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THE SOURCES OF THE MODERN ENGLISH TONGUE; AND
THEIR COMPARATIVE IMPORTANCE.
1. Two points—The Grammar-The Vocabnlary-Doctrine as to each.-GRAMMAR. 2.
English Grammar in Substanco Anglo-Saxon-Enumeration of Particulars.—3. General Doctrine-Our Deviations in Verbs few-The chief of them-Our Deviations in Nouns and their Allies many-Description of them-Consequences. 4. Position of Modern English among European Tongues—Leading Facts cominon to the History of all-Comparison of the Gothic Tongues with the Classical-Comparison of the English Tongue with both.– VOCABULARY. 5. Glossarial Elements to be Weighed not Numbered–The Principal Words of the English Tongue Anglo-Saxon-Seven Classes of Words from Saxon Roots. 6. Words from Latin Roots-Periods of Introduction-Kinds-Uses. 7. Words from French Roots-Periods of IntroductionKinds and Uses. 8. Words from Greek Roots. 9. Words from Tongues yielding few. 10. Estimate, by Number, of Saxon Words Lost-Remarks. 11. Estimate of the Number of Saxon Words Retained-Proportion as tested by the DictionariesProportion as tested by Specimens from Popular Writers.
1. OUR hasty survey of the Origin and Progress of the English Language has now been carried down to the beginning of the sixteenth century.
Its organization may be held to have been by that time complete. The laws determining the changes to be made on words, and regulating the grammatical structure of sentences, had been definitively fixed and were generally obeyed: all that had still to be gained in this particular was an increase of ease and dexterity in the application of the rules. The vocabulary, doubtless, was not so far advanced. It was receiving constant accessions; and the three-and-a-half centuries that have since elapsed have increased our stock of words immensely. But this is a process which is still going on, and which never comes to a stop in the speech of any people : and, the grammar being once thoroughly founded, the effects of glossarial changes are only secondary, until the time arrives when they co-operate with other causes in breaking up a language altogether. In brief
, all the alterations which our tongue has suffered since the end of the middle ages, may be regarded as nothing more than changes and developments of Style; that is, as varieties in the manner in which individuals express their meaning, all of them using the same language.
Here, therefore, we may endeavour to sum up our results.
We have no time to spare for eulogies on the English Language. It is not only the object of affection to all of us, for the love we bear to our homes and our native land, and for the boundless wealth of pleasant associations awakened by its familiar sounds. It is worthy, by its remarkable combination of strength, precision, and copiousness, of being, as it already is, spoken by many millions, and these the part of the human race that appear likely to control, more than any others, the future destinies of the world. It may also be remarked, that the very nature of our tongue, the position it occupies between the Teutonic languages and those of Roman origin, fits it especially for the mighty functions which press more and more upon
it. * Again, it is not our part to determine, with the accuracy
of philosophical grammar, the character of our language, principles which dictate its laws.
Our investigation is strictly Historical ; and it will be closed when we have obtained a general view of the relations which the Modern English bears to those other tongues, from which
derives its laws and its materials.
The leading doctrines may be asserted in two or three sentences.
First our Grammar, the system of laws constituting our Etymology and Syntax, is Anglo-Saxon in all its distinctive characteristics.
Secondly, our Dictionary, though we take it in its latest and fullest state, derives a very large proportion of its words from the Anglo-Saxon. The only other tongues to which it owes much are those of the Classical stock ; the French and Latin furnishing a very great number of words; and the Greek giving to our ordinary speech hardly any thing directly, though much through the Latin.
These two points, the Grammatical and the Glossarial character of the English language, will now successively be glanced at.
THE GRAMMAR OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
2. In regard to our Grammar, so many facts have gathered about us in the course of our historical inquiry, that little is now left to be done except the generalizing of particulars.
“Our chief peculiarities of structure and of idiom are essen
* “It is calculated that, before the lapse of the present century, a time that so many now alive will live to witness, English will be the 100 tive and vernacular language of about one hundred and fifty million human beings." Watts: in Latham's “ English Language ;" Ed. 18.10.
tially Anglo-Saxon; while almost all the classes of words, which it is the office of grammar to investigate, are derived from that language. Thus, the few inflections we have are all AngloSaxon. The English genitive, the general modes of forming the plural of nouns, and the terminations by which we express the comparative and superlative of adjectives ; (-er and -est;) the inflections of the pronouns; those of the second and third persons, present and imperfect, of the verbs; the inflections of the preterites and participles of the verbs, whether regular or irregular; and the most frequent termination of our adverbs (ly): are all Anglo-Saxon. The nouns, too, derived from Latin and Greek, receive the Anglo-Saxon terminations of the genitive and plural ; while the preterites and participles of verbs derived from the same sources, take the Anglo-Saxon inflections. As to the parts of speech, those which occur most frequently, and are individually of most importance, are almost wholly Saxon. Such are our articles and definitives generally, as 6 a, an, the, this, that, these, those, many, few, some, one, none;' the adjectives whose comparatives and superlatives are irregularly formed; the separate words "more' and most,' by which we express comparison as often as by distinct terminations; all our pronouns, personal, possessive, relative, and interrogative; nearly every one of our so-called irregular verbs, including all the auxiliaries, have, be, shall, will, may, can, must,' by which we express the force of the principal varieties of mood and tense ; all the adverbs most frequently employed; and the prepositions and conjunctions almost without
3. The valuable enumeration which we have thus received, admits of being reduced to a very short formula. In no point of importance is the Grammar of the English Language any thing more than a simplification of the Grammar of the AngloSaxon.
