15.2388, Review: Lexicography/History of Ling: Beal (2002)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-15-2388. Wed Aug 25 2004. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 15.2388, Review: Lexicography/History of Ling: Beal (2002)

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Date:  Wed, 25 Aug 2004 12:08:57 -0400 (EDT)
From:  Kathleen Therese O'Connor-Bater <kto2 at columbia.edu>
Subject:  English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth Century

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Wed, 25 Aug 2004 12:08:57 -0400 (EDT)
From:  Kathleen Therese O'Connor-Bater <kto2 at columbia.edu>
Subject:  English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth Century

AUTHOR: Beal, Joan
TITLE: English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth Century
SUBTITLE Thomas Spence's 'Grand Repository of the English Language'
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2002 (paperback edition; hardback edition, 1999)
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-3252.html

Kathleen Therese O'Connor-Bater, SUNY, College at Old Westbury

Note on symbols:
[aw] represents open-o (mid-back round vowel);
[uh] represents caret (central vowel);
[wh] represents upside-down-w (voiceless bilabial glide)


The intention of this book is to make a strong case for the
contributions of eighteenth century Scottish social reformer Thomas
Spence (1750-1814) to the standardization of English pronunciation.
Contrary to the opinions held by many, there were significant changes
in Late Modern English (LNE) during the 18th Century, and Spence's
work is a key to understanding their nature and development. Best
known as an advocate for land reform and considered a radical in his
day, Spence held a heartfelt belief that success among the common
classes could only be achieved by their approximation of the dominant
London pronunciation system. This belief led him to devise a phonetic
script in which each sound is represented by a symbol. As a result of
this belief, he compiled a comprehensive pronouncing dictionary: the
Grand Repository of the English Language. In her book about this great
text, Joan Beal poses the question: ''how is it that such a radical
and innovative work as the Grand Repository has largely escaped the
attentions of historical phonologists, despite Abercrombie's
identification of Spence as a 'forgotten phonetician' worthy of
serious attention?'' (p. 12)


Joan Beal's book places Thomas Spence's Grand Repository of the
English Language (1775) within the context of the eighteenth century
land reforms throughout Britain. A social activist, Spence made his
primary concern that of inspiring the uneducated urban poor as well as
all provincials to improve their social and economic lot by emulating
the pronunciation of the London elite. Specifically, Spence developed
two 'plans': the first called for land proprietary rights for common
people; and the second, to which he devoted his remaining years,
sought to reform the English spelling system so that provincials could
learn to pronounce ''correctly'' by reading lexical items according to
a phonetic code.

In the first chapter, ''Thomas Spence: His Life and Works'', Beal
unearths the eighteenth century value placed on ''correct''
pronunciation in terms of attitudes. Citing Holmberg (1964), she notes
that in the eighteenth century, the snob value of good pronunciation
began to be recognized. During this time, the rising middle classes in
Britain were loath to betray what came to be called 'vulgar'
origins-'vulgar' being the label placed on the urban poor. During the
Industrial Revolution, those from the provinces who arose in economic
status feared being stigmatized for both 'vulgar' and 'provincial'
backgrounds. Thus, the demand for pronouncing dictionaries increased.

In Chapter 2, ''Eighteenth-Century English: The Cinderella of English
Historical Linguistics'', Beal addresses the problem of the scholarly
neglect of the Late Modern English (LNE) period of the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries. Citing Charles Jones' (1989), who dubbed this
period the ''Cinderella'' of English historical studies, Beal laments
that phonological studies in the period has been relegated to an even
lower level on the importance scale, calling it the ''Cinderella of
eighteenth century English''. She suggests that this neglect may be
due to the widespread irregularities in English pronunciation which
tends to inhibit systematic analyses such as can be done on the Great
Vowel Shift (p. 16); but asserts, that these very irregularities
reveal an interesting complexity which, in fact, provide insights into
the history of English. The chapter continues to survey important
works on the phonologies of the period including those developed by
Strang (1970), McKnight (1928), Schlauch (1959) and Wyld (1927) along
with others who acknowledge that too little significance has been
attributed to LNE pronunciations, and who recognize socio-cultural
factors in sound changes and allowing that the changes may have been
gradual thus facilitating a more interesting study.

