themselves.

The earliest of the eighteenth century orthoepists is Baily. His dictionary enjoyed the enviable distinction of being the first authority on English pronunciation during the first half of the eighteenth century. But Baily's supremacy was eclipsed by Johnson, whose epoch-marking dictionary appeared in 1755. Johnson claimed to record the most approved method of English orthoepy, and his prestige as a man of letters contributed speedily to establish his dictionary as the ultimate authority on English pronunciation. It is to be observed, however, that Johnson only indicated the syllable on which the accent falls. This left much to be desired as a pronouncing dictionary. So, in 17GG. Buchanan, a Scotchman, gave to the world his dictionary which challenged Johnson's pre-eminence. A few years later, in 1780, to be accurate, Sheridan published his dictionary. Sheridan was an Irishman by birth, as has been said, the son of the famous British orator and dramatist, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, whose plays are so favorably known to us through Mr. Jefferson's interpretation. Sheridan's nationality was used by his competitors to prejudice the public against his dictionary and to discount it as an authority on English pronunciation. Still Sheridan enjoyed a considerable vogue.

In 1791 Walker published his dictionary. The reputation of this work, in a revised form, extended far into the last century, so we are informed by the late Mr. Ellis in his authoritative work on English pronunciation. Walker, like Sheridan, was an actor, but unlike his rival he was an Englishman by birth. He did not fail to draw attention to the advantage this circumstance would naturally give him in the popular estimation, in advertising the merits of his book. In his treatment of the principles of pronunciation, however, Walker shows a feeble grasp of his subject, and the most serious criticism upon his book is that he was unduly influenced by the spelling in ascertaining the pronunciation of a word. "In almost every part of his principles," says Mr. Ellis, an eminent authority on English pronunciation, speaking of Walker's work, "and in his remarks upon particular words throughout his dictionary, one will see the most evident marks of insufficient knowledge and of that kind of pedantic self-sufficiency which is the true growth of half-enlightened ignorance." Such drastic criticism upon the author of a dictionary which was esteemed the highest authority on English pronunciation during the first half of the last century does not invite confidence in the results of our early orthoepists. Rather it makes us feel that none of them is perhaps entitled to credit. Probably Doctor Johnson shared this feeling when he exclaimed in the preface to his dictionary, Quis autem custodiet ipsos custodes?

So much for the lexicographers of the eighteenth century. Let us now consider some of the pronunciations authorized by them, which have long since been discarded. These will serve as illustrations to bring home to the mind of the reader the truth that our speech is slowly but surely and constantly changing, and that English pronunciation, unlike English spelling, has never been stereotyped in a fast, unvarying form. They will also show how indispensable an auxiliary to our crystallized, conventional spelling has the pronouncing dictionary become.

An interesting illustration is furnished by the word asparagus. The popular pronunciation of this word in the eighteenth century was sparrowgrass. This was felt by the orthoepists, however, to be a vulgar corruption of the word, and they therefore strove with concerted effort to stem the popular tide and to make the pronunciation conform to abstract propriety as indicated by the spelling. Walker, in commenting upon the pronunciation of the word, remarks, as if apologizing for the theoretically correct form which he recommends, that 'the corruption of the word into sparrow-grass is so general that asparagus has an air of stiffness and pedantry.' Another word with a no less interesting history is cucumber. This word used to be generally pronounced cowcumber. The popular pronunciation of this word as well as of asparagus, once so universal, has survived even up to the present in the lingo of the illiterate whites of New England and in the Negro dialect. This vulgar pronunciation which was a thorn in the flesh to the eighteenth century lexicographers, it is instructive to note in passing, was not the result of mere caprice, but was warranted by an old variant spelling of the word. This historic spelling, long since discarded altogether by the users of English, was formerly very prevalent and in good literary usage. Hence little wonder that the vulgar pronunciation for a long time contested the supremacy with the mode of utterance now universally accepted. Even so high an authority as Mr. Pepys refers in his 'Diary' to a certain man as 'dead of eating cowcumbers.' It was not till wellnigh the middle of the last century that the orthoepists Knowles and Smart ventured to denounce cow-cumberalong with sparrow-grass as vulgar and therefore tabooed in polite circles.

