« ÎnapoiContinuă »
most important questions concerning religion and civil society."
In his younger days he had formed a system which proved of singular use to keep his mind free from confusion and the imposition arising out of words. After "too long an interval of idleness and pleasure," he tried this system, first with the living, and next with the dead languages, with success. At the end of another interval, "not of idleness and pleasure," he returned to his philological labours; and now, at the earnest request of his friends, he is prepared to exhibit the result of his studies.
CHAP. I. Of the division or distribution of language. It is here maintained, that men have been greatly misled, in respect to grammatical definitions, by confining themselves to the principle, "that the purpose of language is to communicate our thoughts." It was formerly customary to assert, "that words are the signs of things, and that there must be, therefore, as many sorts of words, or parts of speech, as there are sorts of things." The earliest inquirers into language proceeded then to settle how many sorts there were of things; and from thence how many sorts of words, or parts of speech. While this method prevailed, the parts of speech were very few in number: but two; and, at most,
three or four! All things, said they, must have names. But there are two sorts of things: 1. Res que permanent. 2. Res quæ fluunt: there must, therefore, be two sorts of words, or parts of speech: viz.
1. Note rerum quæ permanent.
2. Nota rerum quæ fluunt.
Yet, as there were other words not included in these classes, they might be called particles, or inferior parts of speech; or, as they are constantly interspersed between nouns and verbs, conjunctions or connectives. This seems to have been the utmost progress that philosophical grammar had made till about the time of Aristotle, when a fourth part of speech was added — the definitive or article.
Here concluded the search after the different sorts of words, or parts of speech, from the difference of things; and there being no more than four differences of things, there could be but four parts of speech; and the difficulty now was, to determine to which of these four classes each word belonged. In this attempt, succeeding grammarians could neither satisfy themselves nor others; for they soon discovered some words so stubborn, that no sophistry or violence could by any means reduce them to any one of these classes. On this, they travelled backwards, and,
being misled by the useful contrivances of language, they supposed many imaginary differences of things: and thus added greatly to the number of parts of speech, and, in consequence, to the errors of philosophy.
It is the opinion of our author, that it is in some measure with the vehicle of our thoughts, as with the vehicles for our bodies: necessity produced both. Abbreviations, he observes, are "the wheels of language," "the wings of Mercury." In short, the errors of grammarians have arisen from supposing all words to be immediately either the signs of things, or the signs of ideas: whereas, in fact, many words are merely abbreviations employed for dispatch, and are the signs of other words. These are the artificial wings of Mercury, by means of which the Argus eyes of philosophy have been cheated. The first aim of language was to communicate our thoughts; the second to do it with dispatch: and the invention of men of all ages, has been perpetually upon the stretch to add such wings to their conversation as might enable it, if possible, to keep pace in some measure with their ideas.
CHAP. II, contains some considerations of Mr.Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding, the whole of which is here contemplated as a philosophical account of the first sort of abbreviations
in language. Had this great man been sooner aware of the inseparable connexion between words and knowledge, he would not have talked of the composition of ideas, but would have seen that it was merely a contrivance of language; for the only composition being in the terms, it is as improper to speak of a complex idea, as it would be to call a constellation a complex star; they are not ideas, but merely terms, which are general and abstract.
The parts of speech, form the subject of chap. iii, and the distribution for the two great purposes of speech, is here resolved into:
1. Words necessary for the communication of our thoughts; and,
2. Abbreviations, employed for the sake of dispatch.
In respect to the former of these, we are told, that in English, and in all languages, there are only two sorts of words, which are necessary for the communication of our thoughts, and these are nouns and verbs; by means of which alone, any thing can be related or communicated, that one can relate or communicate, with the help of all the others.
We are briefly informed, in chap. iv, that the noun is the simple or complex, the particular or general sign, or name of one or more ideas;
and, in chap. v, that the fate of that very necessary word the article, has been most singularly hard and unfortunate: "for though without it, or some equivalent invention, men would not communicate their thoughts at all; yet, (like many of the most useful things in the world,) from its unaffected simplicity and want of brilliancy, it has been ungratefully neglected and degraded. The latter has been considered, after Scaliger, as otiosum loquacissimæ gentis instrumentum;' or, at best, as a mere vaunt-courier to announce the coming of his master: whilst the brutish inarticulate interjection, which has nothing to do with speech, and is only the miserable refuge of the speechless, has been permitted, because beautiful and gaudy, to usurp a place amongst words, and to exclude the article from its well earned dignity." It is observed soon after, “that the dominion of speech is erected upon the downfal of interjections;" and that, "the neighing of a horse, the lowing of a cow, the barking of a dog, the purring of a cat, sneezing, coughing, groaning, shrieking, and every other involuntary convulsion with oral sound, has almost as good a title to be called parts of speech as interjections have."
The four next chapters, relative to the word "THAT," "conjunctions," " etymology of the