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William Shepherd.

Systematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) online

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explanation than he has given ; (for instance, providence, pru-
dence, innocence, and all the rest of the tribe of qualities in
ence and ance, which he represents as the neuter plurals of ihe
present participles of the Latin verbs videre, nocere, 8cc. with-
out shewing us why things foreseeing, or things not hurting,
have acquired the force of the above words :) but a conside-
rable number of his derivations are very satisfactory, and give
great insight into the procedures of language. A few may be
adduced as a specimen of his etymologies. Skill is the past
participle pf the Anglo-Saxon \erh skj//an, to divide, to make a
difference, to discern; and it signifies that faculty by which
things are properly divided, or separated one from another.
Sorrow is the past participle of syrwan, to vex, to cause mis-
chief to, and is the general name for any thing by which one
is vexed, grieved, or mischieved. Wrath is the past partici-



GRAMMAR. 71

pie of writhan, to writhe. Heat is the past participle of hea-
tan, to make hot. Doom is the past participle of deman, to
judge, to decree.

Another class of abstract nouns, viz. those ending in th,
have been traced to a veiy probable origin by Home Tooke :
he considers them as the third persons singular of verbs. For
instance ; truth (anciently written troweth, trowth, truth, and
troth,) means, what one troweth, i. e. thinketh, or firmly be-
lieveth : warmth means that which warmeth : strength is that
which stringeth, or maketh one strong. While, however, we
agree so far with Mr. Tooke, we cannot go with him, when he
limits our acceptation of words to that in which they were
first employed; and supposes that all the complicated, yet
often definable associations, which the gradual progress of
language and intellect has connected with words, are to be re-
duced to the standard of our forefathers. We cannot avoid
expressing our belief, that he has either totally overlooked, or
greatly neglected, the influence of the principle of association^
both in the formation of ideas, and in the connecting of them
with words. It does not follow, that because the ideas con-
nected with abstract terms are not what Mr. Locke supposed,
that there are no ideas connected with them, but that they are
merely contrivances of language. Several classes of abstract
nouns are altogether passed over by Mr. Tooke ; and we
regret it, because he was eminently qualified to trace the origin
of those terminations, by which are formed the names of
qualities, considered as separate from the substances in wrhich
they exist. One class is formed by the addition of ness to the
adjective, such as whiteness, goodness, &c. ISIess is the Anglo-
Saxon naes, or nese, signifying tiose. It is also used for prO'
montory; as in Sheer-ness, Orford-ness, the Naze, &c.
Joined to the name of a quality, it denotes that the quality is
a distinguishing feature of an object; it consequently holds it
up as an object of separate attention.

Of Number. We now proceed to those changes which are



7i BELLES LETTRES.

made in the form of uouns, to express a change of significa-
tion ; and tirst, we shall attend to NumOer. In speaking of
the objects of thought, we have constant occasion to speak of
one or more of a kind; in every language therefore ine may
expect to find a variation in the form or adjuncts of nouns, to
denote unity or plnrahty. To avoid the necessity of using such
adjunct<, or rather, in consequence of the coalescence of them
with the nouns, owing to the frequent use of them in connexion
with the nouns, a change of form has taken place in most cul-
tivated languages. The Hebrew plurals are generally formed
by the addition of D, mem, to the noun, probably because D
was the symbol of water, and denoted collection and plurality ;
and in that language the coalescence has actually taken place,
and occasionally undergone some corruption. Among the
Chinese, the plural adjunct has not yet coalesced with the noun ;
and they generally denote the plural by the addition of min to
the singular. Supposing the coalescence of plural adjuncts to
have been the origin of the changes on nouns to denote plura-
lity of meaning, it does not necessarily follow that all plural
changes were thus formed. The change of form produced by
such coalescence in some cases, might suggest a corresponding
change in others, though the change might not be exactly simi-
lar. Henpe, could we trace some of the plural changes to
art, as their earliest origin, it would weigh little against the ge-
neral principle. We shall, however, almost universally find,
that the extension of old procedures, rather than the invention
of new ones, has been the cause of almost all even of the arti-
ficial changes in language. The reason is obvious : besides
the greater ease to the innovator, it would be much more in-
telligible to those who are to adopt his innovation. Even the
philosopher judges it more proper to follow the analogies of
his language, than to deviate from them where he knows such
deviatien would be an improvement.