It is a well-established fact in the history of English pronunciation that in the seventeenth century and far into the following century such words as spoil, toil, boil, and so on, were pronounced, even in best usage, precisely as they are uttered to-day in the Negro dialect and by the illiterate whites among us, that is, just as if they were written 'spile,' 'tile' and 'bile.' This is conclusively proved by the rhymes of Dryden and Pope. It is further evident from the rhymes of the poets of the latter half of the eighteenth century that this archaic pronunciation persisted almost down to the beginning of the last century. This pronunciation was regarded by the orthoepists as antiquated and vulgar, and they did not fail to denounce it in strong terms, warning against its use. In 1773 Kenrick records with mingled regret and disgust that it would appear affected to pronounce such words as boil, join and many others otherwise than as 'bile' and 'jine.' But toward the close of the eighteenth century the present pronunciation began to prevail and 'the banished diphthong,' as Nares records with triumphant delight, 'seemed at length to be upon its return.' This same orthoepist informs us, and we may well believe him, that it was the authority of the poets, who had pilloried the offensive pronunciation in their verse, that retarded the progress of the received sound of the diphthong which finally triumphed.

The early lexicographers were divided on the pronunciation of vase. Indeed, two centuries have not sufficed to unite their successors in perfect harmony on this question. The word to-day vacillates between four received pronunciations. The great unwashed pronounce vase to rhyme with base and case. Some pronounce the word as if written 'vaz' with 'the broad a.' Others, associating it with its French equivalent, pronounce the word 'vauze.' Others still pronounce it so as to rhyme with amaze and gaze. Of these four pronunciations the first is the most prevalent to-day, as it also was two centuries ago. According to the Century Dictionary, the word was introduced into English during the latter half of the seventeenth century, and after the analogy of words of its class, it would naturally be pronounced so as to rhyme with case and base. But the recency of the word and its familiar association with art have given rise to the attempt to make it conform to the analogy of the French pronunciation and sound it as if written 'vauze.' The early occasional spelling of the word as vause doubtless contributed somewhat to the extension of this latter pronunciation. This French pronunciation, says the Century, is now affected by many. It is worth while to remark, however, that while the Century recognizes the French pronunciation, it still gives the preference to the old historic pronunciation, viz., that rhyming with case and base.

Now, in the eighteenth century some of the orthoepists favored one pronunciation and some another. Sheridan, Scott, Kenrick, Perry and Buchanan declared for the pronunciation rhyming with case and base. On the other hand, Smith, Johnston and Walker expressed themselves in favor of 'vaze.' Walker says that he has uniformly heard it so pronounced, but adds the significant remark that the word is pronounced according to the French fashion 'sometimes by people of refinement; but this, being too refined for the general ear, is now but seldom heard.' This French pronunciation, however strange the comment may appear to us in view of his wide acquaintance with English usage, the late Mr. A. J. Ellis averred was the most familiar to him. So the struggle between the several pronunciations of vase continues still, and no one can say which will ultimately prevail.

Another interesting illustration of vacillation of usage two centuries ago is furnished in the pronunciation of either and neither. Like the word vase, these words show incidentally how long a time two pronunciations of the same word may linger in good usage before either supplants the other. There is to-day probably as much variation in the pronunciation of either and neither as there was a century and a half ago. Early in the eighteenth century the i sound was conceded by some of the orthoepists as permissible in these words. Two authorities, Buchanan and Johnston, declared for the new pronunciation, that is, 'ither' and 'nither.' But since they were both Scotchmen, their authority was discounted. On the other hand, Sheridan and Walker recommended the e sound and used their influence to bespeak for it general endorsement. They recognized the i sound, to be sure, but only on sufferance. From that day to the present the battle has waged more or less fiercely between the advocates of these respective pronunciations of either and neither. Which will ultimately prevail, it is impossible to determine. It may be said, however, that analogy and history are on the side of the e sound. Yet the i sound appears to be encroaching at present on the former pronunciation. There is still another pronunciation of these words which we now rarely hear. I refer to the old dialectical pronunciation as 'ather' and 'nather.' This pronunciation was current in Doctor Johnson's time, though it probably did not enjoy the sanction of good usage. On being asked one day whether he regarded 'ither,' or 'ether' as the proper pronunciation of either, the old Doctor is said to have blurted out in his characteristic crabbed manner, 'Nather, Sir!' This pronunciation survives now only as an Irishism.

