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The Temple of Nature, Edited by Martin Priestman

ADDITIONAL NOTES. XV.

ANALYSIS OF ARTICULATE SOUNDS.

The tongue, the lips articulate; the throat
With soft vibration modulates the note.                CANTO III. l. 367.

 

         HAVING explained in the preceding account of the theory of language that it consists solely of nouns, or the names of ideas, disposed in succession or combination; I shall now attempt to investigate the number of the articulate sounds, which constitute those names of ideas by their successions and combinations; and to show by what parts of the organs of speech they are modulated and articulated; whence may be deduced the precise number of letters or symbols necessary to suggest those sounds, and form an alphabet, which may spell with accuracy the words of all languages.

I. Imperfections of the present Alphabet.

         It is much to be lamented, that the alphabet, which has produced and preserved almost all the improvements in other arts and sciences, should have itself received no improvement in modern times; which have added so much elucidation to almost every branch of knowledge, that can meliorate the condition of humanity. Thus in our present alphabets many letters are redundant, others are wanted; some simple articulate sounds have two letters to suggest them; and in other instances two articulate sounds are suggested by one letter. Some of these imperfections in the alphabet of our own language shall be here enumerated.

X. Thus the letter x is compounded of ks, or of gz, as in the words excellent, example: eksellent, egzample.
C. is sometimes k, at other times s, as in the word access.
G. is a single letter in go; and suggests the letters d and the French J in pigeon.
Qu is kw, as quality is kwality.
NG in the words long and in king is a simple sound like the French n, and wants a new character.
SH is a simple sound, and wants a new character.
TH is either sibilant as in thigh; or semivocal as in thee; both of which are simple sounds, and want two new characters.
J French exists in our words confusion, and conclusion, judge, pigeon and wants a character.
J consonant, in our language, expresses the letters d, and the French j conjoined, as in John, Djon.
CH is either k as in Arch-angel, or is used for a sound compounded of Tsh, as in Children, Tshildren.
GL is dl, as Glove is pronounced by polite people dlove.
CL is tl, as Cloe is pronounced by polite speakers Tloe.

         The spelling of our language in respect to the pronunciation is also wonderfully defective, though perhaps less so than that of the French; as the words slaughter and laughter are pronounced totally different, though spelt alike. The word sough, now pronounced suff, was formerly called sow; whence the iron fused and received into a sough acquired the name of sowmetal; and that received into less soughs from the former one obtained the name of pigs of iron or of lead; from the pull on the word sough, into sow and pigs. Our word jealousies contains all the vowels, though three of them only were necessary; nevertheless in the two words abstemiously and facetiously the vowels exist all of them in their usual order, and are pronounced in their most usual manner.
         Some of the vowels of our language are diphthongs, and consist of two vocal sounds, or vowels, pronounced in quick succession; these diphthongs are discovered by prolonging the sound, and observing, if the ending of it be different from the beginning; thus the vowel i in in our language, as in the word high, if drawn out ends in the sound of the letter e as used in English; which is expressed by the letter i in most other languages: and the sound of this vowel i begins with ah, and consists therefore of ah and ee. Whilst the diphthong ou in our language, as in the word how, begins with ah, also and ends in oo, and the vowel u of our language, as in the word use, is likewise a diphthong; which begins with e and ends with oo, as eoo. The French u is also a diphthong compounded of a and oo, as aoo. And many other defects and redundancies in our alphabet will be seen by perusing the subsequent structure of a more perfect one,

