Page images


And here, at our first setting out, somewhat LECT. curious occurs. The individual objects which surround us, are infinite in number. A fa. vage, wherever he looked, beheld forests and

nouns. Nothing is more difficult, than to ascertain the precise steps by which men proceeded in the formation of Language. Names for objects muft, doubtless, have arisen in the most early stages of Speech. But, it is probable, as the learned Author of the Treatise, On the Origin and Progress of Language, has shown (vol. i. p. 371. 395,), that, among several favage tribes, some of the first articulate sounds that were formed, denoted a whole sentence rather than the name of a particular object; conveying some information, or expressing some desires or fears, suited to the circumstances in which that tribe was placed, or relating to the business they had most frequent occasion to carry on ; as, the lion is coming, the river is swelling, &c. Many of their first words, it is likewise probable, were not simple fubftantive nouns, but substantives, accompanied with some of those attributes, in conjunction with which they were most frequently accustomed to behold them; as, the great bear, the little hut, the wound made by the hatchet, &c. Of all which, the Author produces instances from several of the American Languages; and it is, undoubtedly, suitable to the natural course of the operations of the human mind, thus to begin with particulars the most obvious to sense, and to proceed, from these, to more general expresfions. He likewise observes, that the words of those primitive tongues are far from being, as we might suppose them, rude and short, and crowded with consonants; but, on the contrary, are, for the most part, long words, and full of vowels. This is the consequence of their being formed upon the natural sounds which the voice utters with moft ease, a little varied and distinguished by articulation; and he fhows this to hold, in fact, among most of the barbarous Languages which are known.

[blocks in formation]




trees. To give separate names to every one of those trees, would have been an endless and impracticable undertakiny. His first object was, to give a name to that particular tree, whose fruit relieved his hunger, or whose shade protected him from the sun. But obferving, that though other trees were distinguished from this by peculiar qualities of size or appearance, yết, that they also agreed and resembled one another, in certain coinmon qualities, such as springing from a root, and bearing branches and leaves, he formed, in his mind, some general idea of those common qualities, and ranging all that possessed them under one class of objects, he called that whole class, a tree. Longer experience taught him to subdivide this genus into the several species of oak, pine, ash, and the rest, according as his obfervation extended to the several qualities in which these trees agreed or differed.

But, still, he made use only of general terms in Speech. For the oak, the pine, and the ash, were names of whole classes of objects; each of which included an immense number of undistinguished individuals. Here then, it appears, that though the formation of abstract, or general conceptions, is supposed to be a difficult operation of the mind; such conceptions must have entered into the very first formation of Language. For, if we ex



cept only the proper names of persons, such as L É C T. Cæsar, John, Peter, all the other substantive nouns which we employ in discourse, are the names, not of individual objects, but of very extensive genera, or species of objects ; as, man, lion, house, river, &c. We are not, however, to imagine, that this invention of general, or abstract terms, requires any great exertion of metaphysical capacity : For; by whatever steps the mind proceeds in it, it is certain, that; when men have once observed resemblances among objects, they are naturally inclined to call all those which resemble one another, by one common name; and of course, to class them under one species. We may daily observe this practised by children, in their first attempts towards acquiring Language.

But now, after Language had proceeded as far as I have described, the notification which it made of objects was still very imperfect : For, when one mentioned to another, in discourse, any substantive noun; such as, man, lion, or tree, how was it to be known which man, which lion, or which tree he meant, among the many comprehended under one name? Here occurs a very curious, and a very useful contrivance for specifying the individual object intended, by means of that part of Speech called the Article.


N 2



The force of the Article con Gifts, in pointing, or singling out from the coinmon mass, the individual of which we mean to speak. In English, we have two Articles, a and the ; a is more general and unlimited; the more definite and special. A is much the same with one, and marks only any one individual of a species; that individual being either unknown, or left undetermined; as, a lion, a king. They which posseffes more properly the force of the Article, ascertains some known or determined individual of the species ; as, the lion, the king.

ARTICLES are words of great use in Speech, In fome Languages, however, they are not found. The Greeks have but one Article, ó ń to, which answers to our definite, or proper Article, the. They have no word which anfwers to our Article a ; but they supply its place by the absence of their Article: Thus, Bxoilevs signifies, a king; i Baosheus, the king. The Latins have no Article. In the room of it, they employ pronouns, as, hic, ille, iste, for pointing out the objects which they want to distinguish. « Nofter fermo,” says Quinctilian, “ articulos non desiderat, ideoque in “ alias partes orationis fparguntur.“ This, however, appears to me a defect in the Latin tongue; as Articles contribute much to the clearness and precision of Language.



In order to illustrate this, remark, what LECT. difference there is in the meaning of the following expressions in English, depending wholly on the different employment of the Articles : “ The son of a king—The son of “the king-A son of the king's." Each of these three phrases has an entirely different meaning, which I need not explain, because any one who understands the Language, conceives it clearly at first hearing, through the different application of the Articles, a and the. Whereas, in Latin, “ Filius regis,” is wholly undetermined; and to explain, in which of these three senses it is to be understood, for ic may bear any of them, a circumlocution of feveral words must be used. In the same manner, " Are you a king ?”

" Are you the “king ?” are questions of quite separate import; which, however, are confounded together in the Latin phrase,

" elne tu rex ??? Thou art a man,” is a very general and harmless position ; but, “ thou art the man," is an assertion, capable, we know, of striking terror and remorse into the heart. These obfervations illustrate the force and importance. of Articles: And, at the same time, I gladly lay hold of any opportunity of showing the advantages of our own language.

Besides this quality of being particularised by the Article, three affections belong to sub


N 3

« PreviousContinue »