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Title: Tradition and innovation in Petrus Montanus' 'The Art of Speech', 1635
Author: Vos, Andries Laurens
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1962
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It is hoped that this simplified version of 'The Art of Speech' has given the reader who has had the patience to peruse it some idea of the nature of this remarkable hook. It may he as well at this point to remind him that what he has seen of 'The Art of Speech' in the present,treatise is a simplified account, since most of the neologisms which in the original descend on the reader's hrain like so many strokes of a bludgeon have been suppressed. In the field of wordcreation alone Montanus' achievement could hardly be paralleled . What is even more astonishing, however, is that with the sole aid of his powers of observation and a system of logic, now largely outdated, one man should have been able to make so many contributions to the knowledge of a difficult subject. It is, of course, easy for us to see where he went astray. We may deplore his frequent appeals to 'reason' and the extent to which he used the syllogism to reinforce his observations, sometimes allowing it to interfere with them, and his childlike delight in calculating the number of possible 'genera and species' of vowels and consonants, incongruously coupled with the belief, shared by many later generations, that by drawing up a list of the sounds of his own language with a few foreign sounds thrown in to fill 'the empty places' he had set up a 'pronunciation and alphabet of all languages'. We can hardly blame him, however, for taking the 'letter' or 'speech sound' for granted without attempting to justify segmentation, or for working upward from sound to sentence instead of descending from the complete utterance to the smallest unit, since few modern writers feel the necessity to do so. Whatever its faults, the descriptive system set up by Montanus is admirably coherent and carefully thought out and the inconsistencies in it are almost negligible. In spite of his contempt for the work of his predecessors he appears to have been well acquainted with it, witness his treatment of the subordinate elements of diphthongs as consonants, his analysis of all types of units into 'principal and less principal halves3, his remarks on the orthographical vices, the origin of the shape of F and the mark for spiritus asper, and a number of other topics. The influence of tradition is most clearly discernible in his retention of the distinction between the acute and the circumflex accent for strong stress (and pitch change?) on 'short' and 'long' vowels, respectively, and the sections dealing with 'metaplasms3, which have been summarized in the present treatise solely for the purpose of giving a clear and unbiased picture of the merits and demerits of Montanus' book. Apart from the distortion of some of the facts due to his desire for symmetry, Montanus' most notable failures are his belief that [g] is an unusual way of pronouncing the letter g and that there are pauses between words, his analysis of German sch- as a 'double consonant' and of butch [f] and [v] as labials, his ignoring of [a] and his inconsistency over [j] and [w]. However, these are more than counterbalanced by his recognition of [h], [?], [nj] , and other sounds, his handling of the voice/ breath opposition, which, although incorrect, is extremely intelligent and interesting, touching as it does on the vexed lenis/fortis problem, his generous account of the organs of speech, his introduction of such nineteenth century concepts as glides and sonority, his analphabetic notation, his elaborate rules for assimilation, his description of syllable structure, his criticism of the Graeco-Roman and Hebrew classifications, his treatment of junction and stress (and pitch?) phenomena, his anticipation of modern phonology, and a number of short references to other interesting topics, such as ingressive speech. (It is rather surprising that whisper is not mentioned in 'The Art of Speech'.) Though some writers had dealt with some of these subjects before him, Montanus' views on most of them were far superior to theirs and he was certainly the first phonetician to realize the complexity of the subject and to discuss such a large number of problems in a single treatise. It would be idle to speculate on the course that the study of phonetics might have taken, if Montanus had been read. The work done by the brilliant Royal Society group (Wallis, Lodwick, Wilkins and, above all, Holder) did not prevent most of their contemporaries and successors from producing a considerable amount of rubbish, and it is not likely that they would have availed themselves of the opportunity provided by The Art of Speech of skipping two centuries.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available