II. Production of Sounds.

         By our organ of hearing we perceive the vibrations of the air; which vibrations are performed in more or in less time, which constitutes high or low notes in respect to the gammut; but the tone depends on the kind of instrument which produces them. In speaking of articulate sounds they may be conveniently divided first into clear continued sounds, expressed by the letters called vowels; secondly, into hissing sounds, expressed by the letters, called sibilants; thirdly, into semivocal sounds, which consist of a mixture of the two former; and, lastly, into interrupted sounds, represented by the letters properly termed consonants.
         The clear continued sounds are produced by the streams of air passing from the lungs in respiration through the larynx; which is furnished with many small muscles, which by their action give a proper tension to the extremity of this tube; and the sounds, I suppose, are produced by the opening and closing of its aperture; something like the trumpet stop of an organ, as may be observed by blowing through the wind-pipe of a dead goose.
         These sounds would all be nearly similar except in their being an octave or two higher or lower; but they are modulated again, or acquire various tones, in their passage through the mouth; which thus converts them into eight vowels, as will be explained below.
         The hissing sounds are produced by air forcibly pushed through certain passages of the mouth without being previously rendered sonorous by the larynx; and obtain their sibilancy from their slower vibrations, occasioned by the mucous membrane, which lines those apertures or passages, being less tense than that of the larynx. I suppose the stream of air is in both cases frequently interrupted by the closing of the sides or mouth of the passages or aperture; but that this is performed much slower in the production of sibilant sounds, than in the production of clear ones.
         The semivocal sounds are produced by the stream of air having received quick vibrations, or clear sound, in passing through the larynx, or in the cavity of the mouth; but a part of it, as the outsides of this sonorous current of air, afterwards receives slower vibrations, or hissing sound, from some other passages of the lips or mouth, through which it then flows. Lastly the stops, or consonants, impede the current of air, whether sonorous or sibilant, for a perceptible time; and probably produce some change of tone in the act of opening and closing their apertures.
         There are other clear sounds besides those formed by the larynx; some of them are formed in the mouth, as may be heard previous to the enunciation of the letters b, and d, and ga; or during the pronunciation of the semivocal letters, v. z. j. and others in sounding the liquid letters r and 1; these sounds we shall term orisonance. The other clear sounds are formed in the nostrils, as in pronouncing the liquid letters m. n. and ng. these we shall term narisonance.
         Thus the clear sounds, except those above mentioned, are formed in the larynx along with the musical height or lowness of note; but receive afterward a variation of tone from the various passages of the mouth: add to these that as the sibilant sounds consist of vibrations slower than those formed by the larynx, so a whistling through the lips consists of vibrations quicker than those formed by the larynx.
         As all sound consists in the vibrations of the air, it may not be disagreeable to the reader to attend to the immediate causes of those vibrations. When any sudden impulse is given to an elastic fluid like the air, it acquires a progressive motion of the whole, and a condensation of the constituent particles, which first receive the impulse; on this account the currents of the atmosphere in stormy seasons are never regular, but blow and cease to blow by intervals; as a part of the moving stream is condensed by the projectile force; and the succeeding part, being consequently rarefied, requires some time to recover its density, and to follow the former part: this elasticity of the air is likewise the cause of innumerable eddies in it; which are much more frequent than in streams of water; as when it is impelled against any oblique plane, it results with its elastic force added to its progressive one.
         Hence when a vacuum is formed in the atmosphere, the sides of the cavity forcibly rush together both by the general pressure of the superincumbent air, and by the expansion of the elastic particles of it; and thus produce a vibration of the atmosphere to a considerable distance: this occurs, whether this vacuity of air be occasioned by the discharge of cannon, in which the air is displaced by the sudden evolution of heat, which as suddenly vanishes; or whether the vacuity be left by a vibrating string, as it returns from each side of the arc, in which it vibrates; or whether it be left under the lid of the valve in the trumpet stop of an organ, or of a child's play trumpet, which continues perpetually to open and close, when air is blown through it; which is caused by the elasticity of the currents, as it occasions the pausing gusts of wind mentioned above.
         Hence when a quick current of air is suddenly broken by any intervening body, a vacuum is produced by the momentum of the proceeding current, between it and the intervening body; as beneath the valve of the trumpet-stop above mentioned; and a vibration is in consequence produced; which with the great facility, which elastic fluids possess of forming eddies, may explain the production of sounds by blowing through a fissure upon a sharp edge in a common organ-pipe or child's whistle; which has always appeared difficult to resolve; for the less vibration an organ-pipe itself possesses, the more agreeable, I am informed, is the tone; as the tone is produced by the vibration of the air in the organ pipe, and not by that of the sides of it; though the latter, when it exists, may alter the tone though not the note, like the belly of a harpsichord; or violin.
         When a stream of air is blown on the edge of the aperture of an organ-pipe about two thirds of it are believed to pass on the outside of this edge, and one third to pass on the inside of it; but this current of air on the inside forms an eddy, whether the bottom of the pipe be closed or not; which eddy returns upwards, and strikes by quick intervals against the original stream of air, as it falls on the edge of the aperture, and forces outwards this current of air with quick repetitions, so as to make more than two thirds of it, and less than two thirds alternately pass on the outside; whence a part of this stream of air, on each side of the edge of the aperture is perpetually stopped by that edge; and thus a vacuum and vibration in consequence, are reciprocally produced on each side of the edge of the aperture.
         The quickness or slowness of these vibrations constitute the higher and lower notes of music, but they all of them are propagated to distant places in the same time; as the low notes of a distant ring of bells are heard in equal times with the higher ones: hence in speaking at a distance from the auditors, the clear sounds produced in the larynx by the quick vibrations of its aperture, which form the vowels; the tremulous sounds of the L. R. M. N. NG. which are owing to vibrations of certain apertures of the mouth and nose, and are so slow, that the intervals between them are perceived; the sibilant sounds; which I suppose are occasioned by the air not rushing into a complete vacuum, whence the vibrations produced are defective in velocity; and lastly the very high notes made by the quickest vibrations of the lips in whistling; are all heard in due succession without confusion; as the progressive motions of all sounds I believe travel with equal velocity, notwithstanding the greater or less quickness of their vibrations.

