EVER since that memorable confusion of tongues which we are told took place quite a number of years ago on the plain of Shinar, there has been an ever-increasing tendency among mortals to divergency in idiom and pronunciation of speech, even among those people whom we should expect to have the greatest points of similarity. One of the many curious features of college life is the bovine persistency with which some of our students stick to errors in pronunciation acquired in early youth: Among the poor and uneducated, considering the few opportunities for improvement, slovenly and vulgar pronunciation is to be expected; but the fact that men of three or four years' standing in a respectable college, who, sublimely ignoring dictionaries and the examples of all trustworthy authorities, will persist in calling half haff, and calf caff, shows both gross negligence in an important particular and godlike confidence in their own self-sufficiency.
Coming fresh from the untutored wilds of the West, South, or that geographically uncertain and ever-receding location which goes under the non-committal name of "Down East," a slight touch of indigenous brogue in a Freshman is excusable - for three months or so. A generous critic might allow him a year to wear off such gaucherie. But how can the new-comer fail at once to notice the wide discrepancy between his pronunciation and that of educated people, if, of course, he be of ordinary intelligence? His only safe course is to turn to his Worcester and abide by that pronunciation which has the balance of authority, whether it involves a revision of his own style of speech or not.
Of the most flagrant sinners against the canons of good taste in pronunciation in college, I have distinguished three well-defined classes: the Western, the Southern, and the New England. The first two, while doing justice, as a general rule, to the vowel o, manifest a decided aversion to the broad a (as in father), with an inclination to make the r painfully distinct. Untrammelled by dictionaries, both pronounce such words as aunt, haunt, daunt, cant, etc., ant, hant, dant, cant, while half and laugh are emasculated into haff and laff. Iron, which authority allows us to charitably call iurn, is contorted into the unnecessarily painful irrun. The South, notwithstanding its fondness for calling party pawty, manages by some inscrutable means to satisfy its orthoepical conscience in mutilating palm, calm, psalm into pam, cam, psam, and beer, tear, steer into bare, tare, and stare. The provincial and antiquated gotten is paraded forth in all its whilom beauty and usefulness by the simple and guileless Westerner, while the meek and humble it is made to pay a much heavier part than it was ever intended for.
Without claiming infallibility in the matter of good taste in pronunciation, I am inclined to think that the New-Englander makes less culpable divergences from the accepted standard of usage than either of the first two classes, though, be it confessed, the Yankee occasionally falls into an opposite error of making the a too broad, the o too confined, and the r utterly inaudible. In his mouth won't, the contraction for will not, becomes wunt. He is apt to call law lor, America Americar, etc., evidently to atone for his almost universal slight to the r in the middle of a word. Roof, root, and room become roof, room, root, etc. The sound he gives to such words as boat, home, comb, throat, spoke, coat, poke, etc., is unlike anything I ever heard before, and has to be heard from the lips of a genuine up-country Yankee to be understood. Duty, tune, lucid, blue, etc., become dooty, toon, bloo, etc. Past, fast, last, etc., invariably parst, farst, larst, only the r is not distinct. Whether he is right in saying demand, command, castle, example, I won't undertake to decide; he certainly has much authority on his side. Perhaps, however, the safest way to shun the extremities represented by the Western haff and laff and the Yankee's parst and larst is to follow the medio tutissimus ibis rule of Ovid.
Though the priggish pronunciation "Inquiry" is often heard, I have never known justice to be done to discrepancy, chestnut, or hecatomb since in college, and rarely to romance, finance, research, and resource. I have no desire to discuss the much-mooted question as to where we are to look for the standard of pronunciation; we shall be undoubtedly safe if we follow the usage of the best literary society we know. New-Englanders boast that, within the radius of ten miles from the Massachusetts State House there is more "cultchar" and education represented than in any other district of its size in the United States. True or not, we must, unless we are insensible alike to ridicule and the calls of duty, conform to the usage of this neighborhood and discard the provincialisms spoken of above.