Another class of former pronunciations surviving now as an Irishism, or at best as a provincialism merely, is exemplified by such words as nature, creature and picture. In Dryden's and Pope's time these words were pronounced 'nater,' 'crater' and 'picter.' These pronunciations are preserved still in the Yankee dialect, as shown in Lowell's inimitable Biglow Papers, and of course they are frequently heard on Irish lips. But they long ago dropped out of the speech of polite society. There is one notable exception found in the word figure. The variant pronunciation of this word as 'figer' survives in standard English as a heritage from the seventeenth century.

Quite as instructive an illustration of survivals in pronunciation is furnished by the British pronunciation of clerk and Derby. The English, as is well known, pronounce these words as if written 'dark' and 'Darby.' They used to pronounce clergy with the same vowel sound, and many other words besides. But it is a significant sign of the approaching change in British usage in respect to these words that a recent British dictionary, the New Historical, in commenting on clerk admits that the American pronunciation of this word has become somewhat frequent of late in London and its neighborhood. (Are we to look upon this as a result of the much-discussed American invasion?) But our British cousins are still wedded to their Derby (Darby) and show no sign of abandoning either the old pronunciation or the custom. Even we Americans cling tenaciously to serjeant and show but little inclination to make that conform speedily to the analogy of other words of its class and to pronounce it in accordance with the spelling. But, no doubt, this word, also, in the course of time, will yield to the pressure of analogy, and our time-honored serjeant, with the flight of years, is destined to be classed among those pronunciations that have lost caste. The early orthoepists uniformly pronounced this entire class of words as our British cousins pronounce them at the present time, that is, as if they were written 'dark,' 'sarjeant' and so on. Indeed, it is the spelling that has been the main factor in effecting the change in the pronunciation of these words. There is a strong tendency in English to pronounce a word as it is written, and this tendency has been asserting itself with ever increasing force since English spelling has been crystallized and thereby rendered less subject to preference or caprice.

A constantly recurring question, which never ceased to vex the spirit of the early orthoepists, was, where to place the accent in the case of contemplate, demonstrate, illustrate and similar words of classical origin. The question at issue here is whether the stress shall fall upon the antepenultimate or the penultimate. Even with all the accumulated knowledge of the centuries we are no nearer a solution of this perplexing question than were the Elizabethans. Shakespeare could say indifferently cónfiscate or confíscate, démonstrate or demónstrate. Here the battle has been waged between the scholars, on the one hand, who insist upon strict propriety, and the uninitiated, on the other, who follow the line of least resistance and by intuition place the accent upon the initial syllable. As is evident at a glance, these words come to us from the classics. The scholars therefore, somewhat pedantically, insist upon retaining the stress on the syllable which bore it in the original Latin or Greek. Per contra, the common people, who know 'little Latin and less Greek' and care not a fig for the original accent, instinctively throw the stress upon the first syllable, in keeping with their feeling for their mother tongue. This feeling for the language, which the Germans call 'Sprachgefühl' is, after all, a safer guide than the rules laid down by the pedants. Candor compels us to admit that the popular tendency is more in harmony with the genius of our vernacular. But the scholars have made a brave fight for what we may denominate abstract propriety, and the result, thus far, is a drawn battle. Each side has scored some points, and each side has had to make some concessions. Thus balcony, academy, decorous and metamorphosis, to cite a few concrete examples, have finally triumphed over the earlier pedantic pronunciations, which required the accent on the penult of these words. Horizon, on the other hand, stands as a monument of a concession to the learned, since this word in Elizabethan times had the stress on the initial syllable, as had also the name of the month July. Popular usage in favor of the received pronunciation of auditor, senator, victory, orator and many similar words has achieved' a decided triumph over the early orthoepists, who, it was very obvious, were fighting a losing battle in their efforts to retain the classical accent.

