Page images


better literature of Rome is not only in- extensive knowledge of the primitive formed with the spirit of the Greek wri- sources of the English language, and a ters, but that it borrowel very largely close and careful attention to the laws from them, ani ibat a knowledge of the of derivation and composition, and he Greek language was thought-by all the perpetually illustrates and justifies his scholars of the Augustan age, at least- use of words by a reference to their as indispensable an acquisition as it is by original and primary signification. the learned of our own time. Although But mere etymology, though it may many Latin words are readily traced to a aid us in tracing the sources of words, Greek original, and there is abundant and in ascertaining the rules of their forevidence that a large proportion of their mation and change, is yet inadequate to respective vocabularies was derived from teach us the organic laws, which detera common source, yet the etymology of mine the origin, growth, structure and the Latin language must be admitted to modification of language. We cannot be obscure, and it is probable that its here enter upon the discussion of the exceeding vagueness and want of precis- idle inquiry, whether the power of speech ion is to be ascribed to that very cause. was one of the original and primitive On the other hand, the Greek primitives faculties of man implanted in him by the are so few, and its rules of derivation creative act of his maker, or communiand composition are so philosophical, and cated to him by inspiration or express at the same time so natural, simple and revelation. Philologists, who deny this obvious, that every thinking Greek must supposition, will admit, with Rask and have been acquainted with the whole Coleridge, that language, if human in its physiology, so to speak, of his mother origin, is not artificial and of human intongue, and the study of that noble lan. vention, and that there may be a natural guage is the very best of etymological relation between the sign and the thing exercises. The superior purity of the signified, or in other words, that it is not dialect of refined women is partly con- altogether arbitrary and conventional, stitutional, and partly owing to habits and but is a necessary product of man's origassociations, which protect them from the inal faculties stimulated by the wants of contagion of those co

ons of lan- social life. It is, if not a primitive, at guage, to which the occupations and least a natural faculty, and being, in duties of men perpetually expose them. some form, a necessary condition for the But women are usually remarkable rather exercise of those powers which distin. for a ready and graceful, than for a very guish man from the brute, it is as essenextensive command of appropriate lan- tial as any other to our conception of guage, and the range of their vocabulary the human. We are perhaps not auis generally as limited as their unhappily thorized to affirm, that human language restricted educations.

is necessarily articulate. The readiness If we were required to exemplify the with which savages of different tribes value of etymological knowledge, by communicate by means of manual signs, citing a conspicuous instance, we should and the triumphant success which has refer to the writings of Coleridge, as at attended the efforts to educate deaf-mutes, once a proof and an example of the great by teaching written language through importance of this study. No writer of the aid of manual signs, seem to prove any age or country has surpassed, and the contrary. Uneducated deaf-mutes, no other English author has approached, as well as savages, converse with each that extraordinary man, in the perfect other, at first sight, by means of signs, command of all the resources of his na- which, though certainly never taught tive tongue, and still less in minute, pre- them, are, to a great extent, common to cise, and philosophical accuracy in the all that unfortunate class. Indeed, the use of words, and clearness of distinc. parents and family friends are not the tion betwcen vocables of similar general instructors, but the pupils of the infant signification. This accuracy, which deaf-mute, in this silent but expressive makes the works of Coleridge as valu. language, and nature is the great schoolable in philology as in philosophy, is mistress both of her dumb and her speakchiefly owing to a good, though noting children.* If then this supposition

To express equality, the relation of fraternity, &c., the deaf-mute places the two fore-fingers side by side. Had Shakspeare observed this, or was it a higher faculty than the power of observation, that suggested to him Fluellen's simile, “'tis so like as my fingers is to my fingers ?"


in regard to the origin of language is literature, not much has survived. We well founded, its conception, growth, and know little of their statistics, little of the development must be regulated by fixed habits of their domestic and familiar life, laws, and though we can imitate none of and silent Pompeii bas taught us more the creative processes of organic nature, of the living Italian of the first century, yet there is no apparent reason for doubt than all the extant literature of Rome. ing that those laws may be discoverable. Of the ordinary style and common topics In the present state of philological learn- of familiar conversation, of the social ing, however, it is not to be expected, and convivial dialect, the phrases of saluthat such investigations will enter into tation and compliment, the vocabulary of the ordinary course of general education, the boudoir, the nursery, the market, and and for the present, all, but the gifted and the kitchen, the technical language of comfavored few who belong to the mystic merce, agriculture, and the mechanic arts, priesthood of nature, must be content to the names of many of the most familiar pursue the study of language with hum- objects, and numerous other items, which bler aims and for narrower ends.

