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Elements of Latin Pronunciation

Brownson's Quarterly Review, July, 1851

1. - Elements of Latin Pronunciation, for the Use of Students in Language, Law, Medicine, Zoology, Botany, and the Sciences generally in which Latin Words are used. By S. S. Halde-man, A. M., Professor of Natural History in the University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo,&Co. 1851. 16mo.    pp. 76.

There is something in this title which is calculated at the same time to surprise and to mislead. A Professor of Natural History publishing a work on the Elements of Latin Pronunciation is cer­tainly a new and rather startling phenomenon ; and when he informs us, that his work is " for the use of students in Language, Law, Medicine, Zoology, Botany, and the sciences generally in which Latin words are used," we naturally infer, that we are to find in these same " Elements " some new and much improved system of the usual school-book kind, the offspring of that per­plexity and despair which the utterances of a class-room are apt to generate in the breast of the college tutor. But Professor Hal-deman has never been, we dare say, a college tutor, nor is he even, in the stricter use of the term, a classical scholar ; his book is no book of " Elements" at all, nor was it suggested by the ordi­nary wants of the older or younger youths who are pursuing cer­tain studies in which Latin words are used. Professor Haldetnan is, heart and soul, an enthusiastic investigator of Nature ; he has won distinction, at home and abroad, in various departments of nat­ural history ; but his favorite department has been the natural his­tory of man. And whereas some naturalists, in studying the rela­tions of the various races, compare the forms of the skull, others the peculiarities of the skin, and so on, another class examine their phonetic characteristics, and thus identify themselves, more or less, with the comparative philologists. It is to this latter class that Pro­fessor Haldeman belongs. He has been a most ardent and success­ful investigator into the phonetic peculiarities of the Indian lan­guages, and it was while endeavoring (as he informs us) to record his results in the characters of the Latin alphabet, that he found himself under the necessity of ascertaining the real power of those char­acters beforehand. In the course of long-continued and extensive investigations for this purpose, he naturally found himself obliged to reexamine the foundations, and many of the details, of etymol­ogy. The book which he has produced, therefore, is really an es-say on the powers of the Latin alphabet with reference to the wants of the etymologist and comparative philologist, and of such classical scholars, of course, as choose to enlarge the domain of their studies in that direction. It is true that Professor Haldeman, while showing himself fully aware in what sense " pronunciation is the basis of philology," and in reference to what ends alone it is absolutely indispensable to use the true and original pronunciation of Latin, while for other purposes any conventional system may be adopted without hindrance to the acquisition of the knowledge which is sought for, would seem to be sanguine enough to hope, that the theoretically true may supersede the conventional in the schools, as well as in the study of the etymologist, and to urge the adoption in general practice of the results ascertained in his book. In so doing, he undoubtedly incurs the risk of being consid­ered as a visionary, devoted to ihe pursuit of an object purely chimerical; but such a view of his real aims and hopes would evidently be entirely unjust;  and we have only to regret, that he should have so expressed himself on his title-page as to confound the secondary and merely accidental object of his work with that which was first in importance and in his intentions.

We think it a happy circumstance, that the subject of Latin pronunciation should have engaged the attention of a physical inquirer. "Scholars" have always confined themselves to what may be called merely historical materials, - the incidental testi­monies of the ancient classical authors, the statements of the an­cient grammarians, inscriptions, &c. But in many cases the use of these materials produces results entirely unsatisfactory. Descrip­tions of sounds are generally imperfect and inadequate ; and a very slight examination of the matter would satisfy us, that what we might think a surer testimony, namely, the same word written in the elements of two or more different languages, may often like­wise fail. In many such cases, nothing more may have been in­tended than a convenient approximation ; and even where the writ­er supposed there waa strict identity, he may have been under an entire misconception. Something more is wanted to harmonize such historical testimony where it is discordant, to complete it where it is imperfect, and to clear it up where it is obscure. This is to be found, if anywhere, in a knowledge of the mechanism of human speech, and of the natural relations and interchange of the vocal elements. But here is where the naturalist must come in to the aid of the scholar. And herein lies the strength of Professor Ilaldeman, that in the region of phonetics he walks as a master; that he has investigated the laws of human speech with the perse­verance and tact of a practised observer and with the anticipative insight of a true discoverer ; that, having thus attained sure footing in this region, he has accumulated literary and historical materials in surprising abundance, but, instead of being overwhelmed by them, has managed them with a perfect control.

Professor Haldeman informs us, that his results usually agree with those of his predecessors. This is true ; and yet the reader will receive the impression of originality from sections in which the materials referred to, and the results arrived at, have the least of novelty, the method is so obviously original and the evidence of genuineness speaks out so convincingly in the unauthorlike sim­plicity of the style. The features of the greatest novelty are those which are found in the accessory details of the book. At page 16, for instance, he has given us, without a word of heralding or a line of commentary, what he calls a u Scheme of Affinities between the Vocal Elements in Latin." We are much mistaken if the reader will not find it necessary, and well worth his while, to meditate this modest Scheme often and long. It contains the skeleton of an en­tire system of etymology, and is the original result of independent investigations by our author.    It is to be regretted that he has not attached to it a commentary of many pages. So again, in speak­ing of the Latin substitutes for the Zela and Phi of the Greek, Pro­fessor Haldeman has been led, while asserting with Quintilian that the former waa equivalent to sd and not to ds, to sustain his po­sition by a convincing argument peculiar to himself. If (he ar­gues) ds were found in Greek, we should certainly find ts also, for " surd consonants being less difficult to form than sonant ones, they may be expected where the latter occur. But the Italian ds and is are not Greek combinations ; and were the former included in z, we should still want ts, which should at least be as common as ds." But the same principle justifies the identity of z with sd, for " compounds like esoechotnai show that sd is a Greek combina­tion, although usually represented by z; we may, therefore, nat­urally expect its corresponding surd st, which we find so common, that it has been provided with a character [r], as in arpov, a star." (p. 45.) With respect to the Phi, he explains it in a manner pe­culiar to himself, as neither F nor p followed by an aspirate (as in haphazard), but as the cognate of the Digamma and of the Span­ish b. In this instance he founds his deduction entirely upon the writings of the ancients, which had failed to suggest any thing defi­nite to his predecessors.*(footnote:* Pennington, in his Essay on the Pronunciation of the Greek Lan­guage (p 71), had thrown out a hint that * might not be f, when he said it was " more like a sigh" ; and Mr. Castanis, in his Greek Exile (p. 246), published since Professor Haldeman's view had been made known in the Proceedings of the American Academy, under date of Octo)

In a mere notice like the present, we cannot enter into further details. The specimens we have given may serve to show that Professor Haldeman's work, besides being an accurate manual of Latin pronunciation, abounds with discussions of the greatest inter­est to the philologist. The specimens of etymology scattered over its pages, when compared with the Scheme of Affinities before al­luded to, have impressed us so strongly, that we cannot but urge the author, with the most unfeigned earnestness, to favor the public as early as possible with the elementary work on etymology which he informs us, in his Preliminary Remarks, he now has in preparation.