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THE PRACTICAL STUDY OF
LANGUAGES



Sweet's practical Stubs of ^Languages.

By Dr. Henry Sweet of Oxford, England. xiv + 22o

pp. i2tno. $1.50, net.
The body of this book is given to the discussion (rein-
forced by telling illustrations) of practical problems which
daily confront the teacher of languages — the choice and
proper use of grammar and dictionary, the selection of
reading matter, the use of translation, composition, con-
versation, etc. An exposition of the phonetic basis of
language-study occupies the first few chapters.

JBreal's Semantics.

Studies in the Science of Meaning. By Prof. Michel
Bkeal of the College de Fiance. lxvi+336pp. i2mo.
$2.50, net.
A work on the science of Significations, as distinguished
from the science of Sounds (Phonetics). A knowledge of
this science is of vital importance to the study of Compara-
tive Philology. It shows how individual and national char-
acter may be deduced from an examination of language,
and discusses hundreds of interesting allied topics. The
style is pleasing, and the enjoyment of the book requires
no previous philological training.

lOtilliatns' ©ur Dictionaries, anb ©tber
jEngltsb Slanguage tropics.

By Ralph Olmsted Williams. With four plates.
174 pp. i2mo. $1.25, retail.

WUlltams' Some Questions of <3ooo
Bnglisb.

Examined in Controversies with Dr. Fitzedward Hall.
234 pp. i2ino. Si. 75, retail.
Prof. Albert S. Cook of Yale, in the Journal 0/ Ger-
manic Philology : " When Mr. Williams' previous book ap-
peared, I said of it, ' There is a lightness of touch, a reserve
of manner, a crispness of style, a seasoning of humor, an
absence of hammering, which ought to make the book much
more popular than I dreamed a book on such a subject
could be, without suffering some species of degradation.'
In the present book these qualities are equally marked."

JBalg's JEur=Brgan IRoots,

With their English Derivatives systematically arranged
and compared with Corresponding Words in the Cog-
nate Languages. Vol. I., with an index of all English
derivatives. 8vo. $15.00, net, special.

IRambeau & {passes
Cbrestomatbie ipbonetique.

French Reader, with Phonetic Transcriptions. By
Prof. A. Rambeau of Johns Hopkins and Prof. Jean
Passy of Paris, xxx -f- 250 pp. 8vo. $1.50, net.
Some hundred pages of easy French in common orthog-
raphy, and on opposite pages the same matter in phonetic
script like that in Paul Passy's Maitre Phone'tique, with
an introduction explaining the method of using the text.

HENRY HOLT & CO.

29 W. 23d St., New York 378 Wabash Ave., Chicago



THE PRACTICAL STUDY

OF

LANGUAGES

A GUIDE FOR TEACHERS AND LEARNERS



BY

HENRY SWEET, M.A., Ph.D., LL.D.

CORRESPONDING MEMBER OF THE MUNICH ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
FORMERLY PRESIDENT OF THE PHILOLOGICAL SOCIETY



With Tables and Illustrative Sluotations




NEW YORK

HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY
1900



PREFACE

This book is intended as a guide to the practical study of
languages. Its object is, first, to determine the general
principles on which a rational method of learning foreign
languages should be based, and then to consider the various
modifications these general principles undergo in their appli-
cation to different circumstances and different classes of
learners.

The want of such a guide has long been felt. All the
works on the subject that have hitherto appeared have either
been short sketches, or else have only dealt with portions of
the subject, such as the teaching of classical or modern
languages in schools.

I have given careful attention to these questions, but have
by no means confined myself to this branch of the subject.
I have rather endeavoured to give a comprehensive general
view of the whole field of the practical study of languages, as
far as lay in my power. I have not only given special sections
on the learning of dead languages and of Oriental languages,
but have also added a chapter on the methods of deciphering
writings in unknown languages and of dealing with unwritten
forms of speech; for although such investigations have not



vi PREFACE

always a directly practical aim, their methods are wholly
practical. This part of the book ought to be welcome to
travellers and missionaries, who often feel great perplexity
when confronted with the difficult problem of reducing an
illiterate language to writing and analysing it grammatically.
The same remarks apply with equal force to dialectologists, the
results of whose labours are often worse than useless through
their want of proper method. Another class of students whom
I have had specially in view are self-taught learners of foreign
languages, who often not only waste time, but fail to attain
their aim through following bad methods and using unsuitable
text-books.

My examples are taken from a variety of languages, partly
to avoid one-sidedness of treatment, partly to interest as many
different classes of readers as possible.