Chapter 3, ''Evidence for Eighteenth-Century Pronunciation: The Value
of Pronouncing Dictionaries'' cites the dictionaries of Walker (1791),
Sheridan (1780), and Burn (1786) and frames the question of whether
the various pronouncing dictionaries of the eighteenth century can be
useful tools for the historical phonologist; to this Beal answers
soundly ''yes''. Beal discusses evidence in terms of being ''direct''
or ''indirect''; direct evidence being that which is provided by
public statements about the language made by orthoepists, grammarians
and elocutionists of the day; and indirect evidence being that which
is found in spellings, rhymes, and puns (p. 37). She gives examples
using texts well known in the present day to provide interesting
questions, if not answers. A passage from ''A Midsummer Night's
Dream'' suggests that the words ''tongues'' and ''wrongs'' might have
contained the same vowel, since they were expected to rhyme, although
the determination of the vowel in ''correct'' pronunciation as [aw] or
[uh] is subject to discussion. For example:

You spotted snakes with double tongues
Thorny hedge-hogs, be not seen;
Newts and blind-worms, do no wrong;
Come not near our fairy queen.

According to Beal, the irregularities should not pose grave problems
to contemporary analysis, since, she notes, even the Great Vowel Shift
leaves residues of irregular forms which must be discussed
independently of predictable phonological patterns.

Chapters 4, ''Spence's Grand Repository of the English Language'' and
5, ''The Phonology of Eighteenth-Century English: Evidence from
Spence's Grand Repository and Contemporary Pronouncing Dictionaries''
contain the bulk of Beal's analysis of Spence's work and its
significance for contemporary scholarship. In Chapter 4, Beal offers
some reasons for Spence's system of notation referring to his work as
the first 'phonetic' dictionary, meaning that the ''one sound = one
spelling'' system of correlations is established. In 4.2, A facsimile
of the table form the Grand Repository, titled ''The New Alphabet''
(Fig. 4.1) is given together with a discussion of the sound symbol
correspondence with present day received pronunciation (RP). 4.3
suggests that Spence's ''New Alphabet'' might be characterized more
for its value as a phonemic system than as a system of spelling
reform, since his goal is primarily that of facilitating ''correct''
pronunciation, leading one to believe that spoken communication was of
greater concern to Spence than was orthography. 4.3 also contains
Table 4.1 on which Spence's symbols are given alongside the
pronunciation word list from J. C. Wells's ''Accents of English''
(1982) and the corresponding RP symbols.

Chapter 5 provides a detailed comparison of wordlists found in the
Grand Repository comparing them to equivalent entries found in Walker
(1791), Sheridan (1780), and Burn (1786) (and Johnston (1764) who
substitutes for Sheridan in 5.2 since he does not recognize the fourth
sound of 'a' (/a/) as discussed in that section). Beal chose these
three dictionaries believing that their authors would account for
lexical, geographical, and social diffusion of sound changes in
progress at the time. Walker was a 'self-styled' authority, Burn was a
Scot, and Sheridan is referenced in the Grand Repository. The study in
Chapter 5 examines the data in terms of three criteria: 1)that there
is evidence that the sound changes were still diffusing; 2) that the
variability was 'salient' (in the sense of Labov 1966); 3) the sound
changes would be characteristic of the eighteenth century in that they
represent a shift from the Early Modern English or a contrast from RP.
The analysis is applied to the following changes: lengthening of ME
/a/; splitting of ME /U/ (foot); later shortening of ME /o:/; yod-
dropping; unstressed vowels; weakening and/or loss of word final and
preconsonantal /r/; loss of initial /h/; and the merger of /wh/ [wh]
and /w/.

