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thresh by machinery; and if all these machines are not yet worked by steam, it may be taken for granted they soon will be. Already there are steam ploughs and steam flails, and steam drills and reaping - hooks will no doubt soon follow; and whether they do or no, whether the labourer really becomes a stoker or not, it is clear that, with such a revolution going on, he will soon lose his present character and habits. I am not here to deplore that inevitable change; far from it, for I hope, that what the peasant loses as a Saxon he will gain as a man. I simply urge it as a motive to activity, that we should gain all that is valuable before the change comes ; that since the rustics in our villages and hamlets are still rich in the materials of provincial archæology, while at the same time every day diminishes the store, we should secure all they have to give us without delay.
I am glad, therefore, to have an opportunity of directing your attention to the subject, and in doing so shall confine myself at present to the pronunciation of the dialect, leaving its vocabulary for future consideration. At the outset, however, I may mention to you (in strict confidence) as in part explaining the course I am about to pursue, that when the committee asked me to take up the subject, they intimated at the same time — also in confidence, of course — that they wished to make these meetings more free and conversational than heretofore, and, if possible, to introduce an element of discussion into them; and that to this end it would, perhaps, be well if I could manage to say some things that might be easily contradicted. I
fancy they felt that the subject was rather a dry one, as it really is, and it would be all the better if it could be flavoured with a spice of paradox; that as a celebrated French monarchy was wittily said to be an "absolute despotism tempered with epigrams," so the absolute dullness natural to the subject might be tempered with paradox and contradiction. I think the suggestion a valuable one, and being anxious to meet the views of the committee as far as possible, I propose to undertake a defence of the Somersetshire pronunciation. You all know that this is commonly regarded as rough and uncouth in the extreme. Jennings, writing on the subject thirty years ago, said, the dialect was "generally reckoned very harsh and inharmonious.” It is identified with everything that is rude and clumsy in rustic life, and has, in fact, done very heavy duty as the representative of the clownish: element in literature. If the character of a coarse and brutal proprietor is to be drawn, the V's and Z's were called into requisition, and Squire Western appears talking very genuine Zoomerzet. Is a clown in a lower walk of life wanted ? Hob senior and Hob junior play at see-saw with zeed and zawed throughout the quaint comedy of Hob in the Well. Even the late Professor Wilson — the
Christopher North” of Blackwood — when he sketches an English rustic, makes him come from
vamous Zoomerset - Sheer ; and the poetical clodhopper in Punch is manifestly from the same county. In this way it has become identified with everything that is coarse and clownish. In opposition to this view I propose to illustrate—that
the pronunciation peculiar to Somersetshire, instead of being harsh and discordant, is remarkably smooth and easy, I might almost say musical; and that, far from being, as it is commonly represented to be, vulgar and corrupt, it is, on the contrary, pre-eminently pure and classical. This, I think, is sufficiently extreme, and I shall be very happy if I can succeed in tempting members of the society into a discussion of the subject.
Now, in order to decide this question of roughness or smoothness, softness or hardness, we must look mainly to the characteristic consonants of the dialect, since these rather than the vowels determine its character in this respect. As Grimm tells us, vowels are the fleeting, flowing element of sound, consonants the stable. Consonants are thus the thews and sinews, bones and muscles, of language, which give it form, definite outline, and individual character, the vowels being little more than breath and colour. Nevertheless they must not be neglected, for, if they are, the fleeting, fluent element of sound, it follows that, where they abound, the language will tend to become free, flowing, and musical in its pronunciation. We see this in the Italian, which has more vowel-sounds in proportion to the consonants-altogether a richer vowel element, and is at the same time more musical than any other language. This is aptly put by old Camden, who, speaking of the Italian, says, — “It is sweet and pleasant, but without sinews, as a still, fleeting water;" by which he means that it is far richer in vowel-sounds than consonantal ones. It is without sinews," as having few consonants; but “sweet and pleasant from its abundant vowels. Now what is the position of the Somersetshire dialect in this respect ? It will be found, on examination, that it is exceedingly rich in vowel-sounds: that, in fact, the one great principle of its vowel-system is the increase and multiplication of these sounds. It constantly tends to make close vowels open ; long vowels short; pure words mixed; single vowels double vowels, diphthongs, and even triphthongs.
The vowels are lengthened and opened in such words as the following, for example - hond and voote, for hand and foot dorke and lorke, for dark and lark-bade and dade, for bed and dead.
We have mixed and double vowels in words like — haye, daye, maye, zaye, for hay, day, may, say; maaid for maid, plaaine for plain, cauld for cold, auver for over, &c. An immense number of words that are monosyllables in common English are, in the Somersetshire dialect, converted into dissyllables by this broadening and opening of the vowel-sound. The following are a few examples :Bee-ast = beast
Mee-ade=mead (meaClee-an clean
Mee-ate = meat [dow) Chee-ase = cheese Mee-olk = milk Chee-ars = chairs Noo-an = none Kee-ar= care
Nee-ad = need Kee-ard=card
Shee-ape == sheep Kee-art = cart
Zee-ade = seed Kee-ave: calf
Zee-ape = sap Gee-ame = game
Vroo-ast = frost Gee-ate =gate
Vi-er = fire Hee-art = heart
Boo-ath both, &c.
This change in the vowels may be illustrated by å verse from Jennings” “Good buye ta thee, Cot:"
“Good buye ta thee, cot! whaur tha dayze o' my cheuldhood
Ever since thee'st come whoame, thee'st kep bustin' out :
Not only, however, does the dialect abound in long vowels and diphthongs, it has a number of genuine triphthongs also. The English language has very few of these, even to the eye, that is in spelling (like beauty, for instance); and not more than one or two, if any, to the ear, that is in pronunciation. But they are by no means rare in the