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Orthography treats of letters, syllables, separate words, and spelling.


1.-LETTERS. A letter is an alphabetic mark, or character, commonly representing some elementary sound of a word.

An elementary sound of a word, is a simple or primary sound of the human voice, used in speaking.

The sound of a letter is commonly called its power: when any letter of a word is not sounded, it is said to be silent or mute.

The letters in the English alphabet are twenty-six; the elementary sounds in the language are about thirty-six.

A knowledge of the letters consists in an acquaintance with their names, their classes, their powers, and their forms.

The letters are printed, written, or otherwise represented in a variety of forms. The following are the four chief modes of representation :


1. Roman : A a, B b, C c, D d, Ee, F f, G g, H h, Ii, J j, K k, L 1, M m, N n, O o, P p, Q q, R r, S s, T t, U u, V v, Ww, X x, Y y, Z z. 2. Italic: A a, Bb, CC, D d, Ee, Ff, G g, H h, I i,

C c , J j, K k, 1 l, Mm, N n, O 0, PP, Q , R r, S s, T t, UU, Vv, Ww, X X, Y y,

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E e,

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3. Script : et a, BB, C, D d, E F f. Gg, H h, If i fj. He k, L l, ell m, N n,


S. Jt, U u, V , Ww,

4. Old English : A a, B b, C , D d, E é, Ff, G g, fj h, I i, I j, k k, £ 1, M m, N n, O o, P p, Q 4, B r, Ś s, T i, u u, v v, w w, X X, Y y, Z Z.


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Y y,


Names of the Letters.

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The names of the letters, as now commonly spoken and written in English, are A, Bee, Cee, Dee, E, Ef, Gee, Aitch, I, Jay, Kay, EU, Em, En, 0, Pee, Kue, Ar, Ess, Tee, U, Vee, Double-u, Ex, Wy, Zee.

OBS. 1.-The names of the letters, as expressed in the modern languages, are mostly framed with reference to their powers, or sounds. Yet is there in English no letter of which the name is always identical with its power; for A, E, I, O, and U, are the only letters which can name themselves, and all these have other sounds than those which their names express.

OBS. 2.-Those letters which name themselves, take for their names those sounds which they usually represent at the end of an accented syllable; thus the names, A, E, I, O, U, are uttered with the sounds given to the same letters in the first syllables of the other names, Abel, Enoch, Isaac, Obed, Urim ; or in the first syllables of the common words, paper, penal, pilot, potent, pupil. The other letters, most of which can never be perfectly sounded alone, have names in which their powers are combined with other sounds more vocal; as, Bee, Cee, Dze,-EU, Em, En, -Jay, Kay, Kue. But, in this respect, the terms Aitch and Double-u are irregular; because they have no obvious reference to the powers of the letters thus named.

OBs. 3–Letters, like all other things, must be learned and spoken of by their names ; yet, as the simple characters are better known and more easily exhibited than their written names, the former are often substituted for the latter, and are read as the words for which they are assumed.

OBS. 4.-The letters, once learned, may be used unnamed ; and so are they always used, except in oral spelling, or when some of their own number are to be particularized.


Classes of the Letters.

The letters are divided into two general classes, vowels and consonants.

A vowel is a letter which forms a perfect sound when uttered alone; as, a, e, o.

A consonant is a letter which cannot be perfectly uttered till joined to a vowel; as, b, c, d.

The vowels are a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes w and y. All the other letters are consonant.

W or y is called a consonant when it precedes a vowel heard in the same syllable; as in wine, twine, whine ; ye, yet, youth : in all other cases, these letters are vowels; as in newly, dewy, eye-brow; Y'ssel, Ystadt, yttria.

Classes of Consonants.

The consonants are divided into semivowels and mutes.

A semivowel is a consonant which can be imperfectly sounded without a vowel, so that at the end of a syllable its sound may be protracted; as, l, n, 2, in al, an, az.

A mute is a consonant which cannot be sounded at all without a vowel, and which at the end of a syllable suddenly stops the breath; as, k, p, t, in ak, ap, at.

The semivowels are f, h, j, l, m, n, r, s, V, W, X, Y, Z, and c and

g soft: but w or y at the end of a syllable, is a vowel ; and the sound of c, f, g, h, j, s, or x, can be protracted only as an aspirate, or strong breath.

Four of the semivowels,-1, m, n, and r,- care termed liquids, on account of the fluency of their sounds; and four others, V, W, y, and z--are likewise more vocal that the aspirates.

The mutes are eight; b, d, k, p, q, t, and c and g hard : three of these,-k, 9, and c hard--sound exactly alike: b, d, and g hard, stop the voice less suddenly than the rest.

