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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und within them room for the exercise of much ingenuity and learning. He says, "Grammatica est scientia loquendi ex usu; neque enim constituit regulas scientibus usus modum, sed ex eorum statis frequentibusque usurpatiombus colligit communem rationem loquendi, quam discentibus traderet."--_De Causis L. Latinae_, Lib. iv, Cap. 76. "Grammar is the science of speaking according to use; for it does not establish rules for those who know the manner of use, but from the settled and frequent usages of these, gathers the common fashion of speaking, which it should deliver to learners." This limited view seems not only to exclude from the science the use of the pen, but to exempt the learned from any obligation to respect the rules prescribed for the initiation of the young. But I have said, and with abundant authority, that the acquisition of a good style of writing is the main purpose of the study; and, surely, the proficients and adepts in the art can desire for themselves no such exemption. Men of genius, indeed, sometimes affect to despise the pettiness of all grammatical instructions; but this can be nothing else than affectation, since the usage of the learned is confessedly the basis of all such instructions, and several of the loftiest of their own rank appear on the list of grammarians.

Quintilian, whose authority is appealed to above, belonged to that age in which the exegesis of histories, poems, and other writings, was considered an essential part of grammar. He therefore, as well as Diomedes, and other ancient writers, divided the grammarian's duties into two parts; the one including what is now called grammar, and the other the explanation of authors, and the stigmatizing of the unworthy. Of the opinion referred to by Sanctius, it seems proper to make here an ampler citation. It shall be attempted in English, though the paragraph is not an easy one to translate. I understand the author to say, "Speakers, too, have their rules to observe; and writers, theirs. Language is established by reason, antiquity, authority, and custom. Of reason the chief ground is analogy, but sometimes etymology. Ancient things have a certain majesty, and, as I might say, religion, to commend them. Authority is wont to be sought from orators and historians; the necessity of metre mostly excuses the poets. When the judgement of the chief masters of eloquence passes for reason, even error seems right to those who follow great leaders. But, of the art of speaking, custom is the surest mistress; for speech is evidently to be used as money, which has upon it a public stamp. Yet all these things require a penetrating judgement, especially analogy; the force of which is, that one may refer what is doubtful, to something similar that is clearly established, and thus prove uncertain things by those which are sure."--QUINT, _de Inst. Orat._, Lib. i, Cap. 6, p. 48.

He science of grammar, whatever we may suppose to be its just limits, does not appear to have been better cultivated in proportion as its scope was narrowed. Nor has its application to our tongue, in particular, ever been made in such a manner, as to do great honour to the learning or the talents of him that attempted it. What is new to a nation, may be old to the world. The development of the intellectual powers of youth by instruction in the classics, as well as the improvement of their taste by the exhibition of what is elegant in literature, is continually engaging the attention of new masters, some of whom may seem to effect great improvements; but we must remember that the concern itself is of no recent origin. Plato and Aristotle, who were great masters both of grammar and of philosophy, taught these things ably at Athens, in the fourth century before Christ. Varro, the grammarian, usually styled the most learned of the Romans, was contemporary with the Saviour and his apostles. Quintilian lived in the first century of our era, and before he wrote his most celebrated book, taught a school twenty years in Rome, and received from the state a salary which made him rich. This "consummate guide of wayward youth," as the poet Martial called him, being neither ignorant of what had been done by others, nor disposed to think it a light task to prescribe the right use of his own language, was at first slow to undertake the work upon which his fame now reposes; and, after it was begun, diligent to execute it worthily, that it might turn both to his own honour, and to the real advancement of learning.He says, at the commencement of his book: "After I had obtained a quiet release from those labours which for twenty years had devolved upon me as an instructor of youth, certain persons familiarly demanded of me, that I should compose something concerning the proper manner of speaking; but for a long time I withstood their solicitations, because I knew there were already illustrious authors in each language, by whom many things which might pertain to such a work, had been very diligently written, and left to posterity. But the reason which I thought would obtain for me an easier excuse, did but excite more earnest entreaty; because, amidst the various opinions of earlier writers, some of whom were not even consistent with themselves, the choice had become difficult; so that my friends seemed to have a right to enjoin upon me, if not the labour of producing new instructions, at least that of judging concerning the old. But although I was persuaded not so much by the hope of supplying what was required, as by the shame of refusing, yet, as the matter opened itself before me, I undertook of my own accord a much greater task than had been imposed; that while I should thus oblige my very good friends by a fuller compliance, I might not enter a common path and tread only in the footsteps of others. For most other writers who have treated of the art of speaking, have proceeded in such a manner as if upon adepts in every other kind of doctrine they would lay the last touch in eloquence; either despising as little things the studies which we first learn, or thinking them not to fall to their share in the division which should be made of the professions; or, what indeed is next to this, hoping no praise or thanks for their ingenuity about things which, although necessary, lie far from ostentation: the tops of buildings make a show, their foundations are unseen."--_Quintiliani de Inst. Orat., Prooemium._

But the reader may ask, "What have all these things to do with English Grammar?" I answer, they help to show us whence and what it is. Some acquaintance with the history of grammar as a science, as well as some knowledge of the structure of other languages than our own, is necessary to him who professes to write for the advancement of this branch of learning--and for him also who would be a competent judge of what is thus professed. Grammar must not forget her origin. Criticism must not resign the protection of letters. The national literature of a country is in the keeping, not of the people at large, but of authors and teachers. But a grammarian presumes to be a judge of authorship, and a teacher of teachers; and is it to the honour of England or America, that in both countries so many are countenanced in this assumption of place, who can read no language but their mother tongue? English Grammar is not properly an indigenous production, either of this country or of Britain; because it is but a branch of the general science of philology-- a new variety, or species, sprung up from the old stock long ago transplanted from the soil of Greece and Rome.

It is true, indeed, that neither any ancient system of grammatical instruction nor any grammar of an other language, however contrived, can be entirely applicable to the present state of our tongue; for languages must needs differ greatly one from an other, and even that which is called the same, may come in time to differ greatly from what it once was. But the general analogies of speech, which are the central principles of grammar, are but imperfectly seen by the man of one language. On the other hand, it is possible to know much of those general principles, and yet be very deficient in what is peculiar to our own tongue. Real improvement in the grammar of our language, must result from a view that is neither partial nor superficial. "Time, sorry artist," as was said of old, "makes all he handles worse." And Lord Bacon, seeming to have this adage in view, suggests: "If Time of course alter all things to the worse, and Wisdom and Counsel shall not alter them to the better, what shall be the end?"--_Bacon's Essays_, p. 64.

Conclusion

 

Hence the need that an able and discreet grammarian should now and then appear, who with skillful hand can effect those corrections which a change of fashion or the ignorance of authors may have made necessary; but if he is properly qualified for his task, he will do all this without a departure from any of the great principles of Universal Grammar. He will surely be very far from thinking, with a certain modern author, whom I shall notice in an other chapter, that, "He is bound to take words and explain them as he finds them in his day, without any regard to their ancient construction and application."--_Kirkham's Gram._, p. 28. The whole history of every word, so far as he can ascertain it, will be the view under which he will judge of what is right or wrong in the language which he teaches. Etymology is neither the whole of this view, nor yet to be excluded from it. I concur not therefore with Dr. Campbell, who, to make out a strong case, extravagantly says, "It is never from an attention to etymology, which would frequently mislead us, but from custom, the

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