Page images
PDF
EPUB

stantives, are all the words which express the names of objects, or the subjects of discourse ; attributives, are all the words which express any attribute, property, or action of the former ; connectives, are what express the connections, relations, and dependencies, which take place among them. The common grammatical division of Speech into eight parts; nouns, pronouns, verbs, participles, adverbs, prepositions, interjections, and conjunctions; is not very logical, as might be easily shewn; as it comprehends under the general term of nouns, both substantives and adjectives, which are parts of Speech generically and essentially distinct; while it makes a separate part of Speech of participles, which are no other than verbal adjectives. However, as these are the terms to which our ears have been most familiarised, and as an exact logical division is of no great consequence to our present purpose, it will be better to make use of these known terms than of any other.

We are naturally led to begin with the consideration of substantive nouns, which are the foundation of all Grammar, and may be considered as the most ancient part of Speech. For, assuredly, as soon as men had got beyond simple interjections, or exclamations of passion, and began to communicate themselves by discourse, they would be under a neces.

“nibus materiam, (quia alterum est quod loquimur, alterum de

quo loquimur,) in convinctionibus autem complexum eorum esse “ judicârunt; quas conjunctiones a plerisque dici scio; sed hæc “ videtur ex ourdeopce magis propria translatio. Paulatim a philo“ sophicis ac maximè a stoicis, auctus est numerus ; ac primùm “ convinctionibus articuli adjecti ; post præpositiones; nominibus, “ appellatio, deinde pronomen; deinde mistum verbo participium; “ ipsis verbis, adverbia." Lib. I. cap. iv.

sity of assigning names to the objects they saw around them ; which, in Grammatical Language, is called the invention of substantive nouns. * And here at our first setting out, somewhat curious occurs. The individual objects which surround us are infinite in number. A savage, wherever he looked, beheld forests and trees. To give separate names to every

a

* I do not mean to assert, that among all Nations, the first invented words were simple and regular substantive nouns. No. thing is more difficult than to ascertain the precise steps by which men proceeded in the formation of Language. Names for objects must, doubtless, have arisen in the most early stages of Speech. But it is probable, as the learned author of the Treatise On the Origin and Progress of Language has shewn (vol. i. p. 371. 395.), that, among several savage tribes, some of the first articulate sounds that were formed denoted a whole sentence rather than the name of a particular object; conveying some information, or expressing some desires or fears, suited to the circumstances in which that tribe was placed, or relating to the business they had most frequent occasion to carry on; as, the lion is coming, the river is swelling, &c. Many of their first words, it is likewise probable, were not simple substantive nouns, but substantives, accompanied with some of those attributes, in conjunction with which they were most frequently accustomed to behold them; as, the great bear, the little hut, the wound made by the hatchet, &c. Of all which the author produces instances from several of the "American Languages; and it is, undoubtedly, suitable to the natural course of the operations of the human mind, thus to begin with particulars the most obvious to serse, and to proceed from these to more general expressions. He likewise observes, that the words of those primitive tongues are far from being, as we might suppose them, rude and short, and crowded with consonants ; but, on the contrary, are, for the most part, long words, and full of vowels. This is the consequence of their being formed upon the natural sounds which the voice utters with most ease, a little varied and distinguished by articulation; and he shews this to hold, in fact, among most of the barbarous languages which are known."

[ocr errors]

one of those trees, would have been an endless and impracticable undertaking. The first object was, to give a name to that particular tree, whose fruit relieved his hunger, or whose shade protected him from the sun. But observing, that though other trees were distinguished from this by peculiar quali. ties of size or appearance, yet, that they also agreed and resembled one another, in certain common qualities, such as springing from a root, and bearing branches and leaves, he formed in his mind some general idea of those common qualities, and ranging all that possessed them under one class of objects, he called that whole class, a tree. Longer experience taught him to subdivide this genus into the several species of oak, pine, ash, and the rest, according as his observation extended to the several qualities in which these trees agreed or differed.

But, still, he made use only of general terms in Speech. For the oak, the pine, and the ash, were names of whole classes of objects; each of which included an immense number of undistinguished individuals. Here then it appears, that though the formation of abstract, or general conceptions, is supposed to be a difficult operation of the mind; such conceptions must have entered into the very first formation of Language. For, if we except only the proper names of persons, such as Cæsar, John, Peter, all the other substantive nouns which we employ in discourse are the names, not of individual objects, but of very extensive genera, or species of objects; as, man, lion, house, river, &c. We are not, however, to imagine, that this invention of general, or abstract terms, requires any great exertion of metaphysical capacity : for, by whatever steps the

mind proceeds in it, it is certain, that, when men have once observed resemblances among objects, they are naturally inclined to call all those which resemble one another by oné common name; and of course to class them under one species. We may daily observe this practised by children, in their first attempts towards acquiring Language.

But now after Language had proceeded as far as I have described, the notification which it made of objects was still very imperfect: for, when one mentioned to another, in discourse, any substantive noun, such as man, lion, or tree, how was it to be known, which man, which lion, or which tree he meant, among the many comprehended under one name? Here occurs a very curious, and a very useful contrivance for specifying the individual object intended, by means of that part of Speech called the Article.

The force of the Article consists, in pointing or singling out from the common mass, the individual of which we mean to speak. In English, we have two Articles, a and the ; a is more general and unlimited; the more definite and special. A is much the same with one, and marks only any one individual of a species: that individual being either unknown, or left undetermined; as, a lion, a king. The, which possesses more properly the force of the Article, ascertains' some known or determined indi. vidual of the species; as, the lion, the king.

Articles are words of great use in Speech. In some Languages, however, they are not found. The Greeks have but one article, ó ý tò, which answers to our definite, or proper Article, the. They have no word which answers to our Article a; but they supply its place by the absence of their Article: Thus,

[ocr errors]

The son

Badideus signifies, a king ; ó Baoideus, the king. The Latins have no Article. In the room of it they employ pronouns, as, hic, ille, iste, for pointing out the objects which they want to distinguish. « Noster

sermo," says Quinctilian, “ articulos non deside“ rat, ideoque in alias partes orationis sparguntur. This, however, appears to me a defect in the Latin Tongue; as Articles contribute much to the clearness and precision of Language.

In order to illustrate this, remark what difference there is in the meaning of the following expressions in English, depending wholly on the different employment of the articles : “ The son of a king “ of the king — A son of the king's.” Each of these three phrases has an entirely different meaning, which I need not explain, because any one who understands the Language conceives it clearly at first hearing, through the different application of the Articles, a and the. Whereas in Latin, “ Filius regis” is wholly undetermined; and, to explain in which of these three senses it is to be understood, for it may bear any

of them, a circumlocution of several words must be used. In the same manner, “ Are you a • king?" Are you the king ?” are questions of quite separate import; which, however, are confounded together in the Latin phrase, “esne tu rex ?" • Thou art a man,” is a very general and harmless position; but, “thou art the man,” is an assertion capable, we know, of striking terror and remorse into the heart. These observations illustrate the force and importance of Articles : and, at the same time, I gladly lay hold of any opportunity of shewing the advantages of our own Language.

Besides this quality of being particularised by the

« EelmineJätka »