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When I was a boy I was much impressed by the old, old story of the Frenchman's difficulty in learning to read our language. He was told that r-o-u-g-h was pronounced ruf. “Then," said he,

C-o-u-g-h is cuf, and p-l-o-u-g-h is pluf, and d-o-u-g-h is duf, and t-h-r-o-u-g-h is thruf.” He was told in reply, however, that C-O-u-g-h was not cuf but cof; that p-l-o-u-g-h was neither pluf nor plof, but plow; that d-o-u-g-h was neither duf nor dof nor dow, but doe; and that t-h-r-o-u-g-h was neither thruf nor throf nor throu nor throe, but throo. I thought that these words were fair specimens of English, and jumped to the conclusion that our language was a mighty maze absolutely without a plan - a product of Babel. I did not stop to think (if indeed I knew at the time) that Babel antedated the beginnings of English speech by many centuries. Frequent references by older people to words containing ough, confirmed me year by year in the opinion that the English language was the most arbitrarily unreasonable sort of speech of which man could conceive.

When I became a teacher, I looked with complacency upon the custom of teaching English words after the South Carolina method of cooking rice, — with each grain standing out by itself. I early learned that, in the schools of Continental Europe, children were taught the sounds that each letter or diphthong represented, and were then required to find out the words for themselves, but I inveighed against any attempt to teach English in this manner on account of our absolutely arbitrary spelling, as I thought.

I shall endeavor to show that any such opinion is erroneous, and has been arrived at through hasty generalization from few particulars, and that about ninety per cent of our words can be taught by sound, and that thus a great burden can be lifted from the minds of English speaking children, and much valuable time can be saved. I have gathered into groups every word which is found in a standard series of American school Readers, from the first to the fifth inclusive.

The list comprises 6002 words.

THE DIPHTHONGS. The English dighthongs should be taught as the diphthongs of other languages. The two vowels of a diphthong represent one sound : e. 9., oa in boat. It is, we think, inadvisable to draw a macron over each o and a dagger through each a in order to teach children such words as boat, coat, float, goat, etc.

THE DIPHTHONG AY. This is found in our list in 44 words. In every instance it represents the long a sound, with the single exception of the word says.

THE DIPHTHONG AW. This is found in 25 words. In every instance it represents the aw sound heard in saw, with the single exception of the word St. Lawrence.

THE DIPHTHONG AI. This is found in 132 words. In 124, it represents the long a sound. The eight other words are : said, again, against, aisle, captain, curtain, certain, chieftain.

THE DIPHTHONG AU. This is found in 45 words. In 37, it represents the aw sound. The remaining eight are: laugh, laughed, launched, Chevaux-de Frise, Esquimau, draughts, aunt, craunching.

THE DIPHTHONG AE. This is found in but one word,- aerie.

THE DIPHTHONG EE. This is found in 134 words. In 129, it represents the long e sound. The five remaining words are: been, coffee, cheerful, Beethoven, melee,- the last two being words taken directly from foreign languages.

THE DIPHTHONG EW. This is found in 29 words. In 15, it represents the long u sound. In 13 words it represents a kindred sound (that of o in move), because of the difficulty of uttering the long u sound after l, r, or j. In one word, sew, it represents the long o sound.

THE DIPHTHONG EY This is found in 24 words. Where it falls in an accented syllable it represents the long a sound. Where it falls in an unaccented syllable it represents the short i sound, on account of the general tendency to slight unaccented syllables.

THE DIPHTHONGS EI, EO, EU. These three diphthongs are found altogether in but 41 words. They represent so many different sounds that they would give considerable trouble but for the fact that they are met with in school very rarely, — only about eight times a year — allowing five years for the five reading books.

THE DIPHTHONG EA. This is found in 213 words. It represents the long e sound in 131 words,-nearly two-thirds of the whole number. sents the short e sound in 56 words ; in nearly one-half of these before d, as head, steady, ready. In 11 words it represents the er sound, in each case before r. In six words it represents the Italian a sound, in each case before r. In nine words it represents the long a sound, in five cases before r.

