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be a doubt, I apprehend, that it is in some such way as this, that children slowly and imperceptibly enter into the abstract and complex notions annexed to numberless words in their mother-tongue, of which we should find it difficult or impossible to convey the sense by formal definitions."*
We have dwelt on the propriety of affording to learners every facility for entering at once upon the translation of foreign authors, because it is the groundwork of improvement in all the departments of the study of languages; but it is only when some proficiency has been made in reading that this study becomes a source of intellectual culture, and is productive of real benefit. The art of reading cannot be acquired too rapidly or pursued too actively. In the dead languages reading is all that is really required, now that these are no longer used for international communication in political, literary, or scientific correspondence, as they were some hundred years ago; and, from an acquaintance alone with the ancient writers, can be derived all the intellectual advantages which are expected from classical instruction. The Eastern languages which are studied in view of comparative grammar, or of philological and historical researches, need also to be understood only in their written form. With regard to living languages, they are learned by many who do not visit the countries where they are spoken, or have no opportunities of conversing with the natives of those countries; whereas books are always at hand, and he who can read them, may, whenever he thinks proper, hold intercourse with the most intellectual and enlightened portion of the nation to which they belong.
Books, as the depositories of human knowledge, are to communities what parental testimony is to the child: they supply the wants and deficiencies incident to our condition, by furnishing us with the means of appealing, in the search of truth, from private judgments to the testimony of mankind; they contain all the mental treasures which generations bequeath to succeeding generations. Standard works are the most available and the most efficient means of instruction in every walk of literature and science. The variety of information which a proper course of reading brings under the consideration of a learner, and the opportunities which it affords him of surmounting the intricacies of different styles, will extend his power of comprehending both the written and the spoken language, and secure the means of deriving advantage from an intercourse with the well-informed. The greater the number of subjects we have studied, the more varied are the conversations we are able to follow or take part in. This is true with respect to foreign languages as well as to our own.
The people with whom these languages enable us to converse having different origins, living in different climates, being surrounded by different natural objects, brought up with different habits, and governed by different laws, must have ideas and opinions different from ours. Their writers must see in a different light many subjects of which they treat in common with our national authors. In history, in politics, in belles-lettres, in the arts, and in many other departments of knowledge, their notions often widely differ from ours. The reading of their works will, therefore, enlarge our sphere of thought, increase our information, and remove many prejudices which would otherwise continue to cloud the mind.
Even imaginative compositions, those of the most approved writers in every country, seldom fail to arouse in the hearts of the readers lofty and noble aspirations; while they depict our evil passions under colorings and in situations which excite a wholesome dread of their pernicious bondage, they widen the circle of our kindly sympathies, they enrich our minds with vivid descriptions of localities and pictures of national manners, they make us acquainted with human character in all its varieties, and impart a more complete appreciation of all that is great and good.
Philosophical Essays, Part I.
In short, the continual and careful reading of good works in different languages has a most beneficial influence: it exercises the attention, enriches the memory, expands the imagination, forms the taste, improves the judgment, stores the mind with knowledge, gives habits of study, and leads, by the force of imitation, to the highest conceptions and to the performance of all good and noble actions. By habitual communication with superior spirits, we not only are enabled to think their thoughts, speak their language, and feel their emotions, but our own thoughts are refined, our conversational powers are improved, our common feelings are elevated; and though we may never attain their standard, yet by keeping company with them we rise above our own.
The attention of learners should then, at first, be chiefly directed towards acquiring a clear comprehension of books; but, in thus insisting on giving precedence to this branch, we do not mean to disregard the other three, without which the knowledge of the language would be very incomplete; we only wish to indicate the progressive order which ought to be followed in the study. Nor do we mean that each of these branches should be learned separately, passing to the second only after thoroughly possessing the first, and so on in succession, but that the efforts of the learner ought to be more particularly directed, at the outset, towards reading, which, in a foreign language, is the easiest and the most useful branch, either as an ultimate object, or as an auxiliary in acquiring the others. The exercises in hearing, requisite for understanding the spoken language, may almost simultaneously be entered upon, and, if duly carried on concurrently with reading, they will soon secure a mastery of the second branch. That, in general, learners understand the written language sooner and better than the spoken, is merely because they have more practice in reading than in hearing.