III. STRUCTURE OF THE ALPHABET.

Mute and antesonant Consonants, and nasal Liquids.

P.    If the lips be pressed close together and some air be condensed in the mouth behind them, on opening the lips the mute consonant F begins a syllable; if the lips be closed suddenly during the passage of a current of air through them, the air becomes condensed in the mouth behind them, and the mute consonant P terminates a syllable.
B.    If in the above situation of the lips a sound is previously produced in the mouth, which may be termed orisonance, the semisonant consonant B is produced, which like the letter P above described may begin or terminate a syllable.
M.    In the above situation of the lips, if a sound is produced through the nostrils, which sound is termed narisonance, the nasal letter M is formed; the sound of which may be lengthened in pronunciation like those of the vowels.
T.    If the point of the tongue be applied to the forepart of the palate, at the roots of the upper teeth, and some air condensed in the mouth behind, on withdrawing the tongue downwards the mute consonant T is formed; which may begin or terminate a syllable.
D.    If the tongue be placed as above described, and a sound be previously produced in the mouth, the semisonant consonant D is formed, which may begin or terminate a syllable.
N.    If in the above situation of the tongue and palate a sound be produced through the nostrils, the nasal letter N is formed, the sound of which may be elongated like those of the vowels.
K.    If the point of the tongue be retracted, and applied to the middle part of the palate; and some air condensed in the mouth behind; on withdrawing the tongue downwards the mute consonant K is produced, which may begin or terminate a syllable.
Ga.    If in the above situation of the tongue and palate a sound be previously produced in the mouth behind, the semisonant consonant G is formed, as pronounced in the word go, and may begin or terminate a syllable.
NG.    If in the above situation of the tongue and palate a sound be produced through the nostrils; the nasal letter ng is produced, as in king and throng; which is the french n, the sound of which may be elongated like a vowel; and should have an appropriated character, as thus [*] [Editor's note: the original contains various new symbols of Darwin's own devising. Since these are arbitrary and would be hard to incorporate in this format, they are represented here by bracketted asterisks [*] .]

         Three of these letters, P, T, K, are stops to the stream of vocal air, and are called mutes by grammarians; three, B, D, Ga, are preceded by a little orisonance; and three, M, N, NG, possess continued narisonance, and have been called liquids by grammarians.

Sibilants and Sonisibilants.

