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Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume IV (1876-1877)

Sawyer, W. C.
Letters an embarrassment to literature,   pp. [50]-55 PDF (1.9 MB)


Page 55


Letters an Emnbarrassment to Literature.
years. Each child would save forty-eight hours in a year, which,
if we reckon each day as consisting of twelve working hours,
would give four days in a year, or thirty-two days during the eight
years spent at school. Each child would therefore save about one
month at school, twelve children one year, sixty millions of Ger-
man children five millions of years. These might be applied to
some better purposes than to find out whether. we should write
lihe or liebe."
  These same considerations apply in English with tenfold more
force. If, therefore, the Germans will not tolerate even a moiety
of the few phonetic defects of their orthography, what satisfaction
can we expect from a half-and-half reform of our own? But our
reformers are inquiring not how little change will satisfy the peo-
ple, but how much they will suffer. They put too low an esti-
mate upon the public intelligence, and are far too sensitive about
being compared with Josh. Billings and other gentlemen who spell
better in jest than other people in earnest. Fortunately the pub-
lic is conservative enough to clingl to the old system till a better
one is found. A reform that needs reforming must always be un-
satisfactory. Several systems of spelling by the aid of the old
alphabet, with or without modifications, are now before the public.
They exhibit evidence of careful study and economy almost he-
roic. But economy, carried to the pitch of saving a few new
symbols at the expense of saddling upon unborn generations
another irrational method of writing, becomes a groveling parsi-
mony.
   Mr. Bell's system of " Visible Speech " is the most
thorough-
 going attempt yet made to form a simple, exact, and universal
 system of phonetic rotation. This was never intended for general
 use, and, as Prof. W. D. Whitney has shown. is not perfectly
 adapted to replace the alphabet; but it has demonstrated the grand
 possibilities of phonetic symbolism.
   Thanks to such men as Mr. Bell, Mr. Ellis, and Profs. Halde-
 mann, March, and Whitney, we have at last a rapidly maturing
 phonetic science, which is both the indispensable condition, and
 the sure promise, Qf a rational alphabet.
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