Pronunciation is one of the most fleeting aspects of linguistic development, though this is often masked for the modern reader who reads Shakespeare in the modern spelling convention and hears the plays pronounced by modern standards, apart from an occasional old-fashioned stress made necessary to preserve the scansion of the line, as in ‘perséverance’ or ‘aspéct’. Yet the pronunciation of the sixteenth century was very different indeed from that of Olivier, Redgrave and Gielgud, incorporating as it did many features which now survive either provincially or not at all. Could we miraculously overhear the first night of Hamlet our first reaction might well be one of amazement at the rusticity of it all. And as to the intonation of the sentence we are totally in the dark so far as the practice of past generations is concerned, for only with the invention of the gramophone in the late nineteenth century did it become possible to keep a record of the sounds of spoken language, thus registering the voices of Gladstone and Tennyson, for example, though of course early recording techniques leave much to be desired in quality of reproduction. Then recordings of the early days, like the photographs of the time, were highly stylized, so that the spoken word appeared only in the declamatory style of poetry or oratory.
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