In discussing methods, I have drawn my illustrations from
those books which I know best. The time has not yet come
for an historical survey and critical estimate of the vast and
increasing literature of linguistic pedagogy, either of that
portion of it which deals with generalities and criticisms of
methods, or that still larger portion which carries out — or pro-
fesses to carry out — these general principles in practical text-
books — reading-books, grammars, text-editions, ' methods,' etc.

In giving warning examples of mistakes into which learners
may fall, I have confined myself to those made by foreigners
in speaking and writing English, for the simple reason that
the mistakes made by English-speakers in the use of other
languages, though in themselves equally instructive and
amusing, would have no point for the majority of my readers.



PREFACE vii

From the point of view of the purely practical learner, my
treatment may perhaps appear not only too comprehensive, but
also too ideal. He will ask, What is the use of recommending
a method of study which cannot be followed because of the
want of the requisite helps in the way of text-books ? But this
is precisely one of the objects of my book. My object is both
to show how to make the best of existing conditions, and to
indicate the lines of abstract research and practical work along
which the path of progress lies.

In the present multiplicity of methods and text-books, it
is absolutely necessary for real and permanent progress that we
should come to some sort of agreement on general principles.
Until this is attained — until every one recognizes that there
is no royal road to languages, and that no method can be
a sound one which does not fulfil certain definite conditions
— the public will continue to run after one new method after
the other, only to return disappointed to the old routine.

My attitude towards the traditional methods is, as will be
seen, a mean between unyielding conservatism on the one
hand and reckless radicalism on the other. There are some
fundamental principles on which I insist, whether they are
popular or not, such as basing all study of language on
phonetics, and starting from the spoken rather than the literary
language. But, on the other hand, the reader will find that
while I agree with the Continental reformers in condemning
the practice of exercise-writing and the use of d priori methods
such as Ahn's, I refuse to join with them in their condemnation
of translation and the use of grammars.

As regards my qualifications for the task, I have, in the



viii PREFACE

first place, acquired a considerable knowledge of a variety of
languages of different structure ; and in studying them I have
always paid as much attention to the practical as to the purely
philological questions that have suggested themselves. I may
also claim the merit of having made the scientific historical
study of English possible in this country by the publication
of my numerous practical helps to the learning of the older
stages of our language, especially Old English. At the same
time, my Elementarbuch des gesprochenen Englisch has done
something towards making genuine spoken English accessible
to foreigners. I have, lastly, had considerable experience in
lecturing and teaching in connection with various branches
of the study of languages, so that this work is as much the
outcome of varied practical experience as of scientific theorizing.
The first draft of this work was written out as far back
as 1877. but for various reasons was never published, although
an abstract of it appeared in the Transactions of the Philological
Society for 1882-4, under the title of The Practical Study of
Language. I need hardly say that the present work is not
merely an expansion of these earlier efforts, but is the result
of more matured thought and wider experience, so that it is
an entirely new book, except that the chapter on 'mind-
training ' is taken without alteration from the first draft.

Oxford,

February, 1899.