Our Etymology is simpler than that of our mother-tongue, in proportion to the extent to which we have carried our abandonment of its inflections. We have stripped our words to the bones, leaving little more than their root-forms, and making ourselves dependent on auxiliary words for denoting their relations. This process indeed has gone so far, as to make our Syntax nearly a nonentity:
But here, again, a distinction should be taken. We have not dropped the inflections alike in all classes of words. The inflected words were, the verbs on the one hand, the nouns, pro
* Edinburgh Review ; Vol. LXX. ; 1839.
nouns, and articles on the other. On the former we have made comparatively little change: the latter we have metamorphosed almost completely.
In respect of our Verbs, then, we are still in substance AngloSaxon. The alterations we have made, so far as worth notice, are these. On the one hand, we have, it is true, retained the -st and -th of the second and third persons singular in the present, and the -st of the second person in the preterite; but the -th is nearly displaced by the -s or -es of the Northumbrian Saxon, and the second person singular by the second plural. On the other hand, in the way of abandoning old forms entirely, we have made changes of which three only here require notice. One of these seems to have been harmless; namely, the dropping of a difficult gerundive form, importing obligation. The two other changes have been seriously hurtful. First, the verb Weorthan “to become,” did the work of an auxiliary to the passive voice, much as the German Werden. With the passive participle, it made a proper present tense; Beon, or Wesan, To be, taking its place in the perfect and past. Thus, “Domus ædificatur," “ Domus ædificata est,” and “ Domus ædificata fuit,” had each its ready and idiomatic version. The useful verb Weorthan was preserved in Scotland till the sixteenth century, or longer. But in England it vanished much earlier; and we have not yet been ingenious enough to discover any efficient substitute for it. We shall, indeed, seldom if ever be misunderstood, if we are content to say, in a passive sense, " the house is building :" and a genuine ancient prefix gives us a phrase quite unequivocal, in “ the house is a-building.” But those forms have not found favour in the eyes of our most authoritative grammarians: and punctiliously correct speakers insist on using a cumbrous circumlocution, or compounding an awkward and novel auxiliary.* Secondly, the AngloSaxon had past tenses for the verbs Mot and Sceal, now represented by the defective auxiliaries Must and Ought. Our loss of these preterites forces us, when we wish to express past obligation by these words, to adopt the expedient of throwing the main verb into the past. We interpret such phrases correctly by common consent: but they really misrepresent the relations of the two verbs in point of time. “ He ought to have written is a false translation of “ Debuit scribere:" although if we are •
* Weorthan is used both by Barbour and Gawain Douglas. The uncouth “is being” is not quite of yesterday: it is introduced, with a sneer, in Horace Walpole's Correspondence.
to use this auxiliary, it is the only translation that our language enables us to give.
The only noticeable form which we have added to our heredi. tary verbs is this. Our ancestors long ago became dissatisfied with the Saxon manner (certainly a rude one) of denoting futurity. It was usually attempted by the tense which we call the present, but which our Anglo-Saxon grammars correctly regard as an indefinite. Precision was sought by new applications of the auxiliaries Sceal and Wille, properly expressive of obligation and resolution: and these grew up into our Shall and Will, the shibboleth which betrays Irishmen and Scotsmen. The modern distinctions between them not only were unknown to the countrymen of Alfred, but are at variance with the applications of similar words now made both in the Gothic tongues and in the French and Italian: and none of our etymologers has yet been able to reconcile them under any one consistent principle.
Now, however, we must consider the Nouns (substantive and adjective), and the words allied to them. Here our innovations have been prodigious : we have, in fact, revolutionized the whole system. Except for the pronouns, the only inflections we have retained are two. We have, in substantives, the plural forms, which, as has been seen, are corruptions from one of several Anglo-Saxon declensions. We have also the genitive or possessive : but this case itself, partly superseded by the preposition from the earliest stages of English, has had its application restricted still further by modern usage. Though we may say “man's” and “ men's,” we now use, by far oftenest, the compound forms “ of man” and “ of men :” and, in very many instances, we cannot do otherwise without introducing awkwardness or confusion. In adjectives, again, as the extracts have shown, we not only lost very early the fine distinction between definites and indefinites, but made the words totally indeclinable. Further, we have dropped all the various and convenient inflections of the articles.
These innovations on the nouns and their allies affect the structure of every sentence we utter. They involve these two serious consequences. Modern English words admit very
little Inversion (whence mainly comes the bareness of our Syntax) : they have a great and troublesome inaptitude of Composition.
The effect of these two philological infirmities will be better understood, if we take advantage of the position we have reached, for comparing, in the leading points, the history of our own language with that of others which are now spoken abroad. 4. We have to learn, in the first place, a doctrine maintained