make up the sum of ordinary personal Philological pursuits, considered as an intercourse, most scholars are almost enauxiliary to the study of our own tongue, tirely ignorant, and much of this knowmay be cultivated with special reference ledge has perished altogether. We never either to the principles of universal gram- acquire the same mastery over the dead mar, or to the primitive etymological languages which we often attain over sources of the particular language which living tongues. We dare not venture we seek to master. What class of lan- upon a new Greek or Latin phrase, nor guages, then, has the strongest claims to are we ever so certain that we have the attention of the student of English, possessed ourselves of the true spirit of in these two points of view ?

those languages, as to be quite sure that The study of living tongues is indis. a new combination of words is allowable. pensable, on account of the greater per- The best modern Latin is a mere cento, a fection with which they may be acquired, patchwork of dexterously united shreds and the more intimate knowledge of the and fragments not woven by the artist, general structure of language which may but supplied from the storehouse of thus be attained, while the Greek is more memory, and we do not hesitate to conpowerfully recommended than any other demn, as unclassical and barbarous, every speech, by its philosophical structure, its phrase, every combination of vocables, copiousness, its exact precision and de- which we do not remember to have met, licacy of discrimination, its flexibility, its or for which the writer cannot produce admirable polish, its infinite variety, pow. the authority of precedent. The objecer and picturesqueness of expression, tion once allowed against new counts, and, in a word, its universality. But the that they were novæ impressionis, and languages of Greece and Rome are em- not to be found in the Register, is yet phatically dead. They belong to other valid against new forms of speech in the men, to other times, as it were, to an. modern use of the ancient tongues. This other and an extinct race of beings, and slavery to authority indicates an imperthese relics of ancient mind are to us fect acquaintance with those languages, what the fossilized bones of the masto- and it is quite true, as a learned Englishdon and megalonyx are to the skeletons man complained, that no modern scholar of our domestic animals. The means for “ read Greek as he reads a newg. thoroughly understanding these tongues paper." no longer exist. The language of books Our want of familiar knowledge and is always premeditated and artificial. ready command of Greek and Latin is No man speaks, or habitually thinks, as partly owing to the poverty of those he writes, and the recording of our branches of ancient literature which inwords or our thoughts is a process of troduce us to the every day life of Athens translation. Besides, many of those and Rome, but chiefly to the impossibility branches of literature, which, like the of making the artificial symbol supply historical novel, admit the free use of the the place of the natural sign. The writcolloquial style, and are devoted to the ten characters addressed to the eye are portraiture of men and manners, are of not language. They are symbols by modern origin. Periodical literature the which language is recalled, and are but ancients had none, and of their comic an artificial substitute for the word, whose drama, and their satirical and epistolary true recipient and interpreter is the ear.


The Greek characters, or the printed peace, which, with little interruption, words of any other language learned has prevailed throughout Christendom for from books, do not suggest to us the fa- an entire generation, the increased extent miliar sounds of a known speech, but of mercantile enterprise, the prodigious they are the conventional symbols of improvement and multiplication of the ideas, of which articulate words are the means of communication between distant proper representatives, and to us are es- nations, and the consequent freer intersentially as meaningless as the inscrip- course between all those parts of the tions upon an Egyptian obelisk, or the world where Christian influence is felt, Chinese characters on a tea-chest. Toa have combined to render a knowledge certain extent, indeed, ideographic writ. of the principal spoken languages of the ing may be expressive, in the same way old world more generally desirable ; and that manual signs are significant; but at the same time, the facilities for their this cannot be carried far, and in general acquisition have been so greatly imthe analogies will be as fanciful as those proved, that it is now an easier task to upon which Castel founded the theory of rival the polyglot fame of Sir William his ocular harpsichord. Castel imagined Jones or Dr. Bowring, than it was to that he had discovered between the pri- master three or four languages a half mitive colors the same relations that century since. exist between the tones of the diatonic The scholars of continental, and espescale, and he endeavored to make both cially of Northern Europe, have led the melody and harmony visible, or to pro- way in the establishment of a new school duce upon the eye, by succession and of philology; and the philosophical study combination of colors, effects analogous of the comparative anatomy of language, to those produced upon the ear by se- as exemplified in the works of Rask, quence and chord of sounds. What has Grimm, Bopp, Meidinger, and numerous been incorrectly affirmed of language is others, has not only facilitated the true of alphabetical writing, namely, acquisition of foreign tongues, and at that it is entirely arbitrary and conven- the same time aided the student in tional, while there does seem to be a attaining to a better knowledge of his natural relation between emotions (and own, but it has shed much curious and perhaps also external objects) and the unexpected light on both psychology articulate sounds by which they are ex