Chapter 6, the ''Conclusion'', contains a brief overview of the book
as well as some suggestions for further work. The chapter ends with
some closing remarks. In the ''Conclusion'', Beal underscores the need
for this work to be carried on, noting her own regret to have merely
'scratched the surface' in the analysis of the vast linguistic shifts
that took place during this period.

Following the chapters, Appendices 1 through 10 (pp. 187-225) provide
numerous wordlists (Appendix 2 goes from 2a through d; 3 runs from a
to b; 5 runs a to b; 6, a to d and 7, a to b), beginning with some
sample output from the Oxford Concordance Program (OCP), then plowing
through each sound given by Spence (there are 4 varieties of 'Open A',
for example). The lists give the entry from the Grand Repository, then
offer the corresponding entries given by Walker, Johnson, Burn (and
Sheridan where available) as well as a rendition according to RP.


In this erudite work on the Grand Repository of the English Language,
Joan Beal raises the readers' awareness of the importance of Spence's
work to the contemporary analysis of Late Modern English. Aside from
being a rigorous work in historical phonetics, the book provides a
wealth of historical information about the language of the period and
the English speakers who cared deeply about the way they spoke their
language. While each chapter is a solid work able to stand in its own
right, the continuity of the chapters makes for a cohesive corpus. The
argument that Spence's work-- as well as other studies of eighteenth
century English--have not been given adequate attention by historical
linguists and that they should to be, is a convincing one. Beal has
established this both rationally and empirically.

The observations I would offer fall into two categories: the first
regards the question of the intended audience for the book and the
organization of two chapters; the second addresses Beal's criticism of
phonologists' neglect of eighteenth century English.

I note, for example, the absence of a preface or author's statement
addressing the book to an appropriate audience. I think it would be
perfectly acceptable to inform readers, at the beginning, exactly who
will benefit from which parts of the book. In general, the book is
accessible to the educated layperson; with the exception of Chapter 5,
for which the reader is expected to have some knowledge of the
phonological processes. In addition to historical linguists, the book
will be a valuable resource for those in the theatre as well as others
interested in the sounds of English during the eighteenth century
which corresponds to the time of the American Revolution. (Some might
want to know, for example, how English was pronounced in the Colonies,
and how far it had ''diffused'' from the British variants.) To make
the work more accessible to an extended readership, abbreviations and
linguistic terms, although defined elsewhere, might be explained in a
footnote, or defined in a glossary.

Each of the chapters reflects a great deal of research, and is very
comprehensive. I think, however, that the information presented from
beginning to end could be better organized. For example, Chapter 3,
''Evidence for Eighteenth-Century Pronunciation: The Value of
Pronouncing Dictionaries'' jumps into the discussion of whether
pronouncing dictionaries are useful for scholars. It is not until
Chapter 4, ''Spence's Grand Repository of the English Language'', that
we find out which dictionaries specifically are to be compared to the
''Grand Repository''. If the discussion of the specific dictionaries
were presented first, I think it would make for an easier reading of
Chapter 3. Next, Chapter 5 is titled: The Phonology of Eighteenth
Century English: Evidence from Spence's Grand Repository and
Contemporary Pronouncing Dictionaries. I find it tasking to topicalize
the information I expect to read in these chapters with such heavily
worded titles. Abridging the chapter titles would enable the reader to
identify the content of the chapters more generally within the context
of the book as a whole, rather than demanding attention to such a
narrow focus more appropriate for journal articles or dissertations.