It repre


This is found 113 times. As a rule, where it falls in the accented syllable it represents the long i sound. Where it falls in the unaccented syllable it represents the short i sound, on account of the tendency, already alluded to, to slight the unaccented syllable. In 27 words it represents the long e sound; in two words, friend and chieftain - it represents the short e sound.

THE DIPHTHONG OA. This is found in 56 words. In 53, it represents the longo sound. The three remaining words are broad, broadside and broadsword.

THE DIPHTHONG OI. This is found in 41 words. In 39, it represents the sound heard in oil. The two remaining words are reservoirs and tortoise.

THE DIPHTHONG OY. This is found in 15 words. In every word it represents the sound heard in boy.

THE DIPHTHONG OE. This is found in 21 words. In 17, it represents the longo sound. The four remaining words are shoes, does, Phoebus, Phoenician.

THE DIPHTHONG OW. This is found 99 times. In 56, it represents the long o sound; in 42, it represents the sound heard in cow ; in one,- knowledge — it represents the short o sound.


This is found 119 times. In 82 words it represents the sound heard in coo; in 31, it represents the sound heard in wood (in 28 words of this class the oo being followed by d or k); in four words, blood, blood vessels, flood, flood-tide-it represents the short u sound; in two words,- floor and door — it represents the longo sound.

THE DIPHTHONG OU. This is found 228 times. Because it represents as many as eight different sounds, even though many of these are rarely met with, not a few teachers have felt justified in spending four years of the precious time of childhood, and four years of salaries, in giving children a working knowledge of a few thousand English words which can easily be taught in two years.

The most common words containing ou have the sound heard in out. Seventy-four words of this class are found. In 101 words ou represents the short u sound. Most of the words of this class are long adjectives like ponderous, populous, etc.

About 80 per cent of all the words containing ou belong to these two classes. In 21 words ou represents the long o sound. In about two-thirds of these the ou is followed by r. In 12 words ou represents the sound of oo in coo. In nine words ou represents the sound of aw in law — invariably before ght. In six words, could, would, should, cousin, bivouac, silhouette — ou represents the sound of 00 in wood. In four words - courtesy, journey, journal, scourged ou represents the sound of e in her. In one word, - cough-ou represents the short o sound.

THE TRIPHTHONGS. Triphthongs occur so rarely that they do not merit an extensive notice. They are found altogether but 12 times, and in the following words: beautiful, beauteous, plateau, eye, eyes, eyelid, adieu, lieutenant, Richelieu, interview, viewless, Coeur.


A, E, I, O, U, Y.

I. THE SOUNDS REPRESENTED BY A. These sounds, with few exceptions which will presently be noticed, may be placed in four groups :

1. The sound heard in cap.

2. The sound heard in gate. 3. The sound heard in farm. 4. The sound heard in ball.


This so-called short sound of a is found 1428 times.

2. THE SOUND HEARD IN GATE. This so-called long sound of a is found 496 times. In 291 of these words the syllable containing long a is followed by silent e, which has generally the effect of lengthening a preceding vowel. If to such words we add the words containing ing and tion

99 in number - we find 390 words, out of a total of 476, or 82 per cent, with a sign that makes the determination of this sound of a an easy matter. In the great majority of the remaining words, long a is found at the end of an accented syllable, as in lady and vacant.

3. THE SOUND HEARD IN FARM. This Italian sound of a is found 207 times. In 165 words, or 80 per cent, it is found before the letter r, as in army, bark, party. The remaining 42 words are troublesome. Some of them are foreign words, and many others are not infrequently mispronounced by intelligent adults.

In 60 words (as beggar, dollar, standard), the regular sound of ar is shortened into er. In all such cases, the ar comes at or near the end of the word, and is thus clipped, so to speak, on account of the unwillingness of the speaker to keep the mouth open long enough to produce the Italian a sound before proceeding to the next word.

4. THE SOUND HEARD IN BALL. The broad sound of a is found in 60 words. In 42 the a is followed by l; in all the others, except wrath, it is preceded by w.,

RARE SOUNDS OF A. The letter a represents the short sound of o in 24 words, as in wash, wand, what. In every case the a is preceded by a w sound.

In three words,- any, many, orange - a represents the short sound of e.

SILENT A. This is found four times : in miniature, carriage, Pharaoh, victual.

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