W.    Of the Germans; if the lips be appressed together, as in forming the letter P; and air from the mouth be forced between them; the W sibilant is produced, as pronounced by the Germans, and by some of the inferiour people of London, and ought to have an appropriated character as thus [*].
W.    If in the above situation of the lips a sound be produced in the mouth, as in the letter B, and the sonorous air be forced between them; the sonisibilant letter W is produced; which is the common W of our language.
F.    If the lower lip be appressed to the edges of the upper teeth, and air from the mouth be forced between them, the sibilant letter F is formed.
V.    If in the above situation of the lip and teeth a sound be produced in the mouth, and the sonorous air be forced between them, the sonisibilant letter V is formed.
Th.    Sibilant. If the point of the tongue be placed between the teeth, and air from the mouth be forced between them, the Th sibilant is produced, as in thigh, and should have a proper character, as [*].
Th.    Sonisibilant. If in the above situation of the tongue and teeth a sound be produced in the mouth, and the sonorous air be forced between them, the sonisibilant Th is formed, as in Thee; and should have an appropriated character as [*].
S.    If the point of the tongue be appressed to the forepart of the palate, as in forming the letter T, and air from the mouth be forced between them, the sibilant letter S is produced.
Z.    If in the above situation of the tongue and palate a sound be produced in the mouth, as in the letter D, and the sonorous air be forced between them, the sonisibilant letter Z is formed.
SH.    If the point of the tongue be retracted and applied to the middle part of the palate, as in forming the letter K, and air from the mouth be forced between them, the letter Sh is produced, which is a simple sound and ought to have a single character, thus [*].
J.    French. If in the above situation of the tongue and palate a sound be produced in the mouth, as in the letter Ga; and the sonorous air be forced between them; the J consonant of the French is formed; which is a sonisibilant letter, as in the word conclusion, confusion, pigeon; it should be called Je, and should have a different character from the vowel i, with which it has an analogy, as thus [*].
H.    If the back part of the tongue be appressed to the pendulous curtain of the palate and uvula; and air from behind be forced between them; the sibilant letter H is produced.
Ch    Spanish. If in the above situation of the tongue and palate a sound be produced behind; and the sonorous air be forced between them; the Ch Spanish is formed; which is a sonisibilant letter, the same as the Ch Scotch in the words Buchanan and loch: it is also perhaps the Welsh guttural expressed by their double L as in Lloyd, Lluellen; it is a simple sound, and ought to have a single character as [*].

         The sibilant and sonisibilant letters may be elongated in pronunciation like the vowels; the sibilancy is probably occasioned by the vibrations of the air being slower than those of the lowest musical notes. I have preferred the word sonisibilants to the word semivocal sibilants; as the sounds of these sonisibilants are formed in different apertures of the mouth, and not in the larynx like the vowels.

Orisonant Liquids.

R.    If the point of the tongue be appressed to the forepart of the palate, as in forming the letters T, D, N, S, Z, and air be pushed between them so as to produce continued sound, the letter R is formed.
L.    If the retracted tongue be appressed to the middle of the palate, as in forming the letters K, Ga, NG, Sh, J French, and air be pushed over its edges so as to produce continued sound, the letter L is formed.

         The nasal letters m, n, and ng, are clear tremulous sounds like R and L, and have all of them been called liquids by grammarians. Besides the R and L, above described, there is another orisonant sound produced by the lips in whistling; which is not used in this country as a part of language, and has therefore obtained no character, but is analogous to the R and L; it is also possible, that another orisonant letter may be formed by the back part of the tongue and back part of the palate, as in pronouncing H and Ch, which may perhaps be the Welch Ll in Lloyd, Lluellin.

Four pairs of Vowels.