Teachers, in general, make their pupils read, instead of reading to them; they wait until they begin to speak the foreign language, before they address them in it. Many persons, on arriving in foreign countries, unused to hear the idioms of these countries spoken, although proficients in reading it, are unable to understand the people. Some, not reflecting that the difficulty lies in the deficiency of their unpractised ear, attribute it to an extreme rapidity with which they imagine foreigners express themselves; others, to their running the words into one another; not a few declare, that the language as spoken abroad is not the same as that of their teachers at home. If these are not natives, there may be some truth in the declaration; but if they are, there can be no reason for believing it probable. Were they even liable to the charge of ignorance, yet they cannot but speak like their countrymen and contemporaries, unless they have forgotten their own language, a circumstance of rare
The difficulty experienced by people in comprehending the conversation of foreigners, may, if they have learned from natives, be attributed either to the nature of the volumes they have read, and their limited number, or to the want of practice in hearing the language, and the consequent incapability of associating the ideas with the sounds as the words are uttered. The classical and narrow course of reading to which learners are too often confined in the study of living languages, does not acquaint them with the familiar terms and idiomatic forms of ordinary conversation; the consequence is, that, when visiting foreign countries, they hear numerous expressions of which they are utterly ignorant. The other two causes of difficulty are equally obvious,-the ear, untaught by the teacher's voice, cannot, in the usual rapidity of speech, recognize the foreign words, however familiar they may be to the eye; and the inability to think in the language renders the obstacle truly insurmountable. Instead of laying hold at once, in their native dress, of the ideas of the speaker, they endeavor to translate him, consuming thereby considerable time in substituting native words for the foreign ones, and in searching for corresponding idioms: thus they lose ground in following him, and arrive at the erroneous conclusion that foreigners speak more rapidly than they do them. selves.
In order to explain the process by which comprehension of the spoken language may keep pace with that of the written, and by which also the pronunciation may soon be rendered as familiar to the learner's ear as the spelling to his eye, we will simply recall the model-method by which nature leads so successfully to the acquisition of the second branch in the native tongue.
In the vernacular language a child hears for a long time before he articulates; he is spoken to and understands long before he speaks. The Creator has wisely denied him the power of articulation at his entrance upon life, that he may not be diverted by premature talking from collecting ideas and materials of expression; thus, he silently listens, observes, compares, and stores his mind with associations of ideas and words, which will enable him to give utterance to his first feelings, when his organs of speech are able to perform their office, and when the determinations of the will can be directed to the formation of vocal articulations. He first notices the words and phraseology which his mother or his nurse constantly addresses to him, and to which he could attach no ideas, did he not, at the same time, follow the looks and gestures with which she invariably accompanies them. These looks and gestures are the translation of what he hears. His eye is the interpreter of his ear, and assists his young imagination in divining her meaning. When the frequent iteration of words, concurrently with the interpreting signs, has familiarized him with their import, he enters on the second stage of hearing, he understands every person who addresses him without requiring the assistance of the language of action.
By the time this second point has been attained, his organs of speech have undergone some development, and have acquired the power of producing the vocal sounds and articulations which have become familiar to his ear. After having listened for two or three years, and when he is beginning to understand the oral expression, he attempts, under the irresistible influence of imitation, to utter the simplest and most frequently repeated words and phrases; and, if he have the good fortune of being brought up in a family, wherein correct speaking prevails, he will, in the course of time, acquire a perfectly pure pronunciation and accent.
Nature, by postponing the power of articulation until the powers of hearing and comprehending the language have been in full activity, sufficiently indicates the progressive order which should be followed in acquiring the arts of understanding and speaking a foreign language.-Educate the ear; and pronunciation will be acquired without difficulty.
In modern languages, pronunciation is of the utmost importance; it contributes, in great measure, to their clearness, agreeableness, and energy. As correct enunciation renders our ideas more manifest, and causes us to be listened to with more pleasure, so an incorrect pronunciation, by its ambiguity and confusion, soon fatigues the hearers, and often exposes a speaker to ridicule. Approximation is not sufficient in pronouncing a language, for the least deviation from the right sound or articulation,-the improper lengthening or shortening of a syllable, the omission or misplacing of an accent,-is enough to change the meaning of a word, and to diffuse obscurity over the discourse. But, even should the mode of pronouncing not be so defective as to prevent the oral expression from being understood, learners, at whatever age they study a language, ought not to be satisfied with being merely intelligible. It has come within the experience of many persons that the pronunciation of a foreigner may be very intelligible and yet very disagreeable. No one who ever witnessed the force of sensible remarks, although understood, yet nullified by the amusement or impatience which a bad pronunciation usually excites, would deliberately make up his mind to address foreigners in their own idiom with an incorrect pronunciation.
It has been erroneously supposed impossible to acquire the true pronunciation of a foreign language. Nature opposes no obstacle to it; men of all nations have been
endowed with the same faculties, physical and intellectual, which place human attainments within the reach of all. We feel no hesitation in maintaining that, even without going abroad, the correct pronunciation of a foreign language is attainable by any per son who will follow the process of nature in learning it. Although, at an early age, the physical senses yield more easily to impressions, this advantage is, in adults, counterbalanced by a greater intensity of attention, which renders the foreign pronunciation equally attainable by them. Experience daily affords instances of persons who pronounce a foreign language as correctly as the natives.
The vocal sounds and articulations which form the essential elements of pronunciation, and the greater number of which are common to most languages, are easily distinguished and produced by a person whose ear has been impressed with them; but the various intonations of voice which, under the name of accent, constitute its other elements, present some difficulty in a foreign language, because, in their infinite variety, the peculiar and delicate shades of modulation which characterize them in each nation, easily escape the discriminative powers of the auditory organs.
