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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large field for speculation and inquiry, and embraces many things which, though true enough in themselves, are unfit to be incorporated with any system of practical grammar, however comprehensive its plan. Many authors have erred here. With what is merely theoretical, such a system should have little to do. Philosophy, dealing in generalities, resolves speech not only as a whole into its constituent parts and separable elements, as anatomy shows the use and adaptation of the parts and joints of the human body; but also as a composite into its matter and form, as one may contemplate that same body in its entireness, yet as consisting of materials, some solid and some fluid, and these curiously modelled to a particular figure. Grammar, properly so called, requires only the former of these analyses; and in conducting the same, it descends to the thousand minute particulars which are necessary to be known in practice. Nor are such things to be despised as trivial and low: ignorance of what is common and elementary, is but the more disgraceful for being ignorance of mere rudiments. "Wherefore," says Quintilian, "they are little to be respected, who represent this art as mean and barren; in which, unless you faithfully lay the foundation for the future orator, whatever superstructure you raise will tumble into ruins. It is an art, necessary to the young, pleasant to the old, the sweet companion of the retired, and one which in reference to every kind of study has in itself more of utility than of show. Let no one therefore despise as inconsiderable the elements of grammar. Not because it is a great thing, to distinguish consonants from vowels, and afterwards divide them into semivowels and mutes; but because, to those who enter the interior parts of this temple of science, there will appear in many things a great subtilty, which is fit not only to sharpen the wits of youth, but also to exercise the loftiest erudition and science."--De Institutione Oratoria, Lib. i, Cap. iv.

 

4 The composition of language

 

Again, of the arts which spring from the composition of language. Here the art of logic, aiming solely at conviction, addresses the understanding with cool deductions of unvarnished truth; rhetoric, designing to move, in some particular direction, both the judgement and the sympathies of men, applies itself to the affections in order to persuade; and poetry, various in its character and tendency, solicits the imagination, with a view to delight, and in general also to instruct. But grammar, though intimately connected with all these, and essential to them in practice, is still too distinct from each to be identified with any of them. In regard to dignity and interest, these higher studies seem to have greatly the advantage over particular grammar; but who is willing to be an ungrammatical poet, orator, or logician? For him I do not write. But I would persuade my readers, that an acquaintance with that grammar which respects the genius of their vernacular tongue, is of primary importance to all who would cultivate a literary taste, and is a necessary introduction to the study of other languages. And it may here be observed, for the encouragement of the student, that as grammar is essentially the same thing in all languages, he who has well mastered that of his own, has overcome more than half the difficulty of learning another; and he whose knowledge of words is the most extensive, has the fewest obstacles to encounter in proceeding further.

It was the "original design" of grammar, says Dr. Adam, to facilitate "the acquisition of languages;" and, of all practical treatises on the subject, this is still the main purpose. In those books which are to prepare the learner to translate from one tongue into another, seldom is any thing else attempted. In those also which profess to explain the right use of vernacular speech, must the same purpose be ever paramount, and the "original design" be kept in view. But the grammarian may teach many things incidentally. One cannot learn a language, without learning at the same time a great many opinions, facts, and principles, of some kind or other, which are necessarily embodied in it. For all language proceeds from, and is addressed to, the understanding; and he that perceives not the meaning of what he reads, makes no acquisition even of the language itself. To the science of grammar, the nature of the ideas conveyed by casual examples, is not very essential: to the learner, it is highly important. The best thoughts in the best diction should furnish the models for youthful study and imitation; because such language is not only the most worthy to be remembered, but the most easy to be understood. A distinction is also to be made between use and abuse. In nonsense, absurdity, or falsehood, there can never be any grammatical authority; because, however language may be abused, the usage which gives law to speech, is still that usage which is founded upon the common sense of mankind.

Grammar appeals to reason, as well as to authority, but to what extent it should do so, has been matter of dispute. "The knowledge of useful arts," says Sanctius, "is not an invention of human ingenuity, but an emanation from the Deity, descending from above for the use of man, as Minerva sprung from the brain of Jupiter. Wherefore, unless thou give thyself wholly to laborious research into the nature of things, and diligently examine the causes and reasons of the art thou teachest, believe me, thou shalt but see with other men's eyes, and hear with other men's ears. But the minds of many are preoccupied with a certain perverse opinion, or rather ignorant conceit, that in grammar, or the art of speaking, there are no causes, and that reason is scarcely to be appealed to for any thing;--than which idle notion, I know of nothing more foolish;--nothing can be thought of which is more offensive. Shall man, endowed with reason, do, say, or contrive any thing, without design, and without understanding? Hear the philosophers; who positively declare that nothing comes to pass without a cause. Hear Plato himself; who affirms that names and words subsist by nature, and contends that language is derived from nature, and not from art."

"I know," says he, "that the Aristotelians think otherwise; but no one will doubt that names are the signs, and as it were the instruments, of things. But the instrument of any art is so adapted to that art, that for any other purpose it must seem unfit; thus with an auger we bore, and with a saw we cut wood; but we split stones with wedges, and wedges are driven with heavy mauls. We cannot therefore but believe that those who first gave names to things, did it with design; and this, I imagine, Aristotle himself understood when he said, _ad placitum nomina significare._ For those who contend that names were made by chance, are no less audacious than if they would endeavour to persuade us, that the whole order of the universe was framed together fortuitously."

"You will see," continues he, "that in the first language, whatever it was, the names of things were taken from Nature herself; but, though I cannot affirm this to have been the case in other tongues, yet I can easily persuade myself that in every tongue a reason can be rendered for the application of every name; and that this reason, though it is in many cases obscure, is nevertheless worthy of investigation. Many things which were not known to the earlier philosophers, were brought to light by Plato; after the death of Plato, many were discovered by Aristotle; and Aristotle was ignorant of many which are now everywhere known. For truth lies hid, but nothing is more precious than truth. But you will say, 'How can there be any certain origin to names, when one and the same thing is called by different names, in the several parts of the world?' I answer, of the same thing there may be different causes, of which some people may regard one, and others, an other. * * * There is therefore no doubt, that of all things, even of words, a reason is to be rendered: and if we know not what that reason is, when we are asked; we ought rather to confess that we do not know, than to affirm that none can be given. I know that Scaliger thinks otherwise; but this is the true account of the matter."

"These several observations," he remarks further, "I have unwillingly brought together against those stubborn critics who, while they explode reason from grammar, insist so much on the testimonies of the learned. But have they never read Quintilian, who says, (Lib. i, Cap. 6,) that, 'Language is established by reason, antiquity, authority, and custom?' He therefore does not exclude reason, but makes it the principal thing. Nay, in a manner, Laurentius, and other grammatists, even of their fooleries, are forward to offer reasons, such as they are. Moreover, use does not take place without reason; otherwise, it ought to be called abuse, and not use. But from use authority derives all its force; for when it recedes from use, authority becomes nothing: whence Cicero reproves Coelius and Marcus Antonius for speaking according to their own

fancy, and not according to use. But, 'Nothing can be lasting,' says Curtius, (Lib. iv,) 'which is not based upon reason.' It remains, therefore, that of all things the reason be first assigned; and then, if it can be done, we may bring forward testimonies; that the thing, having every advantage, may be made the more clear."--Sanctii Minerva, Lib. i, Cap. 2.

ulius Caesar Scaliger, from whose opinion Sanctius dissents above, seems to limit the science of grammar to bounds considerably too narrow, though he fo

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