Except as far as is dictated by custom, and that conveni-
ence on which the custom has been founded, there is no rea-
son why the same word, unchanged, should not be applicable



. ' GRAMMAR. 73

both where one and where more re meant : why, for instance,
we should not say two man, as well as one man. The plural
form may be applied to two, or two hundred, or any indefinite
number; now is there, in the nature of the thing, a more
marked distinction between one and two, than between two
and two hundred ? In fact, were we always able to join to
the noun a numeral, or some other adnoun denoting number,
a plural form would be unnecessary ; but it is frequently desir-
able to denote plurality where the number is indeterminate, or
unnecessary to be specified. The Chinese drop their plural
adjunct, when there is another word of plurality attached to
the. noun. We do not go upon the same principle ; but there
are cases in which we make no changes to denote plurality,
as twenty pound of flour, thirty sail of ships, four thousand,
&c. These instances, though contrary lo the prevailing ana-
logy of our language, certainly do not oppose the general
principles of language ; and though the neglect of the plural
termination in such cases is ungrammatical, it probably savours
less of vulgarity to go thus far with the multitude, than of pe-
dantry to quit the beaten track. There are other instances,
however, in which the use of the same word both in a singular
and plural acceptation is perfectly legitimate ; we s^y one, or
twenty, deer, or sheep.

If there must be a form for unity as distinguished from plu-
rality, why not forms to denote two things, three things, &c.?
There is no reason but in their inferior utility. Some lan-
guages have a form for duality ; and by the Greeks this form
was carried through their nouns, adnouns, pronouns, verbs,
and participles. They had, however, no scrqple in using the
plural form for two things, and in making their duals agree
with plurals. The fact is, the distinction between one and
more than one, is more useful than any farther distinction.

Of Case. In every department of knowledge, we are con-
cerned with individuals ; and though, for the purposes of com-
munication, general terms are not only convenient, but abso-



74 BELLES LETTRES.

lutely necessary, some contaiviinces are requisite to designate
individuals, or less general clasises of individuals. This is done
either by means of adnouns, or by stating some connexion be-
tween what is denoted by the noun and some other substance
or quality. The latter is accomplished by juxta-position, by
prepositions, or by e(|uivalent changes in the word connected.
The last is called luHexion, and the word so changed is called
a case of the noun. In Enghsh we have only one inflexion of
the noun, and two of the pronoun. Persons who think that
the processes of eveiy language must be accommodated to
the grammar of the Greek and Latin, strenuously contend for
an equal number of cases with theirs. If case mean a change
in the zford, to denote connexion with other wordi, then the
plan of our language cannot be accommodated to that of the
L<atin ? if of a man, to a man, &c., be considered as cases, there
is certainly no reason why the same appellation should not be
given to every noun to which a preposition is prefixed, and ihea
we shall have above thirty cases. It is fortunate for the spe-
culator, that, inthis and other instances, language will not bend
to the contrivances of the technical grammarian : for his wish
to reduce every process to an agreement with a standard which
prejudice only can deem perfect, would, if successful, materi-
ally increase the difficulties of grammatical investigation.

The variation of our nouns is confined to mark one relation,
that of property or possession ; and it is therefore with great
propriety called the possessive case. The appellation genitive
case is sometimes applied to it ; but the force of the Greek
and Latin genitive is to denote relation in general, though ca-
pable of specific application, and is exactly equivalent to a
noun preceded by of. The possessive case of a noun is not
equivalent to the noun preceded by of, except where the lat-
ter has the specific force of belonging to. It may in all cases
be represented by of, with the noun following ; but the latter
mode of expression cannot io many instances be represented
by the possessive case.

