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former the th terminates a multitude of words, and the third person singular of the indicative present. The th borrowed from the East was not pronounced (though introduced into the Greek alphabet with the x chi, the kappa, the o omega) till about the beginning of the Peloponnesian war, at the period when Alcibiades turned the brains of the Athenians by the graceful difficulty with which he expressed certain letters of his language. The th was a compound letter, which the soft Ionian dialect seemed to supply in aid of the elegant pupil of Pericles. The modern Greek has retained the
use of the theta.
The th of old English, at the end of a word, could only be the soft th, such as it is pronounced in mouth, sooth, teeth, and not the rough th, at the beginning of a word, as in thunder, throbbing, thousand.
Letters, in old English, were frequently doubled. The e which abounds and contends with the th for the end of words, was the mute e retained from the French. It contributed to soften the too sharp sound. The proof that these letters were not etymological but euphonic is that the orthography varied in every county, and almost in every village, according the ear, which is the echo of the accent. The very words varied in a radius of a few leagues.
According as the pronunciation and form of the English language underwent a change, and as it lost its sobriety, it enriched itself with the tributes of time. The genius of a language is composed of the religion, political institutions, character, manners, and customs of a people. If this people extends its conquests to a distance, it derives an increase of ideas and of sentiments from the countries with which it comes into contact. Let us first consider what a language may gather from the duration and diversity of the national laws.
It was laid down, as a principle, in England, that a law is never abolished: thus it happened that the history of the past was present to the mind amidst new events, as an ever-living grandmother in the midst of her numerous children and grandchildren. At the commencement of the present century, an Englishman threw down the gauntlet in full court, and challenged his adversary to the ordeal of battle.
The English common law governs the whole of England.
In the Isle of Man, the constitutions of the ancient kings of that state are still adhered to.
In Jersey and Guernsey, the statutes of Rollo are in full force.
The lawsuits of the Indians and Moguls are tried by appeal in the court of King's Bench held
in London, and they are decided in conformity with the articles of the Puranas and of the Koran. In the Ionian islands, the Justinian code mingles with the decisions of the Admiralty Court.
In Canada, the ordinances of the kings of France flourish, as in the days of St. Louis.
The Isle of France is governed by the Code Napoleon; the Anglo-Spanish colonies are swayed by the Castilian and Aragonese laws; the Cape of Good Hope, by the Dutch law.
Politics, manufactures, commerce, have blended the technical expressions of their dictionaries with those of the general dictionary.
The Houses of Parliament supply to the common fund the speeches of Strafford, the Vanes, Bolingbroke, Walpole, the two Pitts, Burke, Fox, Sheridan, Canning, and Brougham.
The vocabulary is augmented in social economy, by the researches of Adam Smith, Malthus, Thornton, Ricardo, and Macculloch.
The service of the English possessions in the four quarters of the globe has naturally increased the number of travellers; what a fresh source for the importation of ideas and images! In 1600, one hundred and one London merchants collected a sum of 800,000 francs; and, behold! the Bacchuses and Alexanders, who became the masters and conquerors of India!
The English had Samaritan, Arabic, Syriac grammars and dictionaries almost before they had Greek and Latin dictionaries; they thus commenced with the study of the dead and living languages of Asia; they yielded to the instinct of their genius, which inclined them to the pomp of images and the independence of rules. Wilkins, Colebroke, Carey*, Marsden, Morrison, Lockhart, Gladwin, Lumsden, Gilchrist, Hadley, William Jones, have bestowed their attention on the Sanscrit, the vulgar Bengalee, the Malay language, the Persian, the Chinese, and the common language of Hindostan. Thus, with laws which never die, and with colonies placed at the four quarters of the compass, the English language alike embraces time aud space.
We formerly possessed boundless regions beyond sea; they offered a refuge to the excess of our population, a market for our commerce, a career for our sciences, a means of keeping up our navy: we are compelled, at the present day, to immure our convicts in unwholesome prisons, for want of a corner of the globe to serve as a receptacle for those wretched beings; we are excluded from the new universe, where mankind is beginning afresh.
* There is another Carey, a poet and musician, to whom the English incorrectly ascribe the tune of God save the King.
The English, Spanish, and Portuguese languages, form in Africa, Asia, the Oceanic islands, the islands of the South Sea, and the continents of both Americas, the medium for conveying the sentiments of many millions of men; whilst, disinherited from the conquests of our genius, we scarcely hear the language of Colbert and of Louis XIV. spoken any where but in a few districts of Louisiana and Canada, and in the dominion of strangers; there it remains as a record of our reverses of fortune and of the errors of our policy.
But, if the language of Milton and of Shakspeare derives positive advantages from this diffusion of power, it is exposed to attacks from that quarter. When confined to its native soil, it possessed a more individual, more original, more energetic character; on the banks of the Ganges and the St. Lawrence, at the Cape of Good Hope, at Port Jackson in New Holland, at the island of Malta in the Mediteranean, at the island of Trinidad in the Gulf of Mexico, it takes up expressions which corrupt it. Pickering has collected the words used in the United States: from his work we may see how rapidly a language changes under a foreign sky, from the necessity of furnishing expressions for a new culture, for an industry and arts peculiar to the soil, for habits generated by the climate, for laws and manners which constitute a different society.