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HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
OF DIFFERENT LANGUAGES. Q. Is language much subject to change ?
A. As much so as perhaps any thing connected with human affairs. Q. On what do these changes depend?
A. Partly upon the political changes occasioned by war and conquest, and partly upon the progress of knowledge and of civilization. Q. Does each language, then, stand separate and distinc: from
A. Far from it ; for many of them, being closely allied to each other, require them to be viewed in the light of families or kindred. Q. What produces this close connection or alliance ?
À. The circumstance of their being either sprung from a common origin, or subjected to the operation of similar political changes. Q. How would you illustrate this?
A. By a reference to the languages of France, Spain, and Italy, among which there is an intimate connection, as having all sprung from the Latin. Q. How come they to be descended from the Latin ?
A. Because the Romans, who spoke the Latin language, having long had full and entire possession of these countries, had succeeded in establishing in them their own language.*
* Through the influence of the Romish priesthood, the language of ancient Rome was preserved in some degree of purity. As D’Israeli remarks, “The primitive fathers, the later schoolmen, the monkish chroniclers, all alike composed in Latin: all legal instruments, even marriage contracts, were drawn in Latin : and even the language of Christian prayer was that of abolished paganism."
In the rage for the classical literature of Greece and Rome in the fif teenth century, the vernacular tongues of Europe were neglected by scholars. The ancients were copied and imitated-original genius was cramped.
Q. And how came this language to be changed ?
A. By these countries having, in the course of time, been overrun by rude and barbarous nations from the North of Europe ; and thus their languages gradually lost their pure Latin character in consequence of being blended with those of the invaders, though they retained so much of their primitive distinction as to mark their Latin origin.
Q. Into how many classes, therefore, may languages be divided ?
A. Two; such as are primitive and original, and such as are borrowed or derived from some other.
Q. But if all languages, as we have reason to believe, have de scended from one origin, must there not be only one primitive language?
A. Strictly speaking, there must; but as we are ignorant of what that original language was, we are accustomed to consider every language as original which does not seem to have any close affinity with any other with which we are acquainted.
OF THE PRIMITIVE LANGUAGES OF EUROPE.
Q. From how many primitives are the languages of Europe supposed to be derived ?
A. Chiefly from four: the Greek, the Gothic or Teutonic, the Celtic, and the Sclavonic.
Q. Do any of these, as spoken languages, still retain their original form?
Dante and Boccacio, in the fourteenth century, are regarded as the parents of Italian literature, being the first who wrote in that language any work of taste. Still great effort was made by many to discourage Italian literatnre, in favor of the Latin tongue.
Some French, and Portuguese, and British scholars soon attempted to give shape, and beauty, and reputation to their own vernacular tongues.
It was not until the event of the Reformation under Luther that the prejudice of writing in Latin was first checked in Germany, France, and Eng. land. That event awakened benevolence toward the common people, and the production of works in the native tongue, that the people might read them. The versions of the Scriptures into them served more than any other circumstance to give foundation and beauty to the various languages of modern Europe. The people, as such, thus became interested in the study and improvement of their own languages. Various writers, among others Lord Bacon, composed some works in Latin, and others in the vernacular.
A. The Celtic and the Sclavonic do so to a very great degree, but the others have become greatly changed.
Q. And where does the Sclavonic continue to be a spoken language ?
A. Chiefly in Hungary, Poland, Bohemia, and Russia.
Q. In what places does the Celtic still prevail ?
A. In Wales, the Highlands of Scotland, Brittany in France, and some districts of Ireland.
Q. What are the principal languages derived from the Greek ? A. The modern Greek, spoken in Greece, and some of the islands of the Archipelago, as well as the different languages of which Latin is the basis, this latter tongue being itself a derivative from the Greek.
Q. And what are these languages ?
A. Most of those spoken in the South of Europe, including the French, the Italian, the Spanish, and the Portuguese.
Q. What are the languages founded chiefly on the Gothic or Teutonic?
A. The German, the Dutch, the Danish, the Swedish, and the English.
Q. Do the languages of different coụntries always retain their distinctive characters?
A. They do so to a certain extent, though those of adjoining tribes and nations always run less or more into each other.
OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. Q. What renders English a language of so much importance !
A. The circumstances of its being spoken by so great a multitude of the human race at the present day, of its being so copious, simple, and expressive; and of its containing so rich, so varied, and so refined a literature.
Q. Has it always possessed these characteristics ?
X. Far from it; for, till within three hundred years or so, it was rude and irregular in its structure,
meager in its vocabulary and power of expression, and destitute of every thing deserving the name of a literature. Q. What tended to keep it so long in this state?
A. Partly the ignorance and barbarity of the people, and partly the practice which so long prevailed among the learned, of writing almost every thing in Latin.
Q. What prompted the learned for so long a period to compose chiefly in Latin ?
A. That they might, by enlarging the circle of their readers, enjoy a more extended popularity.
Q. How did writing in a dead language increase the number of their readers ?
A. Because Latin at that time was the language which the learned all cultivated and understood, while the illiterate were generally so ignorant as to be unable even to read or write their own tongue.
Q: Was there no other cause that tended to perpetuate the use of Latin as a written language?
A. Yes; there was the circumstance of so much of the service of the Catholic Church being performed in Latin ; and besides, the British schools and universities being founded almost exclusively for the education of churchmen, the Roman tongue was honored in these seats of learning by being made nearly the sole instrument of communicating thought.
Q. Who were the first improvers of the English language ?
Ă. Those chiefly who wrote for the common peo-, ple ; and of these the poets took the lead.
Q. Supposing Latin to have been less cultivated, would the progress of the English language have been slow on any other account?
A. Yes; for, besides the unsettled state of the country, the dearth of books would have precluded every thing like learning among the great bulk of the people, and a language can not improve rapidly till extensively used in literary compositions.
Q. How does this happen?
A. Because, till such time as writers find numerous readers, they can not be expected to bestow much pains upon their compositions.
OF THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, ETC.
Q. From whom have we the earliest accounts of Britain ?
A. From the Romans; and more especially from the famous general and elegant writer, Julius Cæsar.
Q. What language was then spoken in the country?
A. That known by the name Celtic, and the same as prevailed at one time in France, Spain, and Portugal.
Q. What proof have we of the Celtic having been then the common language of the country?
A. The names of a vast number of its mountains, rivers, and lakes, and of other objects of a permanent character, are Celtic in their origin, a thing which never could have happened, had that language not been early and long the common speech of the country. Q. Why are the names of towns not also of the same origin?
A. Because towns being fluctuating in their nature, many of those of ancient date are now extinct, and many of those still existing have been of a date long subsequent to the pure Celtic period.
Q. What effect is the Roman conquest supposed to have had upon this language ?
A. By introducing the use of Latin among the upper classes, it caused the Celtic to become the language of the lower orders merely. Q. Did the two languages not blend into one ?
Ă. No; for those who had adopted the Latin generally abandoned their native tongue; and the Romans never came to settle in such numbers as to produce any material change upon the original language of the country.
Q. To what purposes was the Celtic language applied, besides the common intercourse of life?
A. To those chiefly of eloquence and poetry.
A. The warlike harangues delivered to their followers by Caractacus, Galgacus, and Boadicea.
Q. Who were their principal poets?