and the early history of our race. pressed. Without here entering upon

The success which has attended these the abstruser grounds, which seem to enlightened labors gives an earnest of prove that such relation exists, it is suf- incalculable and yet unforeseen benefits ficient for our present purpose to refer to to flow from the continued prosecution the personal experience of every scholar. of these studies in the spirit in which Every linguist will confirm the remark, they have been begun. We may hope that in all languages we meet with words, that phonology, or the analysis and whose signification we seem to recollect comparison of articulate sounds, comrather than to acquire, sounds apparently bined with a thorough knowledge of the informed with meaning, recognized almost anatomical structure of the vocal organs at once as essentially significant, and as and the animal mechanics of speech, natural exponents of the feelings, the ac- will at length be reduced, by long obtions, or the objects they represent. So servation and philosophical arrangement strong is this impression of the superior and deduction, to the rank of one of the force of particular words, even in lan- natural sciences. It will then have its guages with which we are not fainiliar, nomenclature, its classifications, its laws, that they sometiires rise to the lips, in- and even pronunciation will be taught stead of the apparently less appropriate by books. Though very much has been and expressive corresponding words of done for the illustration of phonology, our own tongue.

we must yet admit, that it is but in its Recent circumstances have conspired earliest infancy. Linguists are by no to give a favorable impulse to philologi- means agreed upon the number or classical pursuits. The English conquests in fication of primary sounds, nor is it the East have opened the mines of orien- settled what articulations are simple, tal lore to the literati of the West. The and what are compound. Even longs efforts of Bible and missionary societies and shorts are not clearly distinguished, have led to the study of numerous bar- sounds are vaguely characterized as open barous and obscure dialects. The general or close, broad or Aat, high or low, hard,


soft, or sharp-different writers using hearing them a single time pronounced. these epithets in very different applica- From these considerations, whose force tions-dissimilar sounds are confounded, is confirmed by some experience in our like sounds distinguished, and even Rask own case, we would earnestly recomdiscovers a difference between the Eng- mend to adult persons commencing the lish vein and vain, veil and vale.

study of a foreign language, to listen With the present imperfect helps in long before they atte to articulate, phonology, the difficulty in acquiring the and to insist that the teacher, and not the true pronunciation of foreign vowel. pupil, shall read the lessons. sounds lies rather in the ear, than in the The effect of philological studies, purorgans of speech. As soon as we are sued with the liberal and enlarged views able to appreciate and distinguish the which we have noticed, has been a gendelicate shades of foreign articulation, eral effort to nationalize and improve, from we can, in general, imitate these new their own resources, the languages of sounds with little difficulty, for there Europe from Iceland to Greece, and an exists between the ear and the vocal enlightened and philosophical purism is organs a sympathy, as mysterious as the aim of the best writers of our day in that which guides the arm of the slinger, every European tongue. The not un. in hurling the stone to the mark on which reasonable fears, which were once en his eye is fixed. One reason why those, tertained, of the influence of French taste who learn a language in the country in literature, and of the general prevawhere it is vernacular, acquire the pro- lence of that language as the common nunciation both more readily and more international dialect of Europe, have perfectly, is that they hear before they proved as mistaken as the Gallic dreams speak, and the ear becomes capable of of universal empire, and pure nationality discriminating between sounds slightly in language, thought, and subject is every different, before bad habits of articulation where the readiest path to literary celeb. are contracted by awkward attempts at rity. In becoming nationalized, lanimitating accents which the undisciplined guages tend to become also less flexible, ear is unable to appreciate. From the and more difficult both of translation and mere force

habits acquired in early of acquisition ; but on the other hand, life, the tongue continues to discriminate the great frequency of translation has between sounds, which the ear, now contributed to give all the European grown partially insensible, cannot dis- tongues a greater facility and variety of tinguish, and persons not accustomed to expression. The ablest and most poputhe analysis of sounds, often habitually lar works in every modern cultivated make distinctions, of which they are language are translated into all the rest. totally unconscious. Here, also, we find The provincialisms and Doric idioms of the explanation of the remarkable fact, Scott, and the Americanisms of Cooper, that the youngest children always articu- have found exponents, if not equivalents, late vowel sounds accurately, though in every European tongue; and on the they are long in mastering the more ob- other hand, English literature has been stinate consonants. There are, however, enriched by translations of most of the other facts important to be noticed, in valuable works, which have appeared on accounting for the closeness with which the continent, since the revival of learnchildren imitate the accent of those with ing. The Romance languages, though whom they converse. One is the greater not wanting in copiousness, all partake sensibility and delicacy of the organ of of the unyielding character of that baldhearing in early childhood, and the other est of cultivated tongues, their common is the predominance of the mimetic pro- mother the Latin, well characterized by pensities, which characterize not only Tegner as “stolt, oböjlig och arm,” children, but many of the ruder tribes of proud, poor, inflexible, and we meet few savages; and in this connection, it is good versions in any of them, from laninteresting to observe, that many travel- guages of a different class. English liters have found, in very barbarous races, erature on the contrary, has, from Lord an almost miraculous aptitude in ac- Berners to Freere, always been remarkquiring sounds foreign from any to which able for the excellence of its translations, they had been accustomed. It is even and there are few tongues, with so measaid, that they are sometimes able to gre inflections, which at all approach it repeat, with the closest exactness, whole in facility of adaptation to foreign forms sentences of European languages, after of thought and speech. The English is

