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THE SOUND OF ER AND IR.
E, as in Err, Ear, as in Earth, Ir, as in Firm.
The true sound of e and i in this position is thus described by an English writer of repute :
“Er and ir are pronounced by unpolished speakers just like ur, as, indeed, in some common words, such as her, sir, &c., they are opronounced even by the most cultivated; but in words of less common occurrence, there is a medium between ur and air, which elegant usage has established, as the just utterance of e and i joined to the smooth r.
Mr. Gardiner, in his “Music of Nature,” says- 6 One of the most common sounds in our language is that of the vowel u, as in the word urn, or the diphthong ea, in the word earth, for which we have no character. Writers have made various efforts to express it, as in earth, berth, mirth, worth, turf, in which all the vowels are indiscriminately used in turn." And he adopts ea as the representative of this sound, in his notation.
There certainly is a tendency in English pronunciation to run this sound to each extreme - purfect and pairfect. Some pronounce it parfect. An affectation has been introduced, of giving the syllable the sound in English that it has in foreign languages, that is, to pronounce er, when followed by a consonant, with the same sound as when followed by a vowel, as in peril. The proper
sound of er in mercy is not ur, nor air, nor ehr, nor e' nor a'-- neither murcy, nor maircy, nor marcy, nor mehrcy, nor messy, nor massy.
The truth is, there is, among words having this syllable, a gradation of sounds, embracing every shade, from short e, as in heritage, to short u, as in her. Polished speakers acquire the correct and graceful pronunciation of these syllables by education. It is in vain to attempt to settle it by rule, or to make the gradations of sound by any form of notation or any uniform symbols. The very attempt of a speaker to give a uniform pronunciation to these syllables marks his want of thorough education, which leads him to adopt the rules of a dictionary-maker instead of relying on his own cultivated ear as a guide.
The best English speakers come the nearest to the sound of short
* The “Practice of Elocution," &c., by D. H. Smart. London, 1826, 8yo.
u, in pronouncing the greater part of these words, but without ever giving the coarse sound of ur to any of them.
The following table has been constructed for the purpose of illustrating these gradations of sound. The words are arranged with reference to the order of transition, aecording to the judgment of the compiler. But it is not probable that any two literary men would agree exactly with the table, or with each other, in the place assigned to each particular word. The utterance of any good speaker, however, listened to by a skilful ear, will afford confirmation of this view, in regard to the actual usage which ought to control the pronunciation of this syllable.
It ought to be observed, also, that the same speaker will give a different turn to many syllables, according to the feelings by which he is governed, or the tone he may adopt at the moment. Pronounce the phrase, “My friend, you have erred," in the tone of affectionate remonstrance; and then the phrase, “ Man, you have erred,” in the tone of indignant rebuke; and then the phrase, “ We have erred and strayed from thy ways,” in the tone of heart-broken penitence.
TABLE IN ER.
mirth myrrh murky
.sir terrace term
turtle very vermin virtue verse
invert wherry wherefore whir whirl whirlpool sterile sterling stern stir
stirrup kerchief kernel kerb kirk
curb personal impersonate pertinent impertinent terminate determinate interminable tertian servitude desertion serviceable sirloin infirmity firmament affirm
skirmish squirrel shirt hermetical hermeneutic herd
termination herdsman It would be a difficult matter for a person speaking or reading, to give to the er in all these cases the identical sound that it has in the first word, error. It could not be done without a continued and ungraceful effort to be precise such an effort as no educated person would exhibit, and such as no person could preserve through a whole speech.*
A polished speaker will modify and soften the sound of ur itself, in
many words; as blur, curl, world, &c. But none of these syllables, with a final, or r followed by a consonant, have the proper sound of short e, as in ferry.
THE SOUND OF A IN ARE.
A similar gradation of sounds takes place in the pronunciation of words in are, as care, fair, there, — requiring a nicety of distinction which can only be made by a delicate ear and organs trained to correctness in youth, and which no combination of letters or other form of notation can accurately express.
