The design of this Grammatical institute is to furnish schools in this country with an easy, accurate and comprehensive system of rules and lessons for teaching the English language.
To frame a complete system upon such an extensive plan, it was judged requisite to compile a small cheap volume for the use of beginners, containing words methodically arranged, sufficient to give the learner a just idea of spelling.
Among the defects and absurdities found in the books of this kind hitherto used, we may rank the want of a thorough investigation of the sounds in the English language, and the powers of the several letters—the promiscuous arrangement of words in the same table, in which the same letters have several different sounds—the unnatural and arbitrary method of dividing syllables, which separates letters from the syllables where they belong, supplying the defect by artificial marks, and which, in several hundred words, makes more syllables than are pronounced—and particularly the omission of a criterion by which the various sounds of the vowels may be distinguished.
In attempting to correct these faults, it was necessary to begin with the elements of the language, and explain the powers of the letters. With regard to some of them, the opinions of Grammarians are divided; but perhaps the definitions given in the analysis, of the terms vowel, diphthong, and consonant, will establish an almost infallible rule for the decision of every question respecting the alphabet.
The Index or Key to the pronunciation of the vowels and diphthongs, appears to me sufficiently plain, and so accurate as to prevent every material error. A more accurate plan may be formed; but it must be too intricate to be useful in common schools.
Preface to the 1800 edition of The American Spelling Book, by Noah Webster.