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Thursday, August 13, 2015
*WEBSTER'S New AMERICAN DICTIONARY 1959 BOOKS, INC. NEW YORK
VII Pronunciation, the Personal Magnet
A detailed KEY TO PRONUNCIATION appears in the front of this book.
"Pronunciation," as the eminent American lexicographer Dr. Joseph Emerson
Worcester once noted, "is in a great measure arbitrary." It changes with changing
times, and it varies with locality. "Tea" was once quite generally pronounced "tay."
"Bath" has different a values in New England and in the Midwest. In Dr. Worces-
ter's time the best British usage was considered standard. Today we of America
have standards of our own.
What Is Standard?
New England, the south, the Middle West, and the Far West have regional char-
acteristics in speech as in custom. But RADIO is increasingly a factor of standardiza-
tion. It promotes an unplanned movement toward uniformity, and thus tends,
slowly but effectively, to establish a national standard.
No dictionary can set an imperative standard. The function of the dictionary is
not to dictate, but to reflect the best usage. Whether you shall say secreta'ry or sec'retry
is for none but yourself to decide. But the dictionary is the best and most important
medium for attaining correct knowledge of the principles and practice of good
Correct pronunciation is important in just about the same way that good clothes
are. You can get along without it, but you will get along much better with it. Indi-
cation of correct pronunciation is one of the principal services rendered by the
Mechanics of Speech
Consider, first, these general underlying principles of pronunciation :
A vowel sound may be continued at leisure, or it may be terminated either by
discontinuing the vocal effort, in which case it is not articulated by an consonant,
as in pronouncing the vowel o, or by changing the conformation of the mouth or
relative position of the organs of speech, so that the vowel sound is lost by aticula-
tion, as in pronouncing the syllable on.
In pronouncing consonants there are five distinguishable positions of the speech
The FIRST is the application of the lips to each other, so as to close the mouth.
Thus are formed the consonants p, b, and m.
In the SECOND position the under lip is applied to the fore teeth of the upper jaw,
and in this manner we pronounce the consonants f and v.
The THIRD position is used when the tongue is applied to the fore teeth, and thus
we pronounce th. (Th in thin is voiceless; th in this is slightly voiced.)
In the FOURTH position we apply the fore part of the tongue to the fore part of
the palate, and by this application we pronounce the letters t, d, s, z, r, l, n.
The FIFTH position is taken when the middle part of the tongue is applied to the
palate, and thus we pronounce k, the hard sound of g (as in go), sh, j, and ng.
Consonants, Perfect and Imperfect
In the first position we have three letters, of which the most simple, and indeed
the only articulative one, being absolutely mute isp. In the formation of this letter
nothing is required but the sudden closing of the mouth and stopping the vowel sound.
B, though justly considered as a mute is not a perfect mute. The mouth being
kept in the same position, and the breadth being emitted through the nostrils, the
letter m is produced.
In the first position, therefore, we have a perfect mute p, having no audible
value; a labial and liquid consonant m, capable of a continued sound, and between
these two extremes the letter b, somewhat audible though different from any vocal
In the second position we have the letters f and v, neither of which is a perfect
The letter f is formed by having the aspiration not altogether interrupted, but
emitted forcibly between the fore teeth and the under lip. If to this we join the
guttural sound we shall have the letter v, a letter standing in nearly the same rela-
tion to f as b and m in the first position stand to p.
Thus we have four distinctions of consonants in our alphabet, namely of perfect
and imperfect consonants, perfect and imperfect mutes--p being a perfect mute,
having no sound; b an imperfect mute, having proper sound, but limited; m a per-
fect consonant, having sound and continuance, and f an imperfect consonant, having
These elementary observations on the mechanics of speech should be useful to
the dictionary user in indicating the NATURE of the studies on which dictionary aid
to pronunciation is based.
The American Way
The scientific analysis of speech sounds on which dictionary editors expend much
tedious but useful effort has to be translated into simplest terms to meet the Amer-
ican dictionary user's reasonable demand for simplicity plus accuracy plus speed.
The plain person may, and often does, pronounce the g in orgy as he pronounces
the same letter in organ. It is not necessary to expatiate for his benefit on the whole
puzzling field of sounds of g. All the necessary or desired is to indicate that the
word is pronounced with soft g ; that is, the sound of j : as it it were spelled orjy.
So in this book (see Key to Pronunciation) g is used, in pronunciations, only where
it has the hard sound, as in go, and j is used to represent the soft sound, as of the g
26 Letters, 40 Sounds
The method of indicating pronunciations in this book is faster than that followed
in most dictionaries, because the system is LESS ELABORATE.
In common everday speech forty or more different sounds are used. As we have
only twenty-six letters in the alphabet, some letters have to do extra duty.
This Dictionary is not published by the original pub-
lishers of Webster's Dictionary, or by their successors
B O O K S , I N C .
COPYRIGHT, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1944, 1947 BY BOOKS, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED UNDER THE INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT CONVENTION OF PAN-AMERICAN REPUBLICS PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA BY THE COLONIAL PRESS INC., CLINTON, MASS.