Bauhaus-Universität Weimar

so three hundred years ago, although half of the letters are 
absolutely unmeaning now. 
As a matter of fact, these differences, which hardly ever 
cause the slightest difficulty even in the most rapid speech, 
and, indeed, generally pass quite unheeded, cannot possi¬ 
bly cause any difficulty to the reader, who has time to 
consider deliberately the meaning of any passage, if neces¬ 
sary, When divergences of pronunciation increase to 
such a degree as to make a faithful phonetic representa¬ 
tion of them unintelligible, or nearly so, to those acquainted 
only with the standard form of speech, it is certain that the 
spoken pronunciation itself will prove still more difficult. 
In fact, one of the worst features of a fixed orthography 
is that it loses all control of pronunciation, and thus in¬ 
directly proves the cause of such changes as have com¬ 
pletely changed the character of English in the last few 
centuries. If those careless speakers of the seventeenth 
century who used to drop the initial consonants in such 
words as write and know had been obliged to omit them 
in writing as well as in speech, it is probable that the 
change would have been nipped in the bud, and people 
would have seen that uniformity of spelling is a delusion, 
unless based on a corresponding uniformity of pronun¬ 
The history of h and r in modern times is an instructive 
instance of how pronunciation may be controlled by a 
changing spelling. It is certain that if English had been 
left to itself the sound h would have been as completely 
lost in the standard language as it has been in most of 
the dialects. But the distinction between house and ’ouse, 
although in itself a comparatively slight one, being easily 
marked in writing, such spellings as ’ouse came to be used


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