…when we are come this Length from London, the Dialect of the Enghsh Tongue, or the Country-way of expressing themselves, is not easily understood. It is die same in many Parts of England besides, but in none in so gross a Degree as in this Part. As this Way of boorish Speech is in Ireland called, “The Brogue upon the Tongue,” so here it is named Jouring. It is not possible to explain this fully by Writing, because the Difference is not so much in the Orthography, as in the Tone and Accent; their abridging the Speech, Cham, for I am; Chil, for I will; Don, for do on, or put on; and Dojf, for do off, or put off; and the like.
Continuing, Defoe tells of a pupil reading aloud from the Bible.
I sat down by the Master, till the Boy had read it out, and observed the Boy read a little oddly in the tone of the Country, which made me the more attentive; because, on Inquiry, 1 found that the Words were the same, and the Orthography the same, as in all our Bibles. I observed also the Boy read it out with his Eyes still on the Book, and his Head, like a mere Boy, moving from Side to Side, as the Lines reached cross the Columns of the Book: His Lesson was in the Canticles of Solomon; the Words these; ‘I have put off my Coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my Feet; how shall I defile them?’ The Boy read thus, with his Eyes, as I say, full on the Text: ‘Chav a doffed my Coot; how shall I don’t? Chav a washed my Feet; how shall I moil ’em?’ How the dexterous Dunce could form his Mouth to express so readily the Words (which stood right printed in the Book) in his Country Jargon, I could not but admire.
(First published 1724-27; cited from Tucker, 61-62.)
Defoe’s astonishment that his “dexterous Dunce” read aloud in a “Country Jargon” reveals his view of the relationship between writing and speaking—for example, about which one should be based on which.
Describe Defoe’s conception of the relationship between spelling and pronunciation as revealed in this anecdote. Did he think spellings should be independent of local pronunciations?
In relation to this anecdote, Defoe tries to point out how the tone of a particular dialect could differentiate the process of understanding that people may have on a common passage they may know of. For instance, the passage read here was from the bible. It should have been easy to understand on Defoe’s part, but because of the boy’s natural accent, the sound of the words became different; thus technically changing the meaning of the term. In a way, he suggests that in relation to the tone of the native tongue, words ought to be changed accordingly so as to make a difference on the message of a particular passage.
If written English is to be relatively uniform across regional dialects, is it possible to have a standardized spelling system that matches pronunciation in all regions? Explain and give examples to support your answer.
As mentioned by Defoe, the writing is not the problem but the pronunciation. Perhaps, even though the words would be spelled the same throughout all the regions, the pronunciation problem would still occur. Relatively, as noted from the example, the abridging of the words makes it all difficult to understand [e.g. “I am” read as Cham]…Hence, to be able to fix the problem, it would best be fitting to find an easier pattern of English that is translated to fit the tone of the local regions thus allowing them to understand the passages they read in a more effective manner as the words are able to match their tone and their accent.
If, as Defoe wished, spelling and pronunciation were to be uniform, across the English-speaking world, what would have to change-spelling, pronunciation, or both? How practical would this be?
Spelling is the primary matter that should be changed. Matching up the accent and tone of the locals with the words they read shall provide a more comprehensive source of understanding the patterns of language presented to them in writing. Teaching them how to pronounce words properly is also an effective approach although this would require more time and effort as it would involve directly teaching the people, instead of just changing the terms that could match up with the tone of their current dialect.
Imagine the English spelling system were changed so that spelling varied from region to region to reflect local pronunciation. How feasible would such a change be, and would the consequences be positive or negative? (Consider these questions: Even if a dictionary noted different spellings, which region’s spellings would be used in newspapers and for laws, tax records, and information on how to use medicines and assemble bicycles?)
The changing of the spelling system according to the accent and tone of the regional divisions might indeed cause confusions if the written documents reach the wrong destinations. Relatively though, with ample care given to the distribution of such documents on the right regions, such problems could be changed. Besides, the change imposed here is not just the spelling, but the word itself hence making it easier for the local members of the community to understand what the English term tends to send as a message.
Defoe claimed the boy was both “dexterous” and a “Dunce.” In what way was he dexterous? Does his dexterity indicate he was a dunce or an accomplished reader? Why?
Although it was not that easy to understand the boy’s pronunciation of the English language he was reading because of the way he abridges the words together, Defoe noted how such terms would be easier to understand if he was reading to his own local community. They would have a better sense of understanding the passages as they do have the same tone and accent that he does.
Identify at least four ways the patterns of capitalization and punctuation in the early eighteenth century differ from the familiar patterns of today. What advantages do you see in today’s system over the earlier one? What advantages did the earlier system have over today’s?
Old English spellings are easier to read and understand across the regions specifically because of the fact that they utilize common letters [th and sh] that are easier to pronounce no matter what tone and accent a particular region has based on their natural dialect.