The French, Spanish, and Italian languages have no cases



GRAMMAR. 75

of nouns : the German has changes to express what we de-
note by of and to ; but these changes are not carried through
all the nouns. The Latin and Greek languages have still more
variations, which they carry through all their variable parts of
speech, except the verbs. The arrangement of these varia-
tions is the work of art : and the appellations of case, {or Jail-
ing,) and declension, (or bending from,) appear to have gone
upon the following principle : the word from which the cases
are formed, was represented by a perpendicular line, and the
cases by lines dechning or falling from it. For the sake of
convenience, the nominative and vocative are denominated
cases ; and from the above contrivance, the nominative was
termed the upright case, and the other cases were termed ob-
lique. The nominative is the name itself. The vocative, or
case of calling, has its origin in those changes in the pronunci-
ation which arise from the mode of utterance in calling to a
person : it is a corruption, or an abbreviation of the nomina-
tive. We have already spoken of the force of the genitive ;
we shall only add here, that we have in English one procedure
exactly corresponding to it in force, though not so universally
applied, viz. juxtaposition. This is a very simple and intelli-
gible process. To connect the terms is a satisfactory ex-
pression of the connexion of the things signified : and in this
procedure, as in the genitive, the kind of connexion is left to
be inferred ; as in the expressions iron chain, China orange,
house door, &c. The theoretical distinction between the da-
tive and accusative does not appear to be clearly marked ; but
the general force of the former is to denote acquisition, and
of the latter to designate the word as the object of the action
of verbs and their derivatives. As to the ablative, there is
scarcely room for doubt that it is merely a variation of the da-
tive form, where indeed it has a form distinct from it. Pro-
bably in consequence of the ellipsis of a preposition, this form
has by degrees come to denote the cause, manner, or instru-
ment of an action ; and this is now the primary force of the
casQ when unattended by preposiUons. 'f



76 BELLES LETTRES.

The changes which are made to denote connexion, have
been foni.< d by prefixing or affixing letters to the words them-
selves; and t'ley might have been arbitrary, or gradually pro-
duced by the coalescence of words or abbreviations of words.
The latter hypothesis is in every respect so very probable, that
nothing seems requisite to prove it to have been the general
procedure of. language ; but to shew that it has actually oc-
curred in some instances. It has been for some time the pre-
vailing opinion among philosophical philologists, and it has ac-
quired great support from the discoveries of Tooke. He
states it without any limit in the following manner : *' All
those common terminations, in any language, of which all
nouns or verbs in that language equally partake (under the no-
tion of declension or conjugation) are themselves separate
words, with distinct meanings ; which are therefore added to
the different nouns of verba, because those additional mean-
ings are intended to be added occasionally to all those nouns
or verbs. These terminations are all explicable, and ought to
be explained." In fact, the progress of the coalescence has
been delected in some of the most refined instances of it ; and
in many cases to which system has not reached, the coales-
cence is universally allowed. In tlie two principal cases of
the Greek noun, in some at least of its forms of inflexion, tlie
origin of the change has been traced ; and all the cases of the
Hebrew nuun, are obviously formed by prefixing (instead of
affixing, as in the Greek,) significant words. The grammarian
doe? not indeed allow that the changes of the Hebrew noun
are cases ; but such arbitrary distinctions serve only to render
obscurity more obscure. In the French, au and du are indis-
putably abbreviations of d le and de ie : we can trace their cor-
ruption, and we are not obliged to suppose greater corrup-
tions in more disputable instances. What is the origin of the
possessive termination of our nouns b very uncertain.

Of Gender. Gender is distinction of substantives, as denot-
ing males, or females, or neither. The names of males arc



GRAMMAR. - 77

Said to be of the masculine gender ; the names of females of
the feminine gender ; and all other names are said to be of
the neuter, that is, of neither gender. The purposes even of
accurate communication, do not, in all cases, require any de-
notement of gender, and* accordingly we find many words
which are common to both sexes. The English and the pure
Persian, appear to be the only languages which observe the
natural distinction in the division of nouns. We denote differ-
ence of sex, either by a change of appellation, or by a change
in the word itself, or by a significant adjunct ; as, horse, mare ;
lion, lioness; he-goat, she-goat. In addition to its greater
philosophical accuracy, the procedure of our language enables
us to mark with greater perspicuity and force the personifica-
tion of inanimate substances or abstract qualities.

