“Yɨi have transkrɥib’d iur Alfabet”

Amazingly, the clever MARY “POLLY” STEVENSON (later HEWSON) responded to Benjamin Franklin’s letter using the very same phonetic alphabet in which he had written to her! Franklin had been guiding the education of Polly, the daughter of his London landlady. Now a grown woman, Polly had become a dear friend to Franklin and still considered him her mentor. They had continued their correspondence, Franklin providing books and manuscripts—he had just sent her a copy of Voltaire’s Verses—for her edification and challenging her on subjects such as the phonetic alphabet he had proposed in the previous post. In her reply Polly is not afraid to question the worth of Franklin’s proposal.

[Kensiŋtɥn, Septembɥr 26, 1768]Diir Sɥr,
Yɨi have transkrɥib’d iur Alfabet &c. huits̸ ɥi ħink mɥit bi aav sɥrvis tu dhoz hu uis̸ tu akuɥir an akiuret pronɥnsies̸ɥn if dhat kuld bi fiks’d, bɥt ɥi si meni inkaanvinienses az uel az difikultis dhat uuld atend dhi briŋiŋ iur letɥrs & aarħaagrafi intu kaamɥn ius. AAAAl aaur etimaalods̸is uuld bi laast, kaansikuentli ui kuld naat asɥrteen dhi miiniŋ aav meni uɥrds; dhi distinks̸ɥn, tu, bituiin uɥrds aav difɥrent miiniŋ & similar saaund uuld bi dhron daun; and aaaal dhi buks aalredi riten uuld bi iusles ɥnles ui liviŋ rɥitɥrs pɥblis̸ nu idis̸ɥns. In s̸aart ɥi biliiv ui mɥst let pipil spel aan in dheer old ue, and (az ui s̸al fɥind it isiiest) du dhi seem aaurselvs. With ease & with sincerity I can in the old way subscribe myself Dear Sir,
Your affectionate humble Servant,
M. Stevenson

Dr. Franklin [Kensington, Sept. 26, 17687]Dear Sir
I have transcribed your Alphabet &c. which you think might be of Service to those who wish to acquire an accurate pronunciation if that could be fix’d, but I see many inconveniences as well as difficulties that would attend the bringing your letters and orthography into common use. All our etymologies would be lost, consequently we could not ascertain the meaning of many words; the distinction, too, between words of different meaning and similar sound [would be thrown down, and all the books already written] would be useless unless we living writers publish new editions. In short I believe we must let people spell on in their old way, and (as we shall find it easiest) do the same ourselves. With ease and with sincerity I can in the old way subscribe myself Dear Sir Your affectionate humble Servant
M Stevenson

“To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, 26 September 1768: phonetic spelling and transcription,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-15-02-0122. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 15, January 1 through December 31, 1768, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1972, pp. 215–216.]

posted March 8th, 2019 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin, Friendship, Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson


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