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LE C T U RE
RISE AND PROGRESS OF LANGUAGE.
LE C T.
AVING finished my observations on
the Pleasures of Taste, which were meant to be introductory to the principal subject of these Lectures, I now begin to treat of Language, which is the foundation of the whole power of eloquence. This will lead to a considerable discussion; and there are few subjects belonging to polite literature, which more merit such a discussion. I shall first give a History of the Rise and Progress of Language in several particulars, from its early to its more advanced periods; which shall be followed by a similar History of the Rise and Progress of Writing. I shall 'next give some account of the Construction of Language, or the Principles of Universal Grammar; and shall, lastly, apply these observations more particularly to the English Tongue
* See Dr. Adam Smith's Differtation on the Formation of Languages.- Treatise of the Origin and Progress of
LANGUAGE, in general, signifies the expres- L E C T. fion of our ideas by certain articulate sounds, which are used as the signs of those ideas. By articulate sounds, are meant those modulations of simple voice, or of sound emitted from the thorax, which are formed by means of the mouth and its several organs, the teeth, the tongue, the lips, and the palate. How far there is any natural connexion between the ideas of the mind and the sounds emitted, will appear from what I am afterwards to offer. But as the natural connexion can, upon any system, affect only a finall part of the fabric of Language; the connexion between words and ideas may, in general, be considered as arbitrary and conventional, owing to the agreement of men among themselves; the clear proof of which is, that different nations have different Languages, or a different set of articulate sounds, which they have chosen for communicating their ideas.
Language, in 3 vols.-Harris's Hermes, or a Philofophical Enquiry concerning Language and Universal Grammar.-Efai sur l'Origine des Connoiffances Humaines, par L'Abbé Condillac. - Principes de Grammaire, par Marsais.- Grammaire Generale & Raisonnée.--Traité de la Formation Mechanique des Langues, par le President de Brosses.--Discours sur l'Inegalité parmi les Hommes, par Rousseau.-Grammaire Generale, par Beauzee.-Principes de la Traduction, par Batteux.-Warburton's Divine Legation of Moses, vol. ii.-- Sanctii Minerva, cum notis Perizonii.-Les Vrais Principes de la Langue Françoise, par l'Abbé Girard.
This artificial method of communicating thought, we now behold carried to the highest perfection. Language is become a vehicle by which the most delicate and refined emotions of one mind can be transmitted, or, if we may so speak, transfufed into another. Not only are names given to all objects around us, by which means an easy and speedy intercourse is carried on for providing the necessaries of life, but all the relations and differences among shefe objects are minutely marked, the invifible sentiments of the mind are described, the most abstract notions and conceptions are rendered intelligible; and all the ideas which fcience can discover, or imagination create, are known by their proper names. Nay, Language has been carried so far, as to be made an inftrument of the most refined luxury. Not resting in mere perspicuity, we require oxnament also ; not satisfied with having the conceptions of others made known to us, we make a farther demand, to have them fo decked and adorned as to entertain our fancy; and this demand, it is found very possible to gratify. In this state we now find Language. In this state, it has been found among many nations for fome thousand years. The object is become familiar; and, like the expanse of the firmament, and other great objects, which we are accustomed to behold, we behold ic without wonder.
But carry your thoughits back to the first 1. ECT. dawn of Language among men. the feeble beginnings from which it must have arisen, and
great obstacles which it must have encountered in its progress; and you will find reason for the highest astonishment, on viewing che height which it has now attained. We admire feveral of the inventions of art; we plume ourselves on some discoveries which have been made in latter ages, serving to advance knowledge, and to render life comfortable ; we speak of them as the boast of human reason. But certainly no invention is entitled to any such degree of admiration as that of Language, which, too, must have been the product of the first and rudeft ages, if indeed it can be considered as a human invention at all.
THINK of the circumstances of mankind when Languages began to be formed. They were a wandering scattered race; no society among them except families; and the family society too very imperfect, as their method of living by hunting or pasturage must have separated them frequently from one another: In this situation, when so much divided, and their intercourse so rare, how could any one set of sounds, or words, be generally agreed on as the signs of their ideas? Suppofing that a few, whoin chance or necessity threw to.8
LE C T. gether, agreed by some means upon certain
signs, yet by what authority could these be propagated among other tribes or families, so as to spread and grow up into a Language ? One would think, that, in order to any Language fixing and extending itself, men must have been previously gathered together in considerable numbers; Society must have been already far advanced ; and yet, on the other hand, there seems to have been an absolute necessity for Speech, previous to the formation of Society. For, by what bond could any multitude of men be kept together, or be made to join in the prosecution of any common intereft, until once, by the intervention of Speech, they could communicate their wants and intention's to one another? So that, either how Society could form itself, previously to Language, or how words could rise into a Language previously to Society formed, seem to be points attended with equal difficulty. And when we consider farther, that curious analogy which prevails in the construction of almost all Languages, and that deep and subtile logic on which they are founded, difficulties increase so much upon us, on all hands, that there seems to be no small reason for referring the first origin of all Language to Divine teaching or inspiration.
But fuppofing Language to have a Divine original, we cannot, however, suppose, that 9