As far as the second point I want to address, I will first vigorously
agree with Beal's call for more descriptive study of the English of
this period. I fear, however, that a true phonological study will not
be possible without recorded speech samples. It seems to me that the
task of the phonologist is to posit rules which illustrate the
phonological processes involved in the diffusion of speech sounds, not
only within independent lexical specimens, but also to determine the
allophonic distribution of sounds within their phonetic environments.
Dictionaries enable us to document pronunciation conventions and to
prescriûe standards, but they will not likely give the rule for the
distribution, say, of the /t/ as aspirated, unreleased, or occlusive
when found in word-initial, word-final, or following a sibilant-- let
alone to describe its systematic cross-over to another phoneme, such
as is the case with the geminated 't', which, in my dialect, becomes a
tapped [r] (nor, as far as I could tell from the samples in Beal's
book, does Spence.) In Spence's Grand Repository, most of the
attention is given to the correct pronunciation of vowels, with
consonants largely ignored. On page 97, for example, we have a listing
of Spence's ''New Alphabet'' showing 4 varieties for the 'a', 2 for
the 'e', 2 for the 'o', 2 for the 'u', 3 for the 'w'; but only 1 for
the 'k', 't', and 'p', all of which might present significant
indicators of native versus non-native speakers in contemporary
English. Beal does discuss, of course, some of the processes applied
to consonants which are analyzed in Chapter 5, but most of these occur
at morpheme breaks -- such as to the /t/ /d/ or /s/ before [+ure], as
in 'adventure', 'procedure' and 'pleasure', but, more for the purpose
of showing vowel lengthening.

Finally, I would like to offer an esthetic suggestion --admittedly
unorthodox for a linguistics review-- to the production department of
the book's publisher. English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth Century:
Thomas Spence's 'Grand Repository' of the English Language, is not
only an informative cataloging of English the way it was spoken during
an exciting period in British history, but it is also the story of a
book, published in the eighteenth century, which, as the author
informs us, was very important in its time. We also learn form the
author's research that there are only two known copies of the book
that survive.  In Beal's book, there are copies of two fragments from
the original text in the book, the first, on the unnumbered page 2 and
the second pasted into page 81. For my part, I would like to see
several pages of photographs of the original, perhaps as an insert,
where there might be additional portions of the original text, or
photographs of the museums in which the copies are housed, as a visual
reference. This would not only provide a pleasant graphic, but would
assist the reader not familiar with the RP in understanding Spence's
intention and may even stimulate further interest in Spence's work.


Abercrombie, C. C. (1965). Studies in Phonetics and Linguistics.
(London: Oxford University Press)

Burn, J. (1786). A Pronouncing Dictionary of the English Language,
(2nd ed., Glasgow: Alex, Adam for the Author and James Duncan; 1st
ed., 1777)

Holmberg, B. (1964). On the concept of standard English and the
history of modern pronunciation. (Lund: Gleerup).

Johnston, W. (1794). Pronouncing and Spelling Dictionary. (London: The

Jones, Charles (1989). A History of English Phonology. (London:

Labov, W. (1966). The Social Stratification of English in New York
City. (Washington: Center for Applied Linguistics)

McKnight, G. H. (1928). Modern English in the Making. (New York: Dover

Schlauch, M. (1959) The English Language in Modern Times (since 1400).
(Warsaw: Panstwowe Widawnistwo Naukowe)

Sheridan, T. (1780) A General Dictionary of the English Language.
(London: R & J Dodsley, C. Dilly, and J. Wilkie)

Strang, B. M. H. (1970). A History of English. (London: Methuen)

Walker, J. (1791). A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary (London: G. G. J.
and J. Robinson, and T. Cadell)

Wells, J. C. (1982). Accents of English. (3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press)

Wyld, H. C. (1927). A Short History of English (3rd Edition, London:
Murray; 1st Edition, 1914)


Kathleen Therese O'Connor-Bater is a Romance linguist who has
published in the area of cognitive semantics, and has a paper
forthcoming in the area of sound-sense correspondence. She has also
presented several papers on metaphor and poetics. She revised and
updated the Random House Dictionary of Latin American Spanish-English
(2000). She has taught at Houghton College and Princeton
University. In the Fall, 2004, she will begin a position in Spanish
and French at SUNY College at Old Westbury.


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