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Obs. 1.— The foregoing division of the letters is of very great antiquity, and, in respect to its principal features, sanctioned by almost universal authority. Aristotle, three hundred and thirty years before Christ, divided the Greek letters into vowels, semivouels, and mutes, and declared that no syllable could be formed without a vowel. Some modern writers, however, not well satisfied with this ancient distribution of the elements of learning, have contradicted the Stagirite, and divided both sounds and letters into new classes, with various new names. Dr. Rush, author of “the Philosophy of the Human Voice,” resolves the letters into “tonics, subtonics, and atonics ; ” and avers that “consonants alone may form syllables." Other authors have used the terms rocals, subvocals, and aspirates in classifying the elementary sounds.

OBS. 2. -Certain consonants or consonantal sounds are often distinguished in pairs, by way of contrast with each other, the one being called flat and the other sharp : as, b and p; d and t; g hard and k; j and ch; v and f; th flat and th sharp ; 2 and sharp 8; zh and sh. These, with reference to each other, are sometimes termed correlatives or cognates.

Powers of the Letters.

The powers of the letters are properly those elementary sounds which their figures are used to represent; but letters formed into words are capable of communicating thought independently of sound.

The vowel sounds which form the basis of the English language, and which ought therefore to be perfectly familiar to every one who speaks it, are those which are heard at the beginning of the words, ate, at, ah, all, eel, ell, isle, ill, old, on, ooze, use, us, and that of u in bull.

In the formation of words or syllables, some of these fourteen primary sounds may be joined together, as in ay, oil, out, owl ; and all of them may be preceded or followed by certain motions and positions of the lips and tongue, which will severally convert them into other terms in speech. Thus the same essential sounds may be changed into a new series of words by an f; as, fate, fat, far, fall, feel, fell, file, fill, fold, fond, fool, fuse, fuss, full. Again, into as many more with a P ; as, pate, pat, par, pall, peel, pell, pile, pill, pole, pond, pool, pule, purl, pull.

The simple consonant sounds in English are twenty-two: they are marked by b, d, f, g hard, h, k, l, m, n, ng, p, r, s, sh, t, th sharp, th flat, v, w, y, z, and zh. But zh is written only to show the sound of other letters ; as of s in pleasure, or z in azure.

All these sounds are heard distinctly in the following words: buy, die, fie, guy, high, kie, lie, my, nigh, eying, pie, rye, sigh, shy, tie, thigh, thy, vie, we, ye, zebra, seizure. Again: most of them

may be repeated in the same word if not in the same syllable; as in bibber, diddle, fifty, giggle, high-hung, cackle, lily, mimic, ninny, singing, pippin, mirror, hissest, flesh-brush, tittle, thinketh, thither, vivid, witwal, union, dizzies, vision.

OBS. 1.—The possible combinations and mutations of the twenty-six letters of our alphabet are many millions of millions. But those clusters which are unpronounceable, are useless. Of such as may be easily uttered, there are more than enough for all the purposes of useful writing, or the recording of speech.

Thus it is, that from principals so few and simple as about six or seven and thirty plain elementary sounds, represented by characters still fewer, we derive such a variety of oral and written signs, as may suffice to explain or record all the sentiments and transactions of all men in all ages.

OBS. 2.—Different vowel sounds are produced by opening the mouth differently, and placing the tongue in a peculiar manner for each; but the voice may vary in loudness, pitch, or time, and still utter the same

vowel power.

OBS. 3.-Each of the vowel sounds may be variously expressed by letters. About half of them are sometimes words: the rest are seldom, if ever, used alone even to form syllables. But the reader may easily learn to utter them all, separately, according to the foregoing series. Let us note them as plainly as possible: eigh, ă, ah, awe, eh, è, eye, 1, oh, Ď, 00, yew, ŭ, û. Thus the eight long sounds, eigh, ah, awe, eh, eye, oh, ooh, yeu, are, or may be words; but the six less vocal, called the short vowel sounds, as in at, et, it, ot, ut, put, are commonly heard only in connection with consonants; except the first, which is perhaps the most frequent sound of the vowel A or a—a sound sometimes given to the word a, perhaps most generally; as in the phrase, "twice å day.”

OBS. 4.-With us, the consonants J and X represent, not simple, but complex sounds: hence they are never doubled. J is equivalent to dzh ; and x, either to ks or to gz. The former ends no English word, and the latter begins none.

To the initial X of foreign words, we always give the simple sound of Z; as in Xerxes, xeber.

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