Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

After expressing myself in so high terms with respect to the merits of Tooke's grammatical speculations, I think it necessary to add, that the author himself does not appear to me to have formed a very accurate or just idea of the nature and import of his own discoveries. The leading inference which he always deduces from them is, that the common arrangements of the parts of speech in the writings of grammarians are inaccurate and unphilosophical ; and that they must contribute greatly to retard the progress of students in the acquisition of particular languages ; whereas, in point of fact, Tooke's specusations do not relate in the least to the analysis of a language after it attains to a state of maturity, but to the progressive steps by which it advances to that state. They are speculations not of a metaphysical, but of a purely philological nature ; belonging to that particular species of disquisition which I have elsewhere called theoretical or conjectural history. In a word, they are speculations precisely similar to those contained in Mr. Smith's dissertation, and may be justly regarded as a supplement to that essay. * To prove that conjunctions are a derivative part of speech, and that, at first, their place was supplied by words which were confessedly pronouns and articles, does not prove that they ought not to be considered as a separate part of speech at present ; any more than Mr. Smith's theory with respect to the gradual transformation of proper names into appellatives, implies that proper names and appellatives are now radically and essentially the same ; or, than the employment of substantives to supply the place of adjectives, (which Mr. Tooke himself tells us is one of the signs of an imperfect language,) proves that there is no difference between these two parts of speech in such tongues as the Greek, the Latin, or the English. t

The mention of this last date recalls to my recollection a fact, which, in justice to myself, I cannot forbear to notice ; that the extraordinary grammatical merits of the letter to Mr. Dunning were pointed out a few months after its publication in a course of lectures on Moral Philosophy, which (at a very early period of my life, and while still Professor of Mathematics) I delivered in the University of Edinburgh during the absence of Dr. Ferguson in North America. I record this trifling circumstance, as I have been most unjustly accused of having spoken lightly of Mr. Tooke's literary merits in one of my former publications.

Biographical Memoirs of Smith, Robertson, and Reid, p. 46, et seq. † As the book referred to in the foregoing note may not have fallen in the way of some of the readers of this volume, I beg leave to copy from it one or two paragraphs, which I fatter myself will throw considerable light on the scope of the preceding observations.

“ In examining the history of mankind, as well as in examining the phenomena " of the material world, when we cannot trace the process by which an event has been produced, it is often of importance to be able to show how it may s have been produced by natural causes. Thus, although it is impossible to de

PART II.

Of the Origin and History of Language.

In the sequel of Mr. Smith's dissertation he treats of compounded languages, and of the circumstances in which their genius differs from that of languages which are simple and original. In prosecuting this subject, his remarks are so much less open to criticism than in the former part of his theory, that I shall do little more, in what follows, than offer a short summary of his leading positions, accompanied with some additional illustrations of my own.

From the observations made by Mr. Smith in the first part of his Essay, it follows that original languages can scarcely fail to be very complicated in their declensions and conjugations; a circumstance which adds much to the difficulty of studying them as a branch of education, but which would not be felt by those who were accustomed to speak them from their infancy. When, however, different nations came to mingle together, in consequence of conquest or migration, the necessity of acqui

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

“ termine with certainty what the steps were by which any particular language

was formed, yet if we can show, from the known principles of human nature,

how all its various parts might gradually have arisen, the mind is not only to a "certain degree satisfied, but a check is given to that indolent philosophy which "refers to a miracle whatever appearances, both in the natural and moral worlds, it is unable to explain.

“ To this species of philosophical investigation, which has no appropriate name "in our language, I shall take the liberty of giving the title of Theoretical or

Conjectural History; an expression which coincides pretty nearly in its meaning with that of natural history, as employed by Mr. Hume, (see his Natural " History of Religion,) and with what some French writers have called Histoire “ Raisonnée."

[ocr errors]

" I shall only observe farther on this head, that when different theoretical hisstories are proposed by different writers of the progress of the human mind in

any one line of exertion, these theories are not always to be understood as “ standing in opposition to each other. If the progress delineated in all of them “ be plausible, it is possible, at least, that they may all have been realized; for “ human affairs never exhibit, in any two instances, a perfect uniformity. But “ whether they have been realized or no, is often a question of little consequence. “ In most cases, it is of more importance to ascertain the progress that is most

simple, than the progress that is most agreeable to fact ; for, paradoxical as " the proposition may appear, it is certainly true that the real progress is not al

ways the most natural. It may have been determined by particular accidents, “which are not likely again to occur, and which cannot be considered as form

ing any part of that general provision which nature has made for the improvement of the race.”—Biographical Memoirs of Smith, Robertson, and Reid, Edin. 1811, pp. 48, 49. 53, 54.

ring each others languages would naturally lead them to exert their ingenuity in simplifying the study as much as possible, by whatever shifts the language would afford. Hence, the gradual substitution, in the languages of modern Europe, of prepositions instead of declensions, and of the substantive and possessive verbs instead of conjugations. This observation Mr. Smith has illustrated most ingeniously and happily.

“ A Lombard who was attempting to speak Latin, would "naturally supply his ignorance of declensions by the use of

prepositions, and if he wanted to express that such a person

was a citizen of Rome, or a benefactor to Rome, if he hap“pened not to be acquainted with the genitive and dative cases o of the word Roma, would naturally express himself by pre

fixing the prepositions ad and de to the nominative; and, " instead of Romæ, would say, ad Roma, and de Roma. Al Roma, and di Roma, accordingly, is the manner in 6 which the present Italians, the descendants of the ancient “ Lombards and Romans, express this and all other similar re6 lations. And, in this manner, prepositions seem to have o been introduced in the room of the ancient declensions. “ The same alteration has been produced upon the Greek lan“guage, since the taking of Constantinople by the Turks.

