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Edward Streeter
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 96 pages of information about "Same old Bill, eh Mable!".

The speaker of the “standard” language is frequently tempted to consider himself as the dialect-speaker’s superior, unless he has already acquired some elementary knowledge of the value of the science of language or has sufficient common sense to be desirous of learning to understand that which for the moment lies beyond him.  I remember once hearing the remark made—­“What is the good of dialects?  Why not sweep them all away, and have done with them?” But the very form of the question betrays ignorance of the facts; for it is no more possible to do away with them than it is possible to suppress the waves of the sea.  English, like every other literary language, has always had its dialects and will long continue to possess them in secluded districts, though they are at the present time losing much of that archaic character which gives them their chief value.  The spread of education may profoundly modify them, but the spoken language of the people will ever continue to devise new variations and to initiate developments of its own.  Even the “standard” language is continually losing old words and admitting new ones, as was noted long ago by Horace; and our so-called “standard” pronunciation is ever imperceptibly but surely changing, and never continues in one stay.

In the very valuable Lectures on the Science of Language by Professor F. Max Mueller, the second Lecture, which deserves careful study, is chiefly occupied by some account of the processes which he names respectively “phonetic decay” and “dialectic regeneration”; processes to which all languages have always been and ever will be subject.

By “phonetic decay” is meant that insidious and gradual alteration in the sounds of spoken words which, though it cannot be prevented, at last so corrupts a word that it becomes almost or wholly unmeaning.  Such a word as twenty does not suggest its origin.  Many might perhaps guess, from their observation of such numbers as thirty, forty, etc., that the suffix _-ty_ may have something to do with ten, of the original of which it is in fact an extremely reduced form; but it is less obvious that twen- is a shortened form of twain.  And perhaps none but scholars of Teutonic languages are aware that twain was once of the masculine gender only, while two was so restricted that it could only be applied to things that were feminine or neuter.  As a somewhat hackneyed example of phonetic decay, we may take the case of the Latin mea domina, i.e. my mistress, which became in French ma dame, and in English madam; and the last of these has been further shortened to mam, and even to ’m, as in the phrase “Yes, ’m.”  This shows how nine letters may be reduced to one.  Similarly, our monosyllable alms is all that is left of the Greek ele{-e}mosyn{-e}.  Ten letters have here been reduced to four.

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