CONTENTS



PAGE

Phonetic Symbols xv



CHAPTER I

THE STUDY OF LANGUAGES

Practical and Theoretical Study I

Necessity of General Principles I

Good and Bad Methods 2

CHAPTER II

PHONETICS

Phonetics not an Innovation 4

Fallacy of Imitation 5

Fallacy of Minute Distinctions 5

Methods of Study : Organic and Acoustic 6

Isolation of Sounds 7

Analysis of the Formation of Sounds 7

Deducing Unfamiliar from Familiar Sounds 7

Relation of Native Sounds to Sounds in General 8

CHAPTER III

PHONETIC NOTATION

Unphonetic Spelling ; Nomic Spelling II

Fullness of Transcription 12

Relation of Nomic to Phonetic Spelling 13

Remedies : Additional Marks and Letters 14

Principles of Phonetic Notation 16

National and International Basis 1 7



x CONTENTS

PAGE

A Universal Alphabet Unpractical 18

Significant Sound-distinctions 18

Superfluous Sound-distinctions 19

Modifiable General Basis 19

Non-Roman Basis : Organic Alphabet 20

Analphabetic Basis 22

The Alphabetic Basis the Best 24

Universal Alphabet not suited for Connected Writing 25

Superiority of Phonetic Shorthand 26

Modified Nomic Spelling 28



CHAPTER IV

FOREIGN ALPHABETS

Transliteration of Foreign Alphabets 30

Orthographic Transcription 32

Nomic Pronunciation 34

Learning a Foreign Alphabet 36

CHAPTER V

VARIETIES OF PRONUNCIATION

Artificial Pronunciation 38

Degrees of Colloquialism 40

Standards of Pronunciation 42

Pronunciation of Rare Words 43

CHAPTER VI

GENERAL STUDY OF PHONETICS

Apparatus : Diagrams, Models, Phonograph 45

Experimental Phonetics 46

Phonetic Dictation 47

Advantages of Phonetics 48

CHAPTER VII

BEGIN WITH THE SPOKEN LANGUAGE

The Spoken the Source of the Written Language 50

Practical Considerations 51



CONTENTS xi
CHAPTER VIII

DIFFICULTIES OF LANGUAGE

PAGE

External Difficulties 54

Relations to the Native Language 54

Internal Difficulties 56

Phonetic Difficulties 61

General Difficulty of each Language 63

The Real Difficulty is in the Vocabulary 66"

All Languages Equally Difficult 66

CHAPTER IX

GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF METHOD

Language Only Partly Rational 70

Irrational Combinations in Language : We Cannot Speak by Rule . 71

The Arithmetical Fallacy 73

Isolated Phenomena of Language : Grammar and Dictionary ... 74

The Natural Method 75

Residence Abroad 76

Speaking Foreign Languages at Home 78

Natural Aptitude 79

National Aptitude 82

One Method for All 83

The Historical Method 86

The Crude Form System 87

The Etymological Fallacy 88

Comparison with Cognate Languages 89

Comparative Philology Sometimes Useful 90

Chance Resemblances between Languages 91

Borrowed Words 91

CHAPTER X

SPECIAL PRINCIPLES OF METHOD

Rules ; Mechanical Isolation 93

Analysis and Synthesis 98

Paradigms 99

Learning Lists of Words 100

Detached Sentences ; Context 100

Association 103



xii CONTENTS

PAGE

Memory; Repetition no

Interest "2

Relations between Texts, Grammar, and Vocabulary 115

Stages of Progressive Method : Irregularities 1 18

CHAPTER XI

GRAMMAR

Accidence and Syntax 124

Formal and Logical Syntax 125

Grammar and Dictionary 126

Accidence and Syntax Taught Together 126

Stages of Grammatical Analysis 128

Grammar Learnt Unconsciously 129

Evils of the Separation of Syntax from Accidence 131

Examples 131

Paradigms 135

Fullness of Treatment 138



CHAPTER XII

THE DICTIONARY ; STUDY OF THE VOCABULARY

Scope 141

Pronouncing Dictionaries 144

Fullness 145

Conciseness 146

Surveyability 147

Meanings 148

Quotations 149

References 149

Grammatical and Other Information 150

Arrangement, Word-orler 151

Logical Dictionary 153

Study of the Vocabulary of a Language 1 58

CHAPTER XIII

TEXTS ; THE READING-BOOK

Classification of Texts 164

Connectedness 169

Length 170



4



CONTENTS xiii

PAGE

Clear Context 172

Limited Vocabulary 173

The Most Necessary Elements given First 174

Familiarity of Subject 175

Simplicity of Language 177

Variety 178

Gradation of Difficulties 178

Interest 179

Literary Texts 181

Condensed Treatises 183

Subordination to Form ; Grammatical Texts 184



CHAPTER XIV

RELATIONS BETWEEN DIFFERENT LANGUAGES; TRANSLATION

Thinking in the Foreign Language ; Not Translating 198

Translation from the Foreign Language 199

Translation into the Foreign Language ; Exercises 202

Free Composition ; Question and Answer 206

Visualizing 209

CHAPTER XV

CONVERSATION

Phrase-books 212

CHAPTER XVI

literature; LITERARY COMPOSITION

Composition 220

CHAPTER XVII

DEAD LANGUAGES

External Difficulties 223

Normalizing 224

Pronunciation 225

Teaching through the Literature 227

Cross-associations with Modern Languages 227

Dead Methods in Modern Languages 230



xiv CONTENTS

CHAPTER XVIII

ORIENTAL LANGUAGES

PA<~.E

Adherence to Native Methods , . 233

Texts 234

CHAPTER XIX

GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

Time and Effort . . 236

Results ; Stages and Degrees of Knowledge 238

Epitomes and Note-books 242

The Subject-matter of the Texts 243

Teaching Children 244

Methods for Adults ; Self-instruction 247

CHAPTER XX

ORIGINAL INVESTIGATION

Decipherment 256

Help afforded by Comparative Philology 259

Decipherment a Practical Problem 262

All Text-reading Implies Originality 263

Text-editing : Original Research 263

Investigations of Unwritten Speech 264

Collecting Materials 267

Principles of Collecting 271

CHAPTER XXI

mind-training ; classical and modern languages .... 273

Appendix 279



PHONETIC SYMBOLS



Phonetic writing enclosed in ( ). Length marked by doubling, strong
stress by ( • )> medium by ( : ), and weak by ( - ) before the syllable.



