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PHILOSOPHY OF ĻANGUAGE.
UNDER this head it is intended to present a brief and general view of those inquiries into the Origin and Progress of Language, and of Universal Grammar, which have been pursued with so much success in modern times. These, it is believed; are in a great measure peculiar to the period under consideration; or, at least, have been conducted more extensively and more successfully than ever before.
The Origin of language is a question concerning which disputes have been long and warmly maintained; some contending that it is an invention of man, gradually growing from rude inarticulate cries, into a regular, polished, and systematic form, in the progress of civilization; and others asserting that it must have been revealed from heaven. This controversy arose many centuries before that which is now under review; but in no preceding age was it ever considered in a manner so extensive, learned, and satisfactory. The former opinion was defended with great zeal, erudition, and ingenuity, by Lord MONBODDO," of North-Britain; by Father SIMON, M. VOLTAIRE, and the Abbé CONDILLAC, pf France; and by M. d Lord MONBODDO supposes that language is not natüral to man ; that Herder, and others, of Germany. The latter doctrine was adopted, and maintained, during the period under consideration, by M. SUSSMILCH, Dr. BEATTIE, Dr. BLAIR, and by many other writers, who have treated either formally or indirectly on the subject.
before they spake; that before they arrived at the point at which language began to be used, they conversed together by signs and inarticulate cries; that from these latter language was gradually formed; that all languages are derived from Egypt, the great source of science and cultivation; that the Egyptian language is the same with the Sanscrit, or bacred language of India, of which the Greek is a dialect. See his Origin and Progress of Language.
The true nature and philosophy of language, or the principles of Universal Grammar, seem to have eluded the inquiries of the most sagacious for many centuries. A multitude of writers of the first character, from Plato down to LEIBNITZ, treated largely and ably on the subject; but they did little more than to copy the mistakes of each other, or to present a succession of delusive systems, which would not bear the test of more enlightened examination. Though this may appear strange to a careless or superficial inquirer, yet when the extreme difficulty of the subject is duly appreciated, it will no longer be a matter of surprise that so many great men should, in their investigations, have
gone so wide of the mark. After the many preceding failures to examine with success the philosophy of language, Mr. Locke undertook the task, in his great work on the Human Understanding! But while he threw much light on the doctrines of mind, and treated more successfully than any preceding writer of the composition and use of terms, he did little to advance the knowledge of universal grammar. His successor, Dr. HARTLEY, assuming different ground, attempted also to form an analysis of language, and to present a philosophical view of the subject, But, like his predecessors, his labours served only to show more clearly than ever, the importance, the profundity, and the dificulty of the inquiry.
e Herder accounts for the origin of language on mechanical principles, or by combining the organical structure of the body with the faculties of the mind which inhabit it, and the circumstances in which the being is placed, in whom this organization and these faculties are united.
of Essay on Human Understanding. Vol. II. book iii. & Observations on Man. Vol. I. chap. iii. sect. l.
Dr. Hartley was followed by Mr. JAMES Harris, a learned English gentleman, who, in his Hermes, professed to treat this subject in a formal and systematic manner. He acknowledges him, self to be indebted for some of the leading principles of his system to APOLLONIUS, a learned grammarian of Alexandria; but he is, perhaps, still more indebted to Professor PERIZONIUS, a celebrated philologist of Leyden, who, early in the century, in his notes on Sancti Minerva, delivered nearly the same doctrines; so nearly, indeed, that good judges have denied to Mr. HARRIS the honour of having made any important improvement upon them. The system of
grammar taught in Hermes is the following. The author divides all words into two grand classes, called Principals and Accessories. The former he subdivides into two branches, Substantives and Attributives; the latter intotwoothers, Definitives and Connectives; so that under one of these four species, Substantives, Attributives, Definitives, or Connectives, he includes all the varieties of words. He considers articles, conjunctions, and prepositions, as having no signification of their own, but as deriving a meaning only from their connection with other terms. On these leading principles his boasted fabric rests.
Mr. HARRIS was doubtless a learned and ingenious man; but as some of the best judges utterly deny that his doctrines of general grammar are either original or just, it is not probable that they will long be considered as doing him much honour. His work, however, was, for many years, received with high approbation, not only in the native country of the author, but also on the continent of Europe, and has, even yet, many ardent admirers.
b See Hermes, or a pbilosopbical Inquiry concerning Universal Grammar. i For some further information concerning the celebrated Dutch ety, mologists above mentioned, see Observations on the Nature of Demonstrative Evidence, by THOMAS BEDDOES, 8vo. 1793. No man can look into the writings of Dr. Beddoes without discovering marks of a vigorous, origia nal, and active mind. But are the precipitancy and decision with which he pronounces on some of the most important and difficult questions which occur to the human mind, and the satyrical, contemptuous severity which he indulges towards some of the greatest benefactors to science, consistent with the cautious and candid spirit of philosophy?
About the time that Mr. HARRIS laid his doctrines before the public, the philosophy of grammar was an object of laborious and learned inquiry at the celebrated Greek school of Leyden. In these investigations the great Schultens, and after him Professor HEMSTERHUIS, and his disci. ples, made a distinguished figure. Schultens examined the derivation and structure of the Greek language with great care, and particularly gave some new and interesting views of Greek particles. Afterwards Professor HEMSTERHUIS undertook to derive the whole Greek language from a few short primitives, on a plan entirely original. His speculations were carried further, and received new light, by means of the inquiries of his pupils VALCKENAER, LENNEP, and others. Though the labours of these great philologists were chiefly confined to the Greek language, yet they were intended to throw light on Universal Grammar, and to educe principles applicable to all languages. To give even a brief account of the various opinions which they taught would require a more intimate acquaintance with them than the writer of this retrospect possesses, and would lead to a detail inconveniently and disproportionably extended. It is sufficient to say, that though they failed to form a fair, consistent, and regular fabric, yet they furnished many insulated facts, and useful materials, and analysed many words and classes of terms, in a manner which did them great honour, and rendered important aid to the philosophical grammarian.
The Dutch etymologists were followed by Lord MONBODDO, who, in his Origin and Progress of Language, gave some general views of the philosophy of grammar. Like Plato and ARISTOTLE, to whose doctrines, especially those of the latter, he looked with the profound veneration of a disciple, he divided language into two parts, Noun and Verb, and endeavoured to bring all the other parts of speech under these general denominations, But while he adopts this division of words, in one part of his work, he retracts it in others, and admits principles wholly inconsistent with the general doctrine. So that, though he must be acknowledged to have given some learned and ingenious views of language, yet the praise of having formed an original, consistent, and satisfactory system of philosophical grammar must be wholly denied him.
In 1786 this perplexing and mysterious subject, which had so long eluded the researches of philosophers, was unfolded by an English philologist of great acuteness and erudition, in a manner which the ablest grammarians have generally and justly praised. In that year was published the celebrated ENEA TITEPOENTA, or Diversions of Purley, by Mr. JOHN HORNE Tooke, a work in which, as good judges have asserted, “ by a single flash of
į As early as 1778, Mr. Tooke, in his letter to Mr. DUNNING, laid before the public the substance of the sixth, seventb, eighth, and nintb chapters of the Diversions of Purley, printed eight years afterwards.
& The Greek scholar will immediately perceive, that the first part of this whimsical title signifies winged words, and refers to the author's doctrine of derivation. The second pare alludes to the celebrated seat of President BRADSHAW, at which he amused himself with the composition of the work.