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FIRST AMERICAN EDITION,
THE INSTITUTIONS OF THE AMERICAN con TIN ENT,
FTs GEOGRAPHY, BIOGRAPHY, CIVIL AND NATIONAL HISTORY, AND TO VARIOUS DISCOVERIES IN
1 8 3 2.
THIs science unfolds the principles by which man is directed in the contrivance of the varieties of words. Its utility is extended by the opportunities which it gives of tracing the connection which the phenomena of language, considered as a production of the human mind, have with the other principles of our nature. As the term Grammar has been currently applied to a much inferior department of knowledge, some have thought proper to give Universal Grammar the apparently more elegant designation of the THEoRY of LANGUAGE. This latter designation, however, comprehends all the general branches of inquiry connected with language, which are treated under various articles of this work, such as ALPHABET, ETYMoLogy, PHILoLog Y, and LANGUAGE. Its most interesting branch consists of those inquiries which, under the name of UNIVERSAL GRAMMAR, we here propose to lay before our readers. Language being the leading instrument by which men communicate their thoughts to one another, it is to it that we undoubtedly owe the most important improvements of which our intellectual character is susceptible. It might therefore have been expected that an inquiry into its nature would necessarily imply an elucidation of all the laws of thought. But its province does not extend altogether so far; and, by keeping it within its due bounds, we shall do greater justice both to this science and to those with which it is connected. We shall find that the points of view in which man appears in thinking and in speaking are not so perfectly identical as has been imagined. It is Vol. X. PART I.
not true that Universal Grammar implies the whole theory of human thought; yet it implies a great and important part of it: and the habit which the study of it gives us of investigating the subject, and the analogies which it furnishes for the prosecution of the rest, may, under judicious management, contribute materials towards a perfect knowledge of the general philosophy of mind. We have intimated that this science originates in the comparison of different languages. It is not indeed very flattering to the pride of human intellect, and it will appear to many inaccurate, as well as undignified, to ascribe the discovery of the principles of Universal Grammar to a circumstance which might be regarded as accidental, viz., the multiplicity of languages existing among mankind. Its principles must operate in the formation of each individual language; and the science might therefore appear to admit of being investigated with sufficient certainty, by a direct inquiry into the operations of the human mind, or by the obvious analysis of any single language. This might be thought sufficient to distinguish all that is requisite to the purposes of speech from every thing whimsical or peculiar, that is, from those turns of words and of phraseology which ought to be reckoned idiomatic. It might, at least, seem reasonable to expect that the principles would be discovered by paying attention to the variations and analogies existing among those words of any language which are not immediately and evidently borrowed from a foreign source. It might even be thought possible to collect them by recording the early operations of a child A.
in learning the use of his native language. That the principles of this science could have been so discovered, it. would be rash to deny. But the well known obstructions opposed to science by the delicacy and proneness to error which mark the human faculties, and the various external biases which the mind receives, operate in all ages to prevent scientific inquiry from being made, and in corrupting the accuracy of the results obtained. Hence we are sometimes indebted to fortunate accidents for an introduction to the right path of inquiry, and for the discovery of truths which had otherwise a chance of remaining for ever unknown. One of these fortunate accidents, as relating to the subject of our present article, is the existence of various languages in the world, and the access which individuals have to compare them together. The success which philosophers have met with in these inquiries has arisen from the study of languages the most diversified from each other in their structure. Those of ancient Greece and Rome have, for example, been compared with those of modern Europe, and both these with the languages of the East, and the great differences apparent in their origin and structure have afforded a valuable opportunity of tracing, with a scientific hand, the general operations of man in this conspicuous department of his active efforts. An extensive erudition in literature confers emancipation from that enthralling influence, which any single language exercises over those whose knowledge is confined to it. The errors which the habits of one would produce receive correction from the attention exacted by the varying genius of another. These inquiries might even lead us a step higher. They might enable us to discover whether or not there are any circumstances in which the habits common to all languages anark a prevailing erroneous bias in our nature, and might lead us to improve and purify in this department