; then.



a as in 'cut; ' also short of (aa).

aa ,, 'father.'

a ,, French ' pate.'

a ,, French 'sans.'

a ,, 'bird.'

ae ,, 'man.'

c = front stop.

5 as in German ' ich.'

d — emphatic Arabic d.

*\

• r

e as in French ' ete ; ' also = (e).

e „ ' men.'

e ,, French ' vin.'

a ,, 'sofa.'

6 ,, 'men, air.'

3 „ ' German 'sagen.'

h = Arabic throat-sound ha

i as in French ' fini ; ' also = (*')•

i ,, 'fin.'

i „ Welsh 'dyn.'

j „ 'you.'



J = front stop voice,
k = deep Arabic k.
\h = Welsh //.
n as in Italian 'ogni.'
o ,, French ' eau ;' also = (p).
o ,, German 'stock;' also 'not.'
6 ,, French 'son.'
ce ,, French 'peur.'
ce ,, French 'un.'
o ,, 'not ' ; ' saw.'
,, French 'peu.'
s = Arabic emphatic s.
f as in 'she.'



vfh
x

y

3



' thin.'

French ' sou ; '
'good.'
'what.'

German ' loch.
French 'une.'
' rouge.'



also = (»).



THE PRACTICAL STUDY
OF LANGUAGES

CHAPTER I
THE STUDY OF LANGUAGES

Practical and Theoretical Study

It is hardly necessary to enlarge on the distinction between the
practical and the theoretical study of languages — between
learning to understand, read, speak, write a language on the
one hand, and studying its history and etymology on the other
hand.

But it is important to realize at the same time that the
practical study of languages is not in any way less scientific
than the theoretical.

The scientific basis of the practical study of languages is
what may be called ' living philology,' which starts from the
accurate observation of spoken languages by means of phonetics
and psychology, and makes this the basis of all study of
language, whether practical or theoretical. The opposite of
living is 'antiquarian' philology, which regards the present
merely as a key to the past, subordinating living to dead
languages and sounds to their written symbols.

Necessity of General Principles

The first thing, therefore, is to determine the general prin-
ciples on which the practical study of languages should be
based. It is evident that if these principles are to be really
general, they must be based on a survey of the whole field of

I B



2 THE PRACTICAL STUDY OF LANGUAGES

languages : that is, while giving due prominence to French and
German, as being the two modern languages most generally
studied in this country, we must not neglect the remoter
languages, confining ourselves, of course, to an examination of a
sufficient number of typical ones. 1

Having settled our general principles, the next thing is to
consider what modifications, what special combinations of them
may be required under special circumstances. It is evident
that a method which suits an inflectional language may require
modification when applied to a language of a different character;
that learning to read a dead language is a different process
from learning to speak a living one ; that self-instruction and
teaching children in school require different text-books, and
so on.

As the tendency at present is to exaggerate rather than under-
rate these differences, I shall confine myself as much as possible
to general principles, leaving special modifications and applica-
tions to be made by others. It would, indeed, be presumptuous
in me to say much about such subjects as the school-teaching
of languages, in which I have no practical experience — at least
as teacher.

I am not much concerned with such questions as, Why do
we learn languages ? Is learning languages a good or a bad
training for the mind ? Is Greek a better training for the mind
than German or mathematics ? I start from the axiom that as
languages have to be learnt, even if it turns out that the process
injures the mind, our first business is to find out the most
efficient and economical way of learning them.

Good and Bad Methods

The plan of this book involves, to some extent at least, a
criticism of existing methods.

In this connection it is significant to observe that though
there is great conservatism in scholastic circles — as shown in
the retention of antiquated text-books, in the prejudice against
phonetics, and so on — there are, on the other hand, many signs
of dissatisfaction with these methods.

1 Besides English, French, and German, I have drawn my illustrations
chiefly from those remoter languages of which I have some practical
knowledge, that is, Sanskrit, Welsh, Old Irish, Finnish, Arabic, and
Chinese.