The peculiar modulation and inflection of the voice, which constitute the national accent of a people, cannot easily be caught after the period of childhood-counteracted as they are by long habit in a different mode of accentuation. Besides, this accent has no elements on which the attention may rest, no rule by which it may be learned. Many persons, from long and diligent study of foreign standard works, and from mixing in good society abroad, have vied with the natives in style and pronunciation, without ever being able to acquire their identical national accent. Of all the parts of a foreign language, this is certainly the most difficult. This should not, however, discourage those who may be ambitious of arriving at perfection; for this accent is only a secondary accomplishment, the non-possession of which does not affect the knowledge of a language. It would be erroneous to infer, from the peculiar accent of a foreigner, that he does not know the language, or that he pronounces it incorrectly: one may have a good pronunciation and a bad accent, as also a good accent and a bad pronunciation.
It is, besides, difficult to decide which is the national accent, especially in Europe, where it varies with every province,-nay, with every town; and even here in America, where this variety is less sensible, we experience generally little difficulty in locating at once a person by his accent. But who will determine what is really the standard of correct clocution, and in how far a deviation from it can be said to constitute bad speaking? He who pronounces English words correctly, who has a large supply of them, and can command their grammatical and idiomatical arrangement, so as to express all his ideas with ease, truly knows the language, although he should speak with an Eastern, a Southern, or any other accent. Could Walter Scott and O'Connell be taxed with ignorance of the English language, because the one spoke with the Scotch and the other with the Irish "brogue"? Could Theophrastus be said not to have known Greek, or Livy, Latin, because a woman in Athens discovered, by the accent of the former, that he was not an Athenian, and another in Rome that the latter was not a native of that city?
Important, then, as pronunciation is, its value should not, however, be estimated above its desert. For its sake, higher departments of language are often most injudiciously overlooked. When, for instance, parents select a French teacher for their children, before they inquire if he be a Parisian, they should ascertain that he is a man of sound judgment and of education; for it is far more desirable that he should cultivate the understanding of his pupils than their ears; that he should assist them in acquiring sensible and useful ideas, a clear and correct style, precise and select terms, rather than a genteel accent.
Before leaving this subject, we must here mention two practices, which, although not very prejudicial to the attainment of a correct pronunciation, ought, nevertheless,
to be avoided, because they are unnecessary: we mean, learning the foreign alphabet and spelling foreign words, as a preparation for pronouncing them.
The foreign names of the letters are not only useless, they are perplexing to the learners, since their sounds are frequently different from their names. Of what utility is it, for instance, to a foreigner learning English, to know the name of the English letter a, to arrive at its proper sound in various words, as fut, fatal, far, fall, any, image, quality, carriage, in which it is pronounced eight different ways, and is silent in the last word? Attending early to the spelling, when in the act of pronouncing, would, in many instances, mislead learners,-so inefficient is orthography as a guide to pronunciation. Identity of character in the two languages is a snare to a beginner, who is apt to attach to letters the pronunciation to which he is accustomed. Young children, repeating the words they hear, never trouble themselves about the letters which enter into the composition of them; and are, nevertheless, very expert in acquiring the pronunciation of their own or of any other language.
A foreign alphabet can be useful only to a person who knows the lar guage to which it belongs sufficiently well to converse in it, as its words and their orthography may become a subject of conversation, and the letters may then require to be named in that language. In addressing foreigners on matters relative to orthography, one should be able to designate the alphabetical characters by their right names to be understood. A few minutes would suffice to render them familiar to a person who has already some knowledge of the language.
Another practice, less innocent than the above, and which cannot be too much discountenanced, is the attempt made in some introductory books of assimilating the sound of a foreign language to those of the native tongue.
Every language has vowel sounds, articulations, and an accentuation peculiar to it. The letters are to learners signs of vernacular sounds and articulations, and whatever their combinations may be, they will never present to him the idea of any sounds or articulations but those with which he is already acquainted, for habit has impressed on his mind an immediate association of these vocal elements with their alphabetical characters. The attempt, therefore, to spell words in one language as they are pronounced in another, must, in most cases, prove unsuccessful: for the pen can neither represent new sounds to the eye, nor mark the imperceptible shades of colloquial intonation. Such contrivances only familiarize the eye with a defective spelling of the foreign words. Let any one well acquainted with the pronunciation of both languages open at random one of these works, and he will at once be struck with the absurdity of such representations.
Some persons, aware of the inefficiency of visible representations of sounds, have adopted another practice, which, however, is equally defective: they have endeavored to describe their mode of production. For a specimen of one of these attempts we would refer the reader to a passage which we extract from a popular elementary work, and which is intended to explain the French sound of u: "By pronouncing the following words in English, se, pe, me, or si, pi, ni, mi, in French, and then, without altering the position of the tongue, but merely closing the lips upwards, the u will be as distinctly uttered as from a Parisian."
If any one can understand this nonsense we will send him to try another experiment on the pronunciation of the French syllable un, described in a similar work, as follows: "Utter with a greater effort the sound u from the pit of the stomach, and convey it through the nose, taking care to keep the tongue down, in order to avoid the sound of n." Let the most ingenious person draw from his stomach all the sounds within the power of ventriloquism, and exercise complete control over his nose and tongue, he will never produce that sound, if he has not previously heard it; and, if he has, all the above description goes for nothing.