International Intelligibility.

One very important result of a return to the Roman values of the letters would be the restoration of the original harmony of the English with the Continental values of the letters, which would much facilitate the acquisition of English by foreigners, and vice versa. At present, English people and foreigners have to learn each other's languages almost entirely by eye, unless thoroughly taught by a native, and consequently are utterly at a loss when brought face to face with the spoken language - in fact, they have to learn the same language twice over. Thus when a German sees the English written word right he easily associates it with his own recht, as also the English name with the German name, but when he hears the genuine rait and neim, he is thrown completely off the scent. Conversely, when an Englishman comes across the German knie for the first time, he at once thinks of his own knee, and naturally drops the k in the German word as well as in the English: if he were used to see the English word spelt nii, he would never think of dropping the k in German.

It will, of course, be urged by the advocates of historical spelling that the silent letters in right and knee are really valuable helps in acquiring the language. All this really amounts to is, that sixteenth century English bears a much closer resemblance to German than nineteenth-century English does, consequently that a German will learn the former more easily than the latter, and that an Englishman who knows sixteenth-century English will thereby learn German more easily. The practical result is, of course, that English has to be learnt twice over both by the English themselves and by foreigners. The worst of it is, that instead of learning the older stage of our language on an intelligent and systematic plan, we have it forced on us - whether we really want it or not - in the shape of a garbled and imperfect orthography, which, instead of giving us clear ideas of the language of the period it represents, only serves to hopelessly confuse our notions of our present language.

Of course the orthographies of most of the Continental languages require reform as well as English; French, especially, most urgently demands a thorough change. Indeed, there is no reason why foreigners should not learn French on a phonetic system, leaving the present French spelling to be acquired afterwards, even if the French themselves do not inaugurate a reform.

There are many significant facts in the pronunciation and spelling of English which show that the return to the Roman values of the vowels would not be by any means so violent a change as is generally supposed. Even without going beyond the commonest words in our vocabulary we have whole classes of words like machine, marine, oblique, antique, &c., in which long i retains its Roman value. In geographical names, such as Alabama, Chicago, Granada, Medina, Messina, the accented vowels all have the Roman values. In such names as Isaiah, Achaia, Cairo, the diphthong also has its strict analytical value. Indeed, the tendency is becoming stronger and stronger to retain as much as possible the native pronunciation of foreign names. The definite adoption of the Romic principle by the Indian government, and the reformed pronunciation of Latin, are all most important moves in the same direction.

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James Chandler 1998.