This sound is represented by some to be the same as of a in came, and by others the same as of a in can. Either mode, carried to the extreme, is hard and ungraceful. No well-bred speaker would give precisely the same sound to all these words — pair, pare, pear, parent, payer. Neither would any one give the same sound to a in pan, parrot, paradise, pare, par, parlor.
The true sound lies between long a and short a, as will be seen by watching the pronunciation of any thoroughly educated person, who is speaking entirely at ease and without constraint. Compare the following words:
age aeriform air
patter rain arrayer
rarify random patron parishioner parent paradise
pantry train betrayer tare tariff tattle weigher
wary waggish To sound these syllables like ee, or like ah, is decidedly wrong, as in keer, cheer, (for care, chair,) keerful, or carful, pah-rent.
In some * The fact that some words in the language are spelled sometimes with an i and sometimes with a u, as hirst, hurst, may be considered as indicating the relation of these sounds to each other.
parts of the country they go up stars to look at the stairs, and put up the bares to keep out the bars (bears.) Are is always pronounced ar.
There and were, when used as adverbs of place, are pronounced as if written with an a, as thare, ware. In other cases they have nearly the sound of e in wherry.
THE GRAVE SOUND OF A. The sound of a in words ending in ff, f, lf, lm, ss, sh, st, and gh, is given by some speakers as broadly as if it was written with an r, as staff, start. Others try to give it the simple short sound of a, as in man, stand. The true sound lies between the two, as any one will see by pronouncing the following words in an easy and natural
pasture surpassing stafford staff start
starved damper dance
martial There is an affectation in New England, which leads to the pronunciation of words in ar as if written air, as pairt, hairt, instead of the open, easy, natural, manly utterance, of part, heart. It makes one's throat ache to hear it, and that pronunciation is thought by some to be the cause of bronchitis among the clergy. But this may be a mere fancy.
LONG VOWEL FOLLOWED BY R. Most of the syllables of this class are capable of being pronounced as two syllables; as, pray-er, me-er, fi-er, sto-er, cu-er, flou-er. But the best speakers give the vowel so open a sound that it coalesces easily with the r and makes one compact sound. The beauty of this pronunciation was noticed in the singing of the famous Braham.
LONG U AND 00.
Writers are not agreed, and speakers are still less settled, in regard to the pronunciation of several words in u. There is no dispute as to the sound of long u in use, mule, and the same sound expressed by eu in neuter, by ew in ewe, pew, by ui in suit, by iew in view, and by eau in beauty. So it seems to be agreed by most modern lexicographers, that u long when it follows r, has always the sound of 00, as in rule, truth. But the best speakers are observed to modify this sound, into one more open than that of ew, but less open than 00.
Words in which u comes after I seem to be unsettled — the greater part having the sound of long u. After j, both u and ew incline to the sound of oo.
A few words in ru have the sound of u, as ferruginous, garrulity.
After all the other consonants, or when not preceded by a consonant, u and ew have generally the sound of long u.
SOUND OF LONG I, OF LONG U, AND OF OU.
Some have a pronunciation of long i, as if it was written oi, as foil for file. Others make it a complete diphthongal sound, as if written ah-ee. This is incorrect. It is only by an improper prolongation of the sound of i, that it is made a full diphthong.
There is a vulgar pronunciation of long u to be avoided. Some pronounce it as if it were written dee-uty, bee-utiful. The
proper sound of ou is not ah-oo, nor au-00, nor a'-ew, and not exactly uh-oo, though the latter combination comes the nearest to the true sound:
Care should be taken to avoid an affected or strained imitation of fine pronunciation. It is comparatively easy to acquire, but always marks a defective education.
There is a difficulty in acquiring a smooth and graceful pronunciation of the English language, from the circumstance that it does not admit of any elision of consonants, or any change of pronunciation, or any other expedients, which are allowed in other languages abounding like ours in consonants, for the purpose of preventing a hiatus, or softening harsh and disagreeable collisions of sound. Hence the importance of early training in articulation and pronunciation. It requires thorough cultivation to give the easy, graceful utterance of polished society.