« EdellinenJatka »
ESSAY ON LANGUAGE.
1. LANGUAGE has been long considered as a subject of great interest, and has occupied the ablest writers among most civilized nations. Yet, after all the learning employed in its investigation, a slight research will show, that most of the contradictory systems which have been proposed are radically defective, and that much remains to be done.
It is not expected that the expositions about to be offered will be free from defect. The intention is to present, in a new point of view, a branch of learning deeply interesting to the literary world, and particularly to the American States, under existing circumstances.
2. The plan of the present treatise differs, probably, from what has been attempted in any coun
The ideas advanced will vary in several important particulars from the received doctrines of the schools, and the prejudices of inwrought sentiment. Novelty, however, is not sought for the sake of innovation. The leading object is simple philosophic truth.
3. Many obvious difficulties are presented in connexion with such an undertaking. If the principles advanced should be considered just, it may not be easy to make them entertaining, and reconcile them to the prejudices resulting from a different course of instruction. These difficulties, however, do not consist in the want of interest in the nature of language itself, but in the want of skill properly to explain it.
4. Among persons of more conceit than intelligence, it is not uncommon to hear the study of language represented as being, under almost any form, a dull and frivolous pursuit. It may be so to those whose attention is confined to arbitrary rules, founded on the mere forms of words : but when we consider the faculty of speech as the distinguishing gift of the Creator to our race: as inwoven with all the wants, enjoyments, and improvements of man: as the index to the progress of society from barbarism to refinement, and of its downward course through luxury, imbecility, and crime to the depths of national degradation; contemplating the structure of speech as blended with the whole internal organization of society; with instruction, laws, religious sentiments, moral conduct, and babits of thought; when we consider it as the means of the Christian's present consolation and future hope, and still extend our views to the faculty of speech as the medium of social bliss for superior intelligences in an eternal world : what benighted man, rejecting the bounty of his Maker, shall come forward and say that the study of language is dull, or low, or unprofitable ?
5. Specch is to mind what action is to anima! bodies. Its improvement is the improvement of our intellectual nature, and a duty to God who
6. As a subject of philosophic' contemplation, and as parts of physiological or anatomical science, the structure and use of the organs of speech are among the most wonderful of the Creator's works. There is, perhaps, no exercise of mechanical skill among men equal to what is produced in the organs of speech in rapid utterance. The precision with which definite sounds are produced, in all their various complication, almost without the consciousness of effort; the nice distinctions, which are so infallibly preserved, by variations almost inconceivably minute, render the human articulation, to those capable of attending to its principles, an unceasing theme of admiration. Yet, the learned Dugald Stewart justly observes : “ Many authors have spoken of the wonderful mechanism of speech; but none .has hitherto attended to the far more wonderful mechanism which it puts into action, behind the scene." How wonderful indeed are those complex and subtile springs of thought, which every one feels himself to possess': whence originate the distinctive powers and glory of man; but which no acumen in philosophy has yet been able to explain. An attention to the intimate connexion between ideas and words will exhibit something of that wonderful influence which language exerts over our inmost sentiments and strongest associations.
7. The dispute of the mental philosophers whether ideas are innate, intuitive, or wholly acquired through the medium of the senses, has no necessary connexion with the structure of language. Whether the rational faculties have their seat in
given to etymology; to the comparison of various languages, in the literal, transitive, idiomatic, and figurative meanings of words; and to the best systems of logic and mental philosophy, compared with the consciousness of what is passing in the mind. The evidence which limited means could draw from these sources, was constantly referred to the civil and moral history; the physical and social condition, of man, in relation to which, all language is formed.
This volume may be regarded as a sketch of general principles, rather than a set of special rules. It is addressed chiefly to the reasoning faculties; not to the memory, as an arbitrary form of words; and is, in its general plan, purposely confined to the plain and literal modes of speech.
The author has, in practice; witnessed its effects in expanding and invigorating the minds of the young'; in leading to habits of philosophic scrutiny, and to the application of language to its legi
If it should be thought, by some, that too much freedom is used, in this work, in speaking of the prevailing course of instruction in language, it is not from intentional want of candor; but from deliberate conviction, that a large portion of what is received as the exposition of speech, is alike opposed to fact, to science, and to common sense : for under no other name, but that of grammar, could such