In the earliest languages, there is no distinction of gender,
further than into masculine and feminine, and the reason is ob-
vious ; for the principle of animation appears to the unculti-
vated mind to pervade all nature. In the more cultivated
languages in which a third class is admitted, the arrangement
seems to have been the work of art. The foundation was laid
in the natural distinction of sex : by degrees those termina-
tions which most frequently occurred in the respective divi-
sions, were made the characteristics of those divisions ; and
nouns of similar terminations, were arranged uoder them, with-
out respect to the original ground of distinction. We must
not be surprised to find, that languages derived from those, in
which the distinctions of nature had given way to the divisions
of art, should leave nature altogether ; and we accordingly find,
that in those modern European languages which are derived
from the Latin, gender is little more than a mere grammatical
distinction of nouns into two classes, called masculine and fe-
minine.

II. Of the adnoun. We apply the term Adnoun to
those single words which are added to nouns to vary their
GomprehensioD; or to vary or determine their extension. Those



78 - BELLES LETTRES.

which effect the former object are called adjecthes; those
which effect the latter, we call restrictives. It is not, perhaps,
in all cases, easy to say to which of these classes an adnoun
should be referred, because the two objects are not always dis-
tinguishable, but, in general, those which denote qualities are
adjectives, and those which denote situation, possession, or
number, are restrictives.

Of Adjectives. Tl.e adjective is exactly equivalent to a
noun connected with another noun by means of juxtaposition,
or of a preposition, or of corresponding flexion ; E. g, A gol-
den cup, is the same with a gold cup, or a cup of gold; ^ pru-
dent man is the same as a man of prudence, or wr prudenticc.
It has been already observed, that the Greek and Latin geni-
tive, our preposition of, and juxtaposition, are all equivalent
procedures, though custom has produced a variety in the mode
of their application : we now add, that the adjective is another
equivalent ; and further, that the connexion denoted by the ad-
jective is equally indefinite with the others : E. g. A healthy
colour is a colour caused by health ; a healthy exercise is ex-
ercise causing healtli. And the use of all these procedures is
the same, to particularize the general term, by connecting with
the qualities which are included under it, some quality which
the general term does not include. In many instances, to de-
note that the name of a quality is used thus in connexion with
some other name, (that is, in fact, that it is used as an adjec-
tive,) certain terminations are employed which are significant
of such connexion ; and Home Tooke informs us, that those
by which the simple adjectives are formed, vit. en, ed, and igf
(our modem y,) convey, all three, the designation that the
names to which they are annexed are to be joined to some
other names ; and this by their own intrinsic meaning, for they
signify give, add, join. ** So the adjectives wooden, and
woollen," he continues, " convey precisely the same ideas, are
the names of the same things, denote the same substances, as
the substantives zpood and wool ; aod the termination en only



GRAMMAR. ^ 79

puts them in a condition to be joined to some other substan-
ces, or rather gives us notice to expect some other substances
to which they are to be joined."

Most languages which admit of inflexion, carry it through
their adjectives as well as nouns. In some, the adjective is
varied to express difference in the gender, number, and case, of
the connected noun. Where great liberty of inversion is de-
sirable, these variations are convenient ; because they point out
with what noun the adjective is connected : where juxtaposi-
tion ascertains this, they are unnecessary ; since they make no
change in the signification of the adjective. ITie significa-
tion of the adjective wise, is unchanged, whether it be ap-
plied to one man or woman, or to twenty men or women ;
whether its substantive be stated singly, or conjoined with
others, as the names of the parents, place of abode, &c., of
those to whom it is applied. The French always place the
adjective close to its noun ; yet they make changes on it to de-
note the gender of the connected noun. This is always unne-
cessary ; but sometimes it contributes to elegance, by prevent-
ing an awkward circumlocution.

