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by imitation and custom, to those of an inferior order. 20 And though possibly, they, who had not the benefit of such regular instruction, might not be so critically exact in the use of those accents, as they who had, yet the difference was but small; and we are particularly assured, that in Athens, where oratory was at its highest pitch, the utterance of the lowest citizen was as correct, and his ear as pure, as those of the first class.
As the English have but one accent, so they have but one mark in writing to point it out; and this mark is one of those used in Greek books, as it is pretended, to point out their accents, though in reality they are quite insignificant. But as if there were some fatality, that every thing should contribute to puzzle this subject among the learned, our casually borrowing the mark of the acute accent from the Greek, has made T them, by an association of ideas, consider every accented syllable with us, as elevated, or pronounced in a higher note than the rest. So that had the grave instead of the acute been adopted to be our mark, they would upon the same principle, have considered all those syllables as depressed, or uttered in a lower note than the rest. But had we luckily pitched upon some mark of our own, which had no similitude to
any of the Greek accents, there never would have
=1 been the least question about high and low with regard
to those syllables, and the learned would have fallen
in of course with the general idea, that of its only marking the syllable on which the stress of the voice
is to be laid. For I think I may appeal to all my
hearers, whether upon any dispute about the pronunciation of a word, when the question is asked upon which syllable the accent ought to be laid, as, adver'tisement or advertisement, con'cordance or concórdance, it ever enters into their heads, that this question means, on which syllable the voice is to be raised; or whether they do not understand it to be, on which syllable we are to lay the greatest stress. Indeed the very term itself, the accent, shews we have but one, for had we more than one, they must be distinguished by different names as among the Greeks; and that one, I have clearly shewn to be a monotone, as before exemplified by the notes of a drum. The adventitious sense annexed to the term from adopting the ancient definition, has been the chief cause of the many errors and endless disputes upon this subject. But there have been also several other meanings annexed to this word, which have served to heighten the confusion. Sometimes it is used instead of emphasis; sometimes to express the different dialect in pronunciation; and sometimes the peculiar tone or brogue of different countries, such as the Scotch, Irish, or Welch accent. But I shall always confine it, when speaking of the English accent, to its true meaning, as set forth in the definition, which I shall here repeat. Accent is a certain stress of the voice upon a particular letter of a syllable which distinguishes it from the rest, and at the same time distinguishes the syllable itself, to which it belongs, from the others in a word.
The only difference of our accent depends upon its seat, which may be either upon a vowel, or a conso
nant. Upon a vowel, as in the words glóry, father, hóly. Upon a consonant, as in the words hab'it, bor'row, bat'tle. When the accent is on the vowel the syllable is long, because the accent is made by dwelling on the vowel a longer time than usual. When it is on the consonant, the syllable is short; because the accent is made by passing rapidly over the vowel and giving a smart stroke of the voice to the following consonant. Thus the words, ad'd, led', bid', rod', cub', are all short, the voice passing quickly over the vowel to the consonant; but, for the contrary reason, the words, áll, láid, bíde, róad, cúbe, are long, the accent being on the vowels, on which the voice dwells some time, before it takes in the sound of the consonant. Obvious as this point is, it has wholly escaped the observation of all our grammarians, prosodians, and compilers of dictionaries, who, instead of examining the peculiar genius of our tongue, implicitly, and pedantically followed the Greek method, of always placing the accentual mark over the vowel. Now the reason of this practice among the Greeks was, that as their accents consisted in change of notes, they could not be distinctly expressed but by the vowels; in uttering which the passage is entirely clear for the voice to issue, and not interrupted or stopped, as in the case of pronouncing the consonants. But our accent being of another nature, can just as well be placed on a consonant as a vowel. By this method of marking the accented syllable, our compilers of dictionaries, vocabularies, and spelling books, must mislead provincials and foreigners, in the pronunciation of perhaps one half of the words
in our language. For instance, if they should look for the word, endeavour; finding the accent over the vowel é, they will of course sound it endéa-vour. In the same manner dedicate will be called dé-dicate, precip'itate precí-pitate, phenom'enon phenó-menon, and so on through all words of the same kind. And in fact, we find the Scots do pronounce all such words in that manner; nor do they ever lay the accent upon the consonant in any word in the whole language; in which, the diversity of their pronunciation from that of the people of England, chiefly consists. It is a pity that our compilers of dictionaries should have fallen into so gross an error; as the marking of the accents in the right way, would have afforded one of the most general and certain guides to true pronunciation that is to be found with respect to our tongue; as it is an unerring rule throughout the whole, without a single exception, that whenever the accent is on the consonant, the preceding vowel has always its first short sound, as
exemplified in the words, hat, bet, fit, not, cub. And indeed as accent is the chief clue we have to the whole pronunciation of our tongue, while its nature was misunderstood, and its use perverted, it was impossible that provincials and foreigners could ever attain it; and accordingly the difficulty of speaking English properly, has been found insurmountable to all, except the well-educated natives.
I shall now conclude this head with a few practical rules for the strict observation of the laws of accent;
the necessity of which, I hope, is by this time apparent to all my hearers.
All persons who pronounce English words properly, of course lay the accent right, as that is a part of pronunciation; and never fail to do so in conversation. But many, when they come to read or speak in public, transgress the rules of accent. This arises from a mistaken notion in some, that words are rendered more distinct to a large assembly, by dwelling longer upon the syllables which compose them; and in others, that it adds to the pomp and solemnity of public declamation, in which they think every thing ought to be different from private discourse. This has been chiefly the vice of the stage, and has principally given rise to the distinction of what is commonly called Theatrical Declamation, in opposition to that of the natural kind; into an imitation of which many public speakers have been betrayed, and their manner called on that account Theatrical. Upon examination it would appear, that it arises chiefly from their dwelling upon syllables that are unaccented, through a notion that it makes the words move more slow, stately, and uniform, than the quicker and more spirited accents will allow. This was a fault which Shakspeare complained of in his time, and which has not been thoroughly amended since; though there have been some late efforts towards it, and some progress made in it. The passage alluded to in Shakspeare is in the advice given to the player by Hamlet; where in laying down rules for a just delivery, he says, 'Speak the speech I pray you as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it, as