“A similar expedient enables men, in the situation above"mentioned, to get rid of almost the whole intricacy of their - conjugations. There is in every language a verb, known s by the name of the substantive verb; in Latin, sum ; in « English, I am. This verb denotes not the existence of any “ particular event, but existence in general. It is, upon this "account, the most abstract and metaphysical of all verbs ; " and, consequently, could by no means be a word of early "invention. When it came to be invented, however, as it had 66 all the tenses and moods of any other verb, by being joined 66 with the passive participle, it was capable of supplying the « place of the whole passive voice, and of rendering this

part " of their conjugations as simple and uniform as the use of pre"positions had rendered their declensions. A Lombard, who to wanted to say, I am loved, but could not recollect the word " amor, naturally endeavoured to supply his ignorance by say“ing, ego sum amatus. Io sono amato, is at this day the “ Italian expression, which corresponds to the English phrase 66 above-mentioned.

“ There is another verb, which, in the same manner, runs 6 through all languages, and which is distinguished by the “ name of the possessive verb; in Latin, habeo; in English, 6s I have. This verb, likewise, denotes an event of an ex

[ocr errors]

“ tremely abstract and metaphysical nature; and, consequent"ly, cannot be supposed to have been a word of the earliest "invention. When it came to be invented, however, by be“ing applied to the passive participle, it was capable of sup“plying a great part of the active voice, as the substantive “verb had supplied the whole of the passive. A Lombard, “who wanted to say, I had loved, but could not recollect the "word am veram, would endeavour to supply the place of "it, by saying either ego habebam amatum, or ego habui "amatum. Io aveva amato, or Io ebbi amato, are the cor"respondent Italian expressions at this day. And thus, upon " the intermixture of different nations with one another, the

conjugations, by means of different auxiliary verbs, were “made to approach towards the simplicity and uniformity of "the declensions.

“In general, it may be laid down for a maxim, that the « more simple any language is in its composition, the more "complex it must be in its declensions and conjugations; and, "on the contrary, the more simple it is in its declensions and "conjugations, the more complex it must be in its composi“tion.

This general observation Mr. Smith confirms by particular instances, for which I must refer to his dissertation.

The circumstances pointed out by Mr. Smith as discriminating the Greek and Latin languages from the French, the Italian, and the English, have given rise to some remarkable differences between the genius of ancient and modern tongues, considered both as materials for agreeable composition, and as instruments of Philosophical communication. I shall touch on one or two of these characteristical differences as briefly as possible.

1st, In consequence of the inflections of nouns and verbs which supersede the use of prepositions and of auxiliary verbs, the ancient languages possessed a great advantage over the modern, in point of conciseness. The words, Dei and Deo, for example, expressed, each of them, what in English must be translated by two words, of God, to God. The difference is still greater with respect to conjugations. What a Roman expressed by the single word amavissem, an Englishman is obliged to express by four words, I should have loved. It is in a great measure owing to this, that in epitaphs and other inscriptions, where the shortness of the work requires the most finished elegance, the use of the modern languages is almost intolerable to those who are acquainted with the beauties of which the ancient tongues are susceptible in consequence of the rejection of every thing superfluous and cumbersome.

Dr. Campbell has illustrated this advantge, which the ancient tongues possessed over the modern in point of conciseness, by the difficulty of translating any of the common Latin mottos (or what the French call devises) into a modern language, without destroying completely their spirit and vivacity. In the motto, for example, non mille quod absens, how spiritless is the English translation, “ A thousand cannot equal one that is absent.Another instance mentioned by Campbell, is that of a rock in the midst of a tempestuous sea ; to denote a hero, who, with facility, baffles all the assaults of his enemies; the motto Conantia frangere frangit; in English, “I break the things which attempt to break me.” * All European languages labour under the same inconveniences.

ad, The structure of the ancient languages allowed a latitude in the arrangement of words, of which modern languages do not admit. The structure of the latter ties us down to one invariable arrangement, or, at least, confines our choice within very narrow limits. In the Greek and Latin, though the adjective and substantive were separated from one another, the correspondence of their terminations still showed their mutual reference; and the separation did not occasion any confusion in the sense. Thus, in the first line of Virgil,

“ Tityre, tu patulæ recubans sub tegmine fagi,"

We easily see, that tu refers to recubans, and patulæ to fagi, because the terminations determine their mutual reference. But if we were to translate this line literally into English “Tityrus, thou of spreading reclining under the shade beech," it would be perfectly unintelligible, because there is here no difference of termination to indicate to what substantive each adjective belongs. The case is the same with the verbs. In Latin, the verb may often be placed without any ambiguity in any part of the sentence. But, in English, its place is almost always precisely determined. It must follow the subjunctive, and precede the objective member of the phrase in almost all

* “ In this example” (says Cambell) “ we are obliged to change the per,

son of the verb, that the words may be equally applicable, both in the literal “sense and in the figurative, an essential point in this exercise of ingenuity. The S personal pronoun in our language must always be expressed before the verb. “ Now the neuter will not apply to the hero, nor the masculine He to the rock ; “ whereas the first person applies equally to both.”-Philosophy of Rhetoric, Vol. II. p. 411. Note.

[ocr errors]
« PredošláPokračovať »