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Rise and Progress of Language and of Writing.
this sort of writing. They have no dependence on words; each figure represents the number for which it stands ; and consequently is equally understood by all nations, who have agreed in the use of these figures.
The first step, to remedy the imperfection, the ambiguity, and the tediousness of each of the methods of communication, which have been mentioned, was the invention of signs, which should stand not directly for things, but for words by which things were named and distinguished. An alphabet of syllables seems to have been invented previously to an alphabet of letters. Such a one is said to be retained at this day in Ethiopia and some countries of India. But at best it must have been imperfect and ineffectual; since the number of characters, being very considerable, must have rendered both reading and writing very complex and laborious.
To whom we are indebted for the sublime and refined discovery of letters, is not determined. They were brought into Greece by Cadmus, the Phoenician, who, according to Sir Isaac Newton's Chronology, was contemporary with king David. His alphabet contained only sixteen letters. The rest were afterward added according as signs for proper sounds were found to be wanting. The Phoenician, Hebrew, Greek, and Roman alphabets agree so much in the figure, names, and arrangement of the letters, as amounts to demonstration, that they were derived originally from the same source.
The ancient order of writing was from the right hand to the left. This method, as appears from some very old inscriptions, prevailed even
Structure of Language.
among the Greeks. They afterward used to write their lines alternately from the right to the left, and from the left to the right. The inscription on the famous Sigean monument is a specimen of this mode of writing, which continued till the days of Solon, the celebrated Legislator of Athens. At length the motion from the left hand to the right, being found more natural and convenient, this order of writing was adopted by all the nations of Europe.
Writing was first exhibited on pillars and tables of stone; afterward on plates of the softer metals. As it became more common, the leaves and bark of certain trees were used in some countries; and in others, tablets of wood, covered with a thin coat of soft wax, on which the impression was made with a stylus of iron. Parchment made of the hides of animals, was an invention of later times. Paper was not invented before the fourteenth century.
STRUCTURE OF LANGUAGE.
THE common division of SPEECH into eight parts, nouns, pronouns, verbs, participles, adverbs, prepositions, interjections and conjunctions, is not very accurate; since under the general term of nouns it comprehends both substantives and adjectives, which are parts of speech essentially distinct. Yet, as we are most accustomed to this division, and as logical exactness is not necessary to our present design, we
Structure of Language.
adopt these terms, which habit has made familiar
Substantive nouns are the foundation of Grammar, and the most ancient part of specch. When men had advanced beyond simple interjections or exclamations of passion, and had begun to communicate their ideas to each other, they would be obliged to assign names to objects, by which they were surrounded. Wherever a savage looked, he beheld forests and trees. To distinguish each by a separate name would have been endless. Their common qualities, such as springing from a root, and bearing branches and leaves, would suggest a general idea and a general name. The genus, tree, was afterward subdivided into its several species of oak, elm, ash, &c. upon experience and observation.
Still however only general terms were used in speech. For oak, elm, and ash, were names of whole classes of objects, each of which comprehended an immense number of undistinguished individuals. Thus, when the nouns man, lion, or tree, were mentioned in conversation, it could not be known, which man, lion, or tree, was meant among the multitude, comprehended under one name. Hence arose a very useful contrivance for determining the individual object intended, by mean of that part of speech called the Article. In English, we have two articles, a and the; a is more general, the more definite. The Greeks had but one, which agrees with our definite article the. They supplied the place of our article a by the absence of their article; thus Anthropos signifies a man, o Anthropos, the man. The Latins had no article; but in the room of it
Structure of Language.
used the pronouns, hic, ille, iste. seems a defect in their language; certainly contribute much to precision.
This, however, since articles perspicuity and
To perceive the truth of this remark, observe the different imports of the following expressions: "The son of a king, the son of the king, a son of the king's." Each of these three phrases has a separate meaning, too obvious to be misunderstood. But, in Latin, "filius regis," is entirely undetermined; it may bear either of the three senses mentioned.
Beside this quality of being defined by the article, three affections belong to nouns, number, gender and case, which deserve to be considered.
NUMBER, as it makes a noun significant of one or more, is singular or plural; a distinction found in all tongues, which must have been coeval with the origin of language, since there were few things, which men had more frequent necessity of expressing, than the distinction between one and more. In the Hebrew, Greek, and some other ancient languages, we find not only a plural, but a dual number; the origin of which may very naturally be accounted for, as separate terms of numbering were yet undiscovered, and one, two, and many, were all, or at least the principal numeral distinctions, which men at first had any occasion to make.
GENDER, which is founded on the distinction of the two sexes, can with propriety be applied to the names of living creatures only. All other nouns ought to be of the neuter gender. Yet in most languages the same distinction is applied to
Structure of Language.
a great number of inanimate objects. Thus, in the Latin tongue, ensis, a sword, is masculine ; sagitta, an arrow, is feminine; and this assignation of sex to inanimate objects often appears entirely capricious. In the Greek and Latin, however, all animate objects are not distributed into masculine and feminine; but many of them are classed, where all ought to be, under the neuter gender; as, saxum, a rock; mare, the sea.
But in the French and Italian tongues, the neuter gender is wholly unknown; all their names of inanimate objects being put upon the same footing with those of living creatures, and distributed without reserve into masculine and feminine. In the English language, all nouns literally used, that are the names of living creatures, are neuter; and ours is, perhaps, the only tongue (except the Chinese, which is said to resemble it in this particular) in which the distinction of gender is philosophically applied.
CASE denotes the state or relation which one object bears to another, by some variation of the name of that object; generally in the final letters, and by some languages in the initial. All tongues however do not agree in this mode of expression. Declension is used by the Greek and Latin; but in the English, French, and Italian, it is not found; or, at most, it exists in a very imperfect state. These languages express the relations of objects by prepositions, which are the names of those relations prefixed to the names of objects. English nouns have no case, except a sort of genitive, commonly formed by adding the letter s to the noun; as, when we say Pope's Dunciad," meaning the Dunciad of Pope.