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Ripman, Walter. Elements of Phonetics – T02


The growing demand for better instruction in modern
languages and the consequent inquiries into the
methods adopted in other countries have led
many English teachers to consider how their pupils
can best learn to pronounce French and German.
The compilers of Grammars and First Courses have
not been slow to take note of this tendency, and
hardly a book of this kind has been issued in the
last few years which does not supply a chapter on
‘pronunciation.’ Some, indeed, frankly refuse to do
so, alleging that the teacher alone can supply the required
help ; this is no doubt true as far as the learner
is concerned, but no aid is given to the teacher. In
others we find certain ‘rules,’ of which many are
quite wrong, and even an ‘imitated pronunciation,’
which has only to be read aloud by those familiar
with the language to be at once rejected as a gross

But it is not only in connection with French and
German that this unscientific treatment of the living
sounds of speech has had grave consequences. In
English the spelling of words represents a pronunciation
that has long been superseded ; the real language
of sounds has developed unceasingly, the conventional
vsymbols have undergone but little change. Some of
the irregularities of our spelling are obvious, and the
representation of a variety of sounds by ough has
been instanced many times. But the full extent to
which the sounds and the signs are opposed to each
other is hardly suspected by the untrained observer ;
and he is so much under the influence of the written
form of words that he often refuses to accept the
phonetician's accurate record of his speech as representing
his pronunciation. Very few of those who
have given no special attention to the sounds as such
are able to give the pronunciation of the common
words was, had, of, the, which they themselves are
constantly using ; and they are not a little shocked
at hearing that they regularly drop h in the weak
forms of him and her. When these and many other
unexpected facts have been pointed out, the absolute
inadequacy of the spelling as a guide to the pronunciation
is clearly recognised, and the question
is often asked, What is to be regarded as the
standard ? What is the ‘best English’ ?

Opinions are still much divided, but a definite
course must be taken. In England the capital has
so long exerted a preponderating influence in life
and in letters, an influence which shows no signs
of waning, that we may confidently regard London
(or southern English) speech as the standard. Not,
of course,‘cockney’ speech, but the speech of educated
men and women. If in any particular case it can be
determined what is the pronunciation of the clear
majority of educated Londoners, this may be accepted
as ‘correct.’ Unfortunately, the number of trained
viobservers is small, and it is consequently hard to
obtain statistics ; but in many cases one's own circle
of acquaintances suffices for determining doubtful
points. In France the same is true of good Parisian
French ; while in Germany the best Berlin speech,
and, above all, the language of the stage as determined
by a recent conference, are to be taken
as the standard ; the speech of Hanover contains
so many provincial peculiarities that it cannot by
any means be regarded as a model.

The object of this little book is to clear away
many misconceptions that exist as to the spoken
language of England, France and Germany. For
English this has been done by Dr Henry Sweet,
whose admirable Primer of Spoken English is, however,
by no means as well known as it should be ;
and the Walter Crane Readers, written by Miss
Dale, the first books for teaching English reading
in which the spoken language is made the starting-point,
whilst the conventional spelling is retained,
should do much to bring about an improvement, particularly
in preventing what is vaguely described as
‘affected’ or as ‘slovenly’ speech.

The term ‘affected’ usually refers to a manner of
speech which is felt to be unlike that commonly employed
by people belonging to the same class or set
as the speaker, and which is regarded as an endeavour
to improve on that speech. The speaker thus assumes
an attitude of superiority, which causes the
usual resentment. It is therefore obvious that the
term is relative : what is ‘affected’ in one set may
viiexcite no remark in another. This ‘affectation’ appears,
as a rule, most strikingly in the pronunciation
of certain words, which are then quoted in proof of
the charge made. To the student of phonetics this
is an indication of some value, but as yet little has
been done to gather such expressions of opinion.
We are unable to give a good account of the leading
features of the academic, the sporting, or the clerical
varieties of southern English speech, though these
are spoken by members of the same social class ;
much less has any attempt been made to describe
the dialects of ‘cockney’ English.

Those who use ‘slovenly’ speech may be said to
represent the radical tendency ; they yield unconditionally
to the most recent developments of speech,
many of which never obtain general acceptance. They
have either had no careful training in their youth, or
the attention they give to other matters has made
them indifferent to this. In many cases such an
explanation may be found for carelessness of utterance ;
but when slovenly speech is met with in the
lecturer or preacher, it may well cause surprise, and
the teacher of elocution is as necessary for correcting
this defect as in questions of voice production.

This is not the place to discuss how far teachers
and manuals of elocution are satisfactory. But it
may be well to point out that the delivery of a
public speaker must naturally differ from ordinary
speech, just as the face-play and gestures of the
actor differ from what we are accustomed to see in
everyday life. The teacher of elocution will rightly
insist upon perfect distinctness of speech ; he will
viiigive valuable directions for breathing, and for the
use of varying pitch of voice to express the emotions ;
but he is altogether mistaken, if he denounces the
ordinary speech of the educated as ‘slovenly,’ and
he essays a hopeless task if he sets himself to check
the natural progress of the language. It is right
that he should adopt a conservative attitude ; but he
must be careful not to teach any particular pronunciation
if he has reason to believe that it is not accepted
by the majority of educated speakers ; that is to say,
if it is not standard English.

It does not seem to be quite generally understood
that the development of language is a natural progress ;
and the word ‘decay,’ still sometimes applied
to it, should be relegated to the limbo of forgotten
grammatical terms and catch-words.

This book will, however, in all probability first
be used by teachers of French and German, and to
their notice it is specially commended. Of late
years, in every serious discussion of the methods of
teaching modern languages, it has been urged that a
training in phonetics is not merely advantageous, but
essential, if the teachers are English men and women,
as they undoubtedly should be in the overwhelming
majority of cases. The Elements of Phonetics are
based on the well-known works of Professor Viëtor,
one of the pioneers of the ‘reform’ movement. The
proofs have been most carefully revised by him, as
well as by Dr R. J. Lloyd, Honorary Reader in
Phonetics, University College, Liverpool ; by Miss
Dale, author of the “Walter Crane Readers” ; by
ixDr H. Frank Heath ; by Mr W. G. Lipscomb, M.A.,
Honorary Secretary of the Modern Language Association ;
by Mr H. W. Atkinson, M.A., of Rossall
School ; and by Mr A. T. Baker, B.A., Ph.D., of the
County High School, Isleworth.

Teachers and students have in this book an elementary
guide to a subject which cannot fail to interest
them ; a guide which is trustworthy, and will help
the teacher to level the path of his pupils, and the
student to gain an insight into the working of language
which he could acquire in no other way.

The description of the ‘Organs of Speech’ (§§ 1-20)
I have written myself ; the rest is largely a translation
of the corresponding part of the Kleine Phonetik.
For shortcomings I accept full responsibility ; the
credit for most of what is good is due to Professor
Viëtor, and to the friends already mentioned. For
any suggestions which will make the book more lucid
or more accurate I shall be very grateful.

Walter Ripman.

Christmas, 1898.


The changes made in the second edition are due
to the kindly interest of Prof. Viëtor himself, and
to valuable suggestions and criticisms contributed
by Dr R. J. Lloyd, by Prof. A. T. Baker, and by
Mr Raymond Weeks in Modern Language Notes
(May 1903).

W. R.

July 1903.x