         A pronounced like au, as in the word call. If the aperture, made by approximating the back part of the tongue to the uvula and pendulous curtain of the palate, as in forming the sibilant letter H, and the sonisibilant letter Ch Spanish, be enlarged just so much as to prevent sibilancy; and a continued sound produced by the larynx be modulated in passing through it; the letter A is formed, as in ball, wall, which is sounded like aw in the word awkward; and is the most usual sound of the letter A in foreign languages; and to distinguish it from the succeeding A might be called A micron; as the aperture of the fauces, where it is produced, is less than in the next A.
         A pronounced like ah, as in the word hazard. If the aperture of the fauces above described, between the back part of the tongue and the back part of the palate, be enlarged as much as convenient, and a continued sound, produced in the larynx, be modulated in passing through it; the letter A is formed, as in animal, army, and ought to have an appropriated character in our language, as thus [*]. As this letter A is formed by a larger aperture than the former one, it may be called A mega.
         A pronounced as in the words cake, ale. If the retracted tongue by approximation to the middle part of the palate, as in forming the letters R, Ga, NG, Sh, J French, L, leaves an aperture just so large as to prevent sibilancy, and sonorous air from the larynx be modulated in passing through it; the letter A is produced, as pronounced in the words whale, sale, and ought to have an appropriated character in our language, as thus [*]; this is expressed by the letter E in some modern languages, and might be termed E micron; as it is formed by a less aperture of the mouth than the succeeding E.
         E pronounced like the vowel a, when short, as in the words emblem, dwelling. If the aperture above described between the retracted tongue and the middle of the palate be enlarged as much as convenient, and sonorous air from the larynx be modulated in passing through it, the letter E is formed, as in the words egg, herring; and as it is pronounced in most foreign languages, and might be called E mega to distinguish it from the preceding E.
         I pronounced like e in keel. If the point of the tongue by approximation to the forepart of the palate, as in forming the letters T, D, N, S, Z, R, leaves an aperture just so large as to prevent sibilancy, and sonorous air from the larynx be modulated in passing through it; the vowel I is produced, which is in our language generally represented by e when long, as in the word keel; and by i when short, as in the word it, which is the sound of this letter in most foreign languages; and may be called E micron to distinguish it from the succeeding E or Y.
         Y, when it begins a word, as in youth. If the aperture above described between the point of the tongue, and the forepart of the palate be enlarged as much as convenient, and sonorous air from the larynx be modulated in passing through it, the letter Y is formed; which, when it begins a word, has been called Y consonant by some,, and by others has been thought only a quick pronunciation of our e, or the i of foreign languages; as in the word year, yellow; and may be termed E mega, as it is formed by a larger aperture than the preceding e or i.
         O pronounced like oo, as in the word fool. If the lips by approximation to each other, as in forming the letters P, B, M, W sibilant, W sonisibilant, leave an aperture just so wide as to prevent sibilancy; and sonorous air from the larynx be modulated in passing through it; the letter O is formed, as in the words cool, school, and ought to have an appropriated character as thus [*], and may be termed o micron to distinguish it from the succeeding o.
         O pronounced as in the word cold. If the aperture above described between the approximated lips be enlarged as much as convenient; and sonorous air from the larynx be modulated in passing through it, the letter o is formed, as in sole, coal, which may be termed o mega, as it is formed in a larger aperture than the preceding one.

Conclusion.

         The alphabet appears from this analysis of it to consist of thirty-one letters, which spell all European languages.

Three mute consonants, P, T, K.
Three antesonant consonants, B, D, Ga.
Three narisonant liquids, M, N, NG.
Six sibilants, W German, F, Th, S, Sh, H.
Six sonisibilants, W, V, Th, Z, J French, Ch Spanish.
Two orisonant liquids, R. L.
Eight vowels, Aw, ah, a, e, i, y, oo, o.