It follows that pronunciation is the resultant product of several forces which are silently but constantly acting upon the living language. There are, to be sure, various methods of pronunciation, but the standard is that sanctioned by the most cultivated circles of society. Now, it is the function of the pronouncing dictionary, and its sole reason for existence, to determine and record the usage of the most cultured classes. But here is where the rub comes. This is the stumbling-block in the way of the lexicographers. It may seem, upon first blush, that the task of the orthoepist is easy enough. But not so in actual practice. Countless and insuperable difficulties soon begin to loom up a little ahead in the path of the intending orthoepist, and he finds, to his regret and his occasional disgust, that the way he has marked out for himself is not strewn with roses. It is an arduous undertaking which holds out but meager hope of successful accomplishment, to make an accurate record of the pronunciation received in any large class of society. The labor and trouble are multiplied many times when an attempt is made to determine the best orthoepical usage in a democracy. There is really no absolute standard of pronunciation in English and there can not be, from the very nature of the case, as Professor Lounsbury has clearly demonstrated in his recent luminous book on this subject.

Yet it is unquestionably true that the pronouncing dictionary is constantly making for uniformity of pronunciation. There is far less difference in English orthoepy at the beginning of the twentieth century, even despite the present diversity of good usage, than there was at the beginning of the eighteenth century. A glance at the history usage. If we may trust Professor Lounsbury, an eminent authority of English pronunciation will readily convince the reader of this fact. This result is the direct outgrowth of the increased facilities for intercourse between communities, and of the gradual diffusion of education which the last two centuries have witnessed. With the spread of education there go along those habits of speech which are generally recognized to be in accord with best usage and which therefore have most to commend them to popular favor. But till men cease to exercise the right of choice in the mode of utterance, till men prefer, for the sake of uniformity, to say exclusively hostile and not hostile, servile and not servile, 'rise' and not 'rice,' to mention an example of variant usage, so long will there probably be a diversity of pronunciation and the consequent need for the pronouncing dictionary. This consummation so devoutly to be wished we may expect at the Greek Kalends. We may rest assured, therefore, that the pronouncing dictionary is here to stay.

Every man has his preference as to his pronouncing dictionary, which he regards with more or less confidence and, may be, reverence, as his final authority. To this he resorts in all orthoepical questions, for final solution. This, of course, is a legitimate function of the pronouncing dictionary. The fact is, the vocabulary of the average educated man is so extremely limited and the vocabulary of the language so extremely copious that there are thousands of words of a technical character which even the most accomplished scholars have never once heard uttered. The average educated man who knows that English spelling is a very untrustworthy guide to pronunciation is perforce driven to consult his Webster, or his Worcester, or his Standard, or mayhap his Century. Only then can he pronounce an unfamiliar English word with any assurance of propriety.

Notwithstanding the fact that every educated man has his favorite dictionary, it is probably true that no man's pronunciation is in entire accord with the dictionary he habitually follows. The late Mr. Ellis gave a suggestive test which I believe has never been successfully challenged. "I do not remember," said he, "ever meeting with a person of general education, or even literary habits, who could read off, without hesitation, the whole of such a list of words as: bourgeois, demy, actinism, velleity, batman, beaufin, brevier, rowlock, fusil, flugleman, vase, tassel, buoy, oboe, archimandrite, etc., and give them in each case the same pronunciation as is assigned in any given pronouncing dictionary now in use." Let the reader try these test words and see whether he pronounces this short list according to any received authority in use at the present day.