[ocr errors]

sufficiently flexible to imitate the emas- a cockney affectation, and fashion has culated delicacy of the Italian, the flip- sanctioned the disgusting practice of, as pant sentimentality and colloquial ease Tegner in the same epigram complains, of the French, the stiff and unbending (en hälft stöter du fram, en hälft sväljer majesty of the Spanish, and even the du ner,) sputtering out one half of the Protean variety of the German and the word, and swallowing the other. There Greek. This advantage it owes less to is, however, a better reason for this proits structure, than to ils piebald and Ba- nunciation, so far as it is a legitimate bylonish composition, a circumstance peculiarity of the English tongue. The which, however, renders its nationaliza- syllables, which follow the principal tion, or improvement from its own stock, accent, are, in all languages, pronounced nearly impossible. The miscellaneous

more rapidly and more indistinctly than character of the sources from which the those which precede it. This is partly English is derived requires, from those from physical causes, but the principal who would thoroughly master it, a wide reason is, that the concluding syllables range of etymological research, and a are, in a large proportion of words, in comprehensive study of both the vocab- most languages, mere inflexions, which ulary and the idioms of many languages, may be slurred over, or even suppressed, and, in this point of view, some exami. without rendering the speaker less innation of its composition, structure, and telligible. What the actual practice of peculiarities may be not without interest. the Greeks, for instance, was in this

No thinking observer can have failed particular, we have not the means of to notice, that there is in English a per- knowing, but we can easily conceive, petual struggle between the constituent that a person familiar with Greek would elements, and this, in reference not find little difficulty in understanding a merely to the relative predominance of speaker, who should dwell very little Saxon and of Latin vocables and syntax, on trisyllabic endings in ouevoc and the but also to the pronunciation. The like. Although the place of the accent Gothic element, for instance, inclines to in English is variable, yet in most words, throw the accent backwards, the Ro- polysyllables especially, it follow's the mance, to rest it upon the final or pen- general rule of the Gothic languages, ultimate syllable; the one, to attach the and is thrown far back. There is, howconsonant to the preceding vowel, the ever, this difference between the English other, to join it to that which follows. and the Gothic languages: in the latter, In conversation, we are prone to use both the roots and the inflexions are Saxon words and Saxon idioms, while in usually of one, or, at most, two syllables. written composition, we affect both a Polysyllables are, of course, compound, vocabulary and a syntax borrowed from and there is a distinct secondary accent the Latin. This incessant conflict of in- on the principal syllable of each of the gredients and structure, is, perhaps, the component primitives. Every part of principal reason why comparatively few the word is significant, and must be fully Englishmen are able to command a flow articulated, in order to render the whole of pure and elegant, and, at the same intelligible. In English, on the other time, familiar conversational language, a hand, the polysyllables are usually of talent, certainly, by no means so rare Latin origin, and, if compound, are of an among those who speak a dialect homo- etymology not obvious to most of those geneous in its origin. Foreigners com- who use them. We follow the analogy plain, with reason, of the indistinct of the Gothic languages in accenting the utterance of the English, and Tegner initial syllables; and the latter portion of satirizes our mother tongue, as a “språk the word, being either merely a terminal för de stammande gjort,” speech for form, or, if otherwise, inexpressive to stammerers framed. Much of this nau- us, is, very naturally, negligently enunseous thickness of articulation is at best ciated.*

* The fact that uneducated persons usually clip words, by suppressing the syllables preceding the accent, may seem to be at variance with what we have stated, in regard to the comparative distinctness with which the syllables preceding and those following the accent are pronounced, but we appeal with confidence to the ear of any attentive orthoepist for a confirmation of the truth of our remark. An ingenious female friend suggests to us, that the reason why ignorant persons suppress rather the distinctly uttered initial, than the comparatively inaudible final syllables, is that the latter, even

« PreviousContinue »