         To these thirty-one characters might perhaps be added one for the Welsh L, and another for whistling with the lips; and it is possible, that some savage nations, whose languages are said to abound with gutturals, may pronounce a mute consonant, as well as an antesonant one, and perhaps another narisonant letter, by appressing the back part of the tongue to the back part of the palate, as in pronouncing the H, and Ch Spanish.
         The philosophical reader will perceive that these thirty one sounds might be expressed by fewer characters referring to the manner of their production. As suppose one character was to express the antesonance of B, D, Ga; another the orisonance of R, L; another the sibilance of W, S, Sh, H; another the sonisibilance of W, Z, J French, Ch Spanish; another to express the more open vowels; another the less open vowels; for which the word micron is here used, and for which the word mega is here used.
         Then the following characters only might be necessary to express them all; P alone, or with antesonance B; with narisonance M; with sibilance W German; with sonisibilance W; with vocality, termed micron OO; with vocality, termed mega O.
         T alone, or with the above characters added to it, would in the same manner suggest D, N, S, Z, EE, Y, and R with a mark for orisonance.
         K alone, or with the additional characters, would suggest Ga, NG, Sh, J French, A, E, and L, with a mark for orisonance.
         F alone, or with a mark for sonisibilance, V.
         Th alone, or with a mark for sonisibilance, Th.
         H alone, or with a mark for sonisibilance, Ch Spanish, and with a mark for less open vocality, aw, with another for more open vocality ah.
         Whence it appears that six single characters, for the letters P, T, K, F, Th, H, with seven additional marks joined to them for antesonance, narisonance, orisonance; sibilance, sonisibilance; less open vocality, and more open vocality; being in all but thirteen characters, may spell all the European languages.
         I have found more difficulty in analyzing the vowels than the other letters; as the apertures, through which they are modulated, do note close; and it was therefore less easy to ascertain exactly, in what part of the mouth they were modulated; but recollecting that those parts of the mouth must be more ready to use for the purpose of forming the vowels, which were in the habit of being exerted in forming the other letters; I rolled up some tin foil into cylinders about the size of my finger; and speaking the vowels separately through them, found by the impressions made on them, in what part of the mouth each of the vowels was formed with: somewhat greater accuracy, but not so as perfectly to satisfy myself.
         The parts of the mouth appeared to me to be those in which the letters P, I, K, and H, are produced; as those, where the letters F and Th are formed, do not suit the production of mute or antesonant consonants; as the interstices of the teeth would occasion some sibilance; and these apertures are not adapted to the formation of vowels on the same account.
         The two first vowels aw and ah being modulated in the back part of the mouth, it is necessary to open wide the lips and other passages of the mouth in pronouncing them; that those passages may not again alter their tone; and that more so in pronouncing ah, than aw; as the aperture of the fauces is opened wider, where it is formed, and from the greater or less size of these apertures used in forming the vowels by different persons, the tone of all of them may be somewhat altered as spoken by different orators.
         I have treated with greater confidence on the formation of articulate sounds, as I many years ago gave considerable attention to this subject for the purpose of improving shorthand; at that time I contrived a wooden mouth with lips of soft leather, and with a valve over the back part of it for nostrils, both which could be quickly opened or closed by the pressure of the fingers, the vocality was given by a silk ribbon about an inch long and a quarter of an inch wide stretched between two bits of smooth wood a little hollowed; so that when a gentle current of air from bellows was blown on the edge of the ribbon, it gave an agreeable tone, as it vibrated between the wooden sides, much like a human voice. This head pronounced the p, b, m, and the vowel a, with so great nicety as to deceive all who heard it unseen, when it pronounced the words mama, papa, map, and pam; and had a most plaintive tone, when the lips were gradually closed. My other occupations prevented me from proceeding in the further construction of this machine; which might have required but thirteen movements, as shown in the above analysis, unless some variety of musical note was to be added to the vocality produced in the larynx; all of which movements might communicate with the keys of a harpsichord or forte piano, and perform the song as well as the accompaniment; or which if built in a gigantic form, might speak so loud as to command an army or instruct a crowd.
         I conclude this with an agreeable hope, that now war is ceased, the active and ingenious of all nations will attend again to those sciences, which better the condition of human nature; and that the alphabet will undergo a perfect reformation, which may indeed make it more difcult to trace the etymologies of words, but will much facilitate the acquisition of modern languages; which as science improves and becomes more generally diffused, will gradually become more distinct and accurate than the ancient ones; as metaphors will cease to be necessary in conversation, and only be used as the ornaments of poetry.

THE END.

Published @ RC

October 2006