Of Comparison. ^The qualities denoted by adjectives, may,
in general, vary in degree : some, as dimensions and weight,
may be measured with accuracy ; and the comparative degree
of some other qualities, at least of heat and cold, can be ascer-
tained with precision. Many, however, are incapable of ex-
act measurement ; and the ca,>js in which the exact degree of
the quality cannot be ascertained, are few in comparison with
those in which it is unnecessary. When we use terms to ex-
press a greater or less degree of a quality, we may either make
a direct and particular reference to the degree in which it is
possessed by other objects, or use them without such refe-
rence. In the former case, we are said to compare the quali-
ties and variations of the adjective, to express this comparison,
are called degrees of comparison. The difference between
the comparative and superlative in our language consists in the



80 ^ BEIXES LETTRES.

manner of construction merely, and not in the degree of the
quality: thus, Solomon \\ as wiser than any other king of Israel,
is the same as, ' Solomon was the wisest of the kings of
Israel.' 7'he comparative is used, when we speak of an
object as distinct fiom those with which we compare it;
the superlative, when it is spoken of as one of those with
which we compare it : e. g. Man is the noblest of ani-
mals, but not the noblest of the brute creation, other-
wise he must be one of the brute creation ; man is nobler
than the brutes, but not than all animals, or he must be
nobler than himself. The custom of our language makes
one distinction between the comparative and superlative,
which does not coincide with this grand distinction. We use
the comparative with the force of the superlative, when we
speak of two ; as, he is the reiser of the two, and the wisest
of any greater number. This is not an unjustifiable usage ;
but it has no particular foundation in the respective force of
the comparative and superlative. Such nice distinctions, where
well-founded, give langua8;e greater precision ; in the present
case, the dislinclion would not deserve much attention, were
it not sanctioned by the usage of the most correct writers.
Few of the modem European languages vary the words
themselves to express comparison. The French, e. g. express
by p/us and /e plus, what we express by more and most, or
(what is obviously equivalent, though custom limits their use to
particular cases,) by the terminations er and est. What is the
meanmg of these terminations r is a natural question : the
answer is not so easy. It appears, however, very probable,
that er is nothing more or less than the word which we still
use in the form ere, signifying be/ore ; and, that wiser signifies
wise before. Now, as has been well remarked by Mr. Dal-
ton, then and (Jian are the same in origin and signification :
hence, wiser than I, is exactly represented by, wise before,
than I, t. e. wise before, then (that is, next in order) /. Tliis
derivation, if correct, explains the ground of the peculiarity
above-stated, in the use of the comparative : he is tlie wiser



GRAMMAR. 8l"

of the two, means simply, he is wise before (the other) of
the two. It might be conjectured, that the superlative ter-
mination est, is an abbreviation of most, annexed to an adjec-
tive, in the same manner as in topmost, undermost, &c. ; but
Home Tooke has shewn, that more is merely mo-er, and
most, mo-est, which leaves the origin of the terminations er
and est as it was found.

Of Restnctives, ^Those adnouns which, without expressing
qualities, vary or determine the extent of the signification of
the nouns to which they belong, we call Restrictives. Some
restrictives are, by the custom of our language, applicable to
singular nouns only ; as one, a or an, another, this, that,
each, every, &c. ; others to plural nouns only ; as two, three,
these, those, other, ftw, all, &c. ; but most restrictives, like
all adjectives, are applicable to both singular and plural
nouns.

Of the restrictives, two are called Articles, the and an,
which last is abbreviated into a before consonants, h when
pronounced (unless the second syllable of the word be accent-
ed) before one, and u long as in use. An is simply another
form of the numeral one, still used in North Britain under
the form ane; and in the French, the numeral and the article
corresponding to one, are the same. But though aji and one
have the same origin and primary signification, there is occa-
sionally an obvious difference in the mode of their employ-
ment. This difference is well expressed by Dr. Cronibie,
" If, instead of saying * A horse, a horse, a kingdom for a
horse,' I should say, * One horse, one horse, one kingdom
for one horse,' the sentiment, I conceive, would not be
strictly the same. In both expressions, the species is named,
and in both, one of that species is demanded ; but with this
difference, that in the former, the name of the species is the
emphatic word, and it opposes that species to every other; in
the latter, unity of object seems the leading idea." An is
called the indefinite article, because it leaves undetermined

VOL. I. G



si BELLES LETTRES.



Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdSystematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 44)