It may not prove an altogether unprofitable inquiry how our pronouncing dictionaries are made. Such an inquiry, if pursued, may teach us somewhat of the methods of the orthoepists to ascertain good on English, the method formerly adopted was very much after this fashion: The lexicographer studies in his own library the pronouncing dictionary of everybody who has taken the pains to compile one, whether he be an Englishman, an Irishman, a Scotchman, or an American. He compares these several dictionaries and records their variations. From these he selects those pronunciations which, for any special reason, commend themselves to his individual taste or judgment. These are usually such pronunciations as he is accustomed to hear or himself to use. These are published with the stamp of the lexicographer's authority and approval, and the dictionary is sent out into the world as so-and-so's record of the most approved usage.

This was doubtless the way pronouncing dictionaries used to be compiled. But we may believe that this method is not the course ordinarily followed by the authors of our best modern dictionaries. If our best standard dictionaries to-day were made in this fashion, their authority would richly deserve to be heavily discounted for such carelessness of method. But greater efforts are made by the most recent orthoepists, we may believe, to determine the accepted usage in polite society. Yet, after all, the personal equation enters as an important factor into the compilation of every pronouncing dictionary. The author or authors who compile the dictionary naturally follow their own preferences and prejudices in the matter of pronunciation; and their results, even at best, repose on very restricted and imperfect observation. An orthoepist ought not to be cocksure and dogmatic. Indeed, the proper attitude of the author of a dictionary is that of the late Mr. Ellis. It was quite natural that a man of his superior scholarship and rare orthoepical attainments should have been frequently asked as to the proper pronunciation of a particular word.

"It has not unfrequently happened," observes Mr. Ellis in his monumental work on 'Early English Pronunciation,' in reference to his practice, when appealed to as an authority, "It has not unfrequently happened that the present writer has been appealed to respecting the pronunciation of a word. He generally replies that he is accustomed to pronounce it in such or such a way, and has often to add that he has heard others pronounce it differently, but that he has no means of deciding which pronunciation ought to be adopted, or even of saying which is the more customary."

This attitude will, no doubt, commend itself to the favor of the reflecting and judicious man much more forcibly than that spirit of assumed infallibility which is a sure sign, in an orthoepist, of insufficient knowledge and lack of preparation for his work. The business of a lexicographer is to record what good usage authorizes, not to tell us what we shall not use. The orthoepist who goes farther, and dogmatically asserts that a given pronunciation is correct and another incorrect, transcends the legitimate bounds of his province. Moreover, he arouses suspicion in the minds of the thoughtful as to his trustworthiness as a guide in matters of pronunciation. For no orthoepist records all the pronunciations sanctioned by good usage, and no one therefore can affirm positively that a given pronunciation of a word may not be warranted by reputable usage in some quarter. Even so high an authority and careful an observer as Ellis lapsed into error in his comment upon the pronunciation of trait, claiming that the silent final t was an unfailing shibboleth of British practice. As a matter of fact, the pronunciation of the final letter of trait, as Professor Lounsbury has clearly shown, had been recognized by English orthoepists as allowable for more than a century. It is manifest that one can not afford to be very positive in English orthoepy: if he is, he will be compelled either to retract or to qualify some of his sweeping statements.

The pronouncing dictionary is, as a general rule, a good guide to standard usage, though it can not be relied upon implicitly. When the orthoepists are all agreed upon a particular pronunciation, one ought to be very chary of using one's customary or pet pronunciation that differs. The chances are that it is not in good repute. But when, on the contrary, the orthoepists themselves differ, one may reasonably infer that no statement of any one of them about the proper pronunciation of a word, however positive it may be, ought to be recognized as a binding authority. For no pronouncing dictionary is an absolutely final authority. Nor can it ever justly claim to be, since the pronouncing dictionary purports to record only such pronunciations as are sanctioned by good usage, and good usage ever varies with the living speech, which, like all living things, is always slowly changing from century to century. The change is sometimes so gradual that hardly the lapse of a century will reveal it. Again, for one reason or another, it is so rapid in development that even a generation suffices to record it.

  1. See The Popular Science Monthly, May, 1904, 'The Question of Preference in Spelling.'