The Science Of Grammar

He science of grammar, whatever we may suppose to be its just limits, does not appear to have been better

The Science Of Grammar

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curs in most of the foregoing Latin definitions, is censured by the learned Richard Johnson, in his Grammatical Commentaries, on account of the vagueness of its meaning. He says, it is not only ambiguous by reason of its different uses in the Latin classics, but destitute of any signification proper to grammar. But even if this be true as regards its earlier application, it may well be questioned, whether by frequency of use it has not acquired a signification which makes it proper at the present time. The English word correctly seems to be less liable to such an objection; and either this brief term, or some other of like import, (as, "with correctness"--"with propriety,") is still usually employed to tell what grammar is. But can a boy learn by such means what it is, _to speak and write grammatically_? In one sense, he can; and in an other, he cannot. He may derive, from any of these terms, some idea of grammar as distinguished from other arts; but no simple definition of this, or of any other art, can communicate to him that learns it, the skill of an artist.

R. Johnson speaks at large of the relation of words to each other in sentences, as constituting in his view the most essential part of grammar; and as being a point very much overlooked, or very badly explained, by grammarians in general. His censure is just. And it seems to be as applicable to nearly all the grammars now in use, as to those which he criticised a hundred and thirty years ago. But perhaps he gives to the relation of words, (which is merely their dependence on other words according to the sense,) an earlier introduction and a more prominent place, than it ought to have in a general system of grammar. To the right use of language, he makes four things to be necessary. In citing these, I vary the language, but not the substance or the order of his positions. First, That we should speak and write words according to the significations which belong to them: the teaching of which now pertains to lexicography, and not to grammar, except incidentally. " Secondly, That we should observe the relations that words have one to another in sentences, and represent those relations by such variations, and particles, as are usual with authors in that language." Thirdly, That we should acquire a knowledge of the proper sounds of the letters, and pay a due regard to accent in pronunciation. Fourthly, That we should learn to write words with their proper letters, spelling them as literary men generally do.

From these positions, (though he sets aside the first, as pertaining to lexicography, and not now togrammar, as it formerly did,) the learned critic deduces first his four parts of the subject, and then his definition of grammar. "Hence," says he, "there arise Four Parts of Grammar; Analogy, which treats of the
several parts of speech, their definitions, accidents, and formations; Syntax, which treats of the use of those things in construction, according to their relations; Orthography, which treats of spelling; and Prosody, which treats of accenting in pronunciation. So, then, the true definition of Grammar is this: Grammar is the art of expressing the relations of things in construction, with due accent in speaking, and orthography in writing,according to the custom of those whose language we learn." Again he adds: "The word relation has other senses, taken by itself; but yet the relation of words one to another in a sentence, has no other signification
than what I intend by it, namely, of cause, effect, means, end, manner, instrument, object, adjunct, and the like; which are names given by logicians to those relations under which the mind comprehends things, and therefore the most proper words to explain them to others. And if such things are too hard for children, then grammar is too hard; for there neither is, nor can be, any grammar without them. And a little experience will satisfy any man, that the young will as easily apprehend them, as _gender, number, declension_, and other grammar-terms." See _R. Johnson's Grammatical Commentaries_, p. 4.

It is true, that the _relation of words_--by which I mean that connexion between them, which the train of thought forms and suggests--or that dependence which one word has on an other according to the sense--lies at the foundation of all syntax. No rule or principle of construction can ever have any applicability beyond the limits, or contrary to the order, of this relation. To see what it is in any given case, is but to understand the meaning of the phrase or sentence. And it is plain, that no word ever necessarily agrees with an other, with which it is not thus connected in the mind of him who uses it. No word ever governs an other, to which the sense does not direct it. No word is ever required to stand immediately before or after an other, to which it has not some relation according to the meaning of the passage.

Here then are the relation, agreement, government, and arrangement, of words in sentences; and these make up the whole of syntax--but not the whole of grammar. To this one part of grammar, therefore, the relation of words is central and fundamental; and in the other parts also, there are some things to which the consideration of it is incidental; but there are many more, like spelling, pronunciation, derivation, and whatsoever belongs merely to letters, syllables, and the forms of words, with which it has, in fact, no connexion. The relation of words, therefore, should be clearly and fully explained in its proper place, under the head of syntax; but the general idea of grammar will not be brought nearer to truth, by making it to be "the art of expressing the relations of things in construction," &c., according to the foregoing definition.

3 The term grammar

 

The term grammar is derived from the Greek word [Greek: gramma], a letter. The art or science to which this term is applied, had its origin, not in cursory speech, but in the practice of writing; and speech, which is first in the order of nature, is last with reference to grammar. The matter or common subject of grammar, is language in general; which, being of two kinds, spoken and written, consists of certain combinations either of sounds or of visible signs, employed for the expression of thought. Letters and sounds, though often heedlessly confounded in the definitions given of vowels, consonants, &c., are, in their own nature, very different things. They address themselves to different senses; the former, to the sight; the latter, to the hearing. Yet, by a peculiar relation arbitrarily established between them, and in consequence of an almost endless variety in the combinations of either, they coincide in a most admirable manner, to effect the great object for which language was bestowed or invented; namely, to furnish a sure medium for the communication of thought, and the preservation of knowledge.

All languages, however different, have many things in common. There are points of a philosophical character, which result alike from the analysis of any language, and are founded on the very nature of human thought, and that of the sounds or other signs which are used to express it. When such principles alone are taken as the subject of inquiry, and are treated, as they sometimes have been, without regard to any of the idioms of particular languages, they constitute what is called General, Philosophical, or Universal Grammar. But to teach, with Lindley Murray and some others, that "Grammar may be considered as consisting of two species, Universal and Particular," and that the latter merely "applies those general principles to a particular language," is to adopt a twofold absurdity at the outset.[2] For every cultivated language has its particular grammar, in which whatsoever is universal, is necessarily included; but of which, universal or general principles form only a part, and that comparatively small. We find therefore in grammar no "two species" of the same genus; nor is the science or art, as commonly defined and understood, susceptible of division into any proper and distinct sorts, except with reference to different languages--as when we speak of Greek, Latin, French, or English grammar.

There is, however, as I have suggested, a certain science or philosophy of language, which has been denominated Universal Grammar; being made up of those points only, in which many or all of the different languages preserved in books, are found to coincide. All speculative minds are fond of generalization; and, in the vastness of the views which may thus be taken of grammar, such may find an entertainment which theynever felt in merely learning to speak and write grammatically. But the pleasure of such contemplations is not the earliest or the most important fruit of the study. The first thing is, to know and understand the grammatical construction of our own language. Many may profit by this acquisition, who extend not their inquiries to the analogies or the idioms of other tongues. It is true, that every item of grammatical doctrine is the more worthy to be known and regarded, in proportion as it approaches to universality. But the principles of all practical grammar, whether universal or particular, common or peculiar, must first be learned in their application to some one language, before they can be distinguished into such classes; and it is manifest, both from reason and from experience, that the youth of any nation not destitute of a good book for the purpose, may best acquire a knowledge of those principles, from the grammatical study of their native tongue.

Universal or Philosophical Grammar is a

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