the perspicacity of our intellect. The difficulty of the subject renders it at least prudent to avail ourselves of all the aids which can be afforded by diversities in the structure of languages. These, indeed, are of themselves elegant subjects of study. No person who cultivates them can be indifferent about Universal Grammar, or insensible to the intimate connection which exists between the two pursuits. A very limited fact in philology not unfrequently suggests an important doctrine in the philosophy of grammar, which is afterwards confirmed by multiplied evidences, and, though formerly overlooked, exhibits, when known, a character of internal truth, and throws a broad light over the whole extent of the subject. In no circumstance does the difficulty of this subject appear more conspicuous than in the diversity of sentiment which prevails on it. This diversity is indeed capable of being represented as chiefly, if not entirely, verbal. But, where verbal differences are pertinaciously adhered to, some misconceptions with regard to the subject itself are undoubtedly more or less prevalent. It cannot be said to be clearly understood among all who cultivate it, unless they either agree in the choice of the words by which their theories are expressed, or concur in acknowledging their differences of phraseology to be immaterial. This is not at present the case. The cultivators of the science are divided into parties, which seem so distant from one another, that the philosophical analysis of language may be considered as still in its infancy. The account which we shall now give of it will not arrogate to itself the rank of a system matured for indiscriminate adoption. It will only be offered for deliberate consideration, as an attempt to advance the progress of this interesting branch of study, by exhibiting explanations which will show to partial sys
tems several of their leading defects, and reconcile a variety of disputes without compromising the spirit of investigation.
CHAP, I. on the object or Universal office of Language.
In order to investigate the characteristic differences by which words are distinguished, it is essential that we entertain correct ideas of the objector PURPose of language. Grammarians have hitherto satisfied themselves, with describing it as consisting in the communication of our Thoughts. Yet it does not appear certain that they have always entertained the same views of what is meant by this communication. Vaguenotions of the office of language have in consequence been entertained, and a confusion arising from this cause has impeded the inquiries which were made into the origin and distinctions of the various parts of speech. Mr Harris describes it as consisting in “an exhibition of the energies or motions of the soul.” These he divides into perception and volition; and he considers every sentence as either “a sentence of assertion,” or “a sentence of volition.” Some consider the object of language as simply consisting in the exhibition of a connection betwixt one idea and another, and therefore make the act of AffiRMArion its universal office. These opinions, though slightly varying, agree in stating the communication of our thoughts to be the object of language.
That we may divest the subject of ambiguity, we shallenquire in what respects thought is ever communicated by-
language; what are the circumstances that lead to such communication; and whether or not the importance of this object entitles it to be regarded as the sole and definite purpose for which it is formed and employed. Men may evince, by various signs, that particular thoughts occupy their minds. This is not only done by pantomimical language, but by oral sounds constituting the materials of verbal discourse. We sometimes shew by involuntary exclamations that we are affected by certain impressions called passions, which, though theyoriginate from outward causes, do not necessarily point to such causes in our mode of expressing them. At other times, words are employed as the signs of external objects which are known to the person addressed. The effect of the employment of these is to recal to his recollection ideas formerly possessed by him. We show, at the same time, that they occupy our own minds. The meaning of the words being formerly known, they exhibit nothing new, except their connection with some present occasion. Old ideas thus recalled, however, do not constitute exactly the same state of thought which accompanied the former em
ployment of the words. The mental exercises excited by
the same word at different times are not strictly the same. They cannot be identical, because they are separate instances of mental exercise. But they are not even perfectly similar. Amidst the varying movements of the human mind, in which one thought impels another, and in which external and internal causes modify the state of the percipient being, the appropriate affection produced by any particular word can never he separately obtained. It is always modified, either by humour, by degrees of activity in the mind, or by the kinds of exercise in which it has been previously engaged. The most important modifications of the mental effects of words arise from their connection with one another. By changes in this connection, new conjunctions of ideas are presented to the mind of the person addressed. The signs