THE STUDY OF LANGUAGES 3

This dissatisfaction is strikingly shown by the way in which
new ' methods ' are run after — especially the more sensational
ones, and such as have the good fortune to be taken up by the
editor of some popular periodical.

But none of these methods retain their popularity long — the
interest in them soon dies out. There is a constant succession
of them ; Ollendorff, Ahn, Prendergast, Gouin — to mention only
a few — have all had their day. They have all failed to keep a
permanent hold on the public mind because they have all failed
to perform what they promised : after promising impossibilities
they have all turned out to be on the whole no better than the
older methods.

But the return to the older methods is only a half-hearted
one : even Ollendorff still has his adherents. In fact, things are
altogether unsettled, both as regards methods and text-books.
This is a good sign : it gives a promise of the survival of the
fittest. Anything is better than artificial uniformity enforced
from without.

The methods I have just mentioned are failures because they
are based on an insufficient knowledge of the science of
language, and because they are one-sided. A method such as
Gouin's, which ignores phonetics, is not a method : at the most,
it gives hints for a real method. Gouin's ' series-method ' may
in itself be a sound principle, but it is too limited in its appli-
cations to form even the basis of a fully developed method.

A good method must, before all, be comprehensive and
eclectic. It must be based on a thorough knowledge of the
science of language — phonetics, sound-notation, the grammatical
structure of a variety of representative languages, and linguistic
problems generally. In utilizing this knowledge it must be
constantly guided by the psychological laws on which memory
and the association of ideas depend.



CHAPTER II

PHONETICS

The main axiom of living philology is that all study of
language must be based on phonetics.

Phonetics is the science of speech-sounds, or, from a practical
point of view, the art of pronunciation. Phonetics is to the
science of language generally what mathematics is to astronomy
and the physical sciences. Without it, we can neither observe
nor record the simplest phenomena of language. It is equally
necessary in the theoretical and in the practical study of
languages.

Phonetics not an Innovation

The necessity of phonetics has, indeed, always been tacitly
recognized — even by its opponents. Even such a simple
statement as that ' English nouns take -es instead of -s in
the plural after a hiss-consonant ' involves elementary facts
of phonetics ; the terms ' vowel ' and ' consonant,' ' hard ' and
1 soft,' all imply phonetic analysis. What the reformers claim
is not that phonetics should be introduced — for it is there
already — but that its study should be made efficient by being
put on a scientific basis.

In fact, phonetics is almost as old as civilization itself. The
Alexandrian grammarians were not only phoneticians — they
were spelling-reformers ! Few of those who mechanically
learn the rules of Greek accentuation by way of gilding the
refined gold of their scholarship have any idea that these to
them unmeaning marks were invented by the Alexandrian
grammarians solely for the purpose of making the pronunciation
of Greek easier to foreigners. The Romans, too, were pho-
neticians : they learnt Greek on a phonetic basis, as far as
their lights allowed them. The Sanskrit grammarians were
still better phoneticians. It is the unphonetic, not the phonetic
methods that are an innovation.

The efficient teaching of phonetics is impeded by two
popular fallacies.



PHONETICS 5

Fallacy of Imitation

The first of these is that pronunciation can be learnt by
mere imitation. This is as if fencing could be learnt by looking
on at other people fencing. The movements of the tongue in
speaking are even quicker and more complicated than those of
the foil in fencing, and are, besides, mostly concealed from
sight. The complicated articulations which make up the sound
of such a French word as ennui cannot be reproduced correctly
by mere imitation except in the case of an exceptionally gifted
learner.

Even in the case of children learning the sounds of their
own language, the process is a slow and tedious one, and the
nearer the approach to maturity, the greater the difficulty of
acquiring new sounds. Indeed, the untrained adult seems to be
often absolutely incapable of imitating an unfamiliar sound or
even an unfamiliar combination of familiar sounds. To the
uneducated even unfamiliar syllables are a difficulty, as we see in
1 familiarizations ' such as sparrow-grass for asparagus. 1 Even
those who devote their lives to the study of languages generally
fail to acquire a good pronunciation by imitation — perhaps
after living ten or twenty years in the country and learning to
write the language with perfect ease and accuracy.

Fallacy of Minute Distinctions

The second fallacy is that minute distinctions of sound can
be disregarded — or, in other words, that a bad pronunciation
does not matter. The answer to this is that significant dis-
tinctions cannot be disregarded with impunity. By significant
sound-distinctions we mean those on which distinctions of



Online LibraryHenry SweetThe practical study of languages; a guide for teachers and learners → online text (page 1 of 27)