Language and the Study of Language/Lecture III
Phonetic change; its ground, action on compound words, part in word-making, and destructive effects. Replacement of one mode of formal distinction by another. Extension of analogies. Abolition of valuable distinctions. Conversion of sounds into one another. Physical characters of alphabetic sounds; physical scheme of the English alphabet. Obsolescence and loss of words. Changes of meaning; their ground and methods. Variety of meanings of one word. Synonyms. Conversion of physical into spiritual meaning. Attenuation of meaning; production of form-words. Variety of derivatives from one root. Unreflectiveness of the process of making names and forms. Conceptions antedate their names. Reason of a name historical, and founded in convenience, not necessity. Insignificance of derivation in practical use of language.
It will be our present task to continue the examination and illustration of the processes of linguistic growth which we began at our last interview. We completed at that time our preliminary inquiries into the mode of preservation and transmission of language, and were guided by them to a recognition of the true nature of the force which alone is efficient in all the operations of linguistic life—the events, as we may more properly style them, of linguistic history. It was found to be the will of men: every word that exists, exists only as it is uttered or written by the voluntary effort of human organs; it is changed only by an action proceeding from individuals, and ratified by the general consent of speakers and writers. Language, then, is neither an organism nor a physical product; and its study is not a physical but a moral science, a branch of the history of the human race and of human institutions. The method of its investigation is historical, an endeavour to trace backward—even to the beginning, if the recorded evidence permit—the processes by which our own speech, or human speech in general, has become what it is, and to discover the rationale of those processes, the influences under which they have been carried on, and the ends which they have been intended to subserve. We took up first, accordingly, the process of combination of old material in language into new forms, and exhibited its universal agency in the production of the present constituents of speech. Not only are words put together to form what to our sense are and still remain ordinary compounds, but such compounds are further fused into a deceitful likeness to simple vocables; or, what is of yet more frequent occurrence and more important bearing, one of their members sinks to a subordinate position, and becomes a suffix, without recognized separate signification. This, it was claimed, is the way in which all formative elements, all signs of grammatical categories, have originated; and as every word in our language either contains, or has contained and been deprived of, a formative element, or more than one, the process of composition is one whose range and importance in linguistic history cannot easily be over-estimated.
But the same examples on which we relied to show how, and how extensively, words are compounded together and forms produced, have shown us not less clearly that mutilation and loss of the elements employed by language, and of the compounds and forms into which they enter, are also constant accompaniments of linguistic growth. "All that is born must die" seems a law almost as inexorable in the domain of speech as in that of organic life. We have next to turn our attention to the principles underlying this department of linguistic change, and to some of the modes of its action and the effects which it produces.
And the first and most important principle which we have to notice, the one which lies at the bottom of nearly all phonetic change in language, is the tendency, already alluded to and briefly illustrated in our first lecture, to make the work of utterance easier to the speaker, to put a more facile in the stead of a more difficult sound or combination of sounds, and to get rid altogether of what is unnecessary in the words we use. All articulate sounds are produced by effort, by expenditure of muscular energy, in the lungs, throat, and mouth. This effort, like every other which man makes, he has an instinctive disposition to seek relief from, to avoid: we may call it laziness, or we may call it economy; it is, in fact, either the one or the other, according to the circumstances of each separate case: it is laziness when it gives up more than it gains; economy, when it gains more than it abandons. Every item of language is subject to its influence, and it works itself out in greatly various ways; we will give our first consideration to the manner in which its action accompanies, aids, and modifies that of the process of composition of old material into new forms, as last set forth. For it is composition, the building up of words out of elements formerly independent, that opens a wide field to the operation of phonetic change, and at the same time gives it its highest importance as an agency in the production and modification of language. If all words were of simple structure and brief form, their alterations would be confined within comparatively narrow limits, and would be of inferior consequence as constituting one of the processes of linguistic growth. Our adjective like, for example, is but slightly altered in our usage from the form which it had in the Anglo-Saxon (lîc) and the Mœso-Gothic (leik); while, in the compounds into which it has entered, it is mutilated even past recognition; in the adjectives and adverbs like godly and truly, it has been deprived of its final consonant; in such and which (A.-S. swylc, hwylc; M.- G. swaleik, hwaleik), it has saved only the final consonant, and that in a greatly modified shape. Our preterit did is, indeed, but a remnant of its older self, but in love-d it has reached a much lower stage of reduction.
The reason which makes phonetic change rifest in linguistic combinations is the same with that which creates the possibility of any phonetic change at all in language. It is inherent in the nature of a word, and its relation to the idea which it represents. A word, as we have already seen, is not the natural reflection of an idea, nor its description, nor its definition; it is only its designation, an arbitrary and conventional sign with which we learn to associate it. Hence it has no internal force conservative of its identity, but is exposed to all the changes which external circumstances, the needs of practical use, the convenience and caprice of those who employ it, may suggest. When we have once formed a compound, and applied it to a given purpose, we are not at all solicitous to keep up the memory of its origin; we are, rather, ready to forget it. The word once coined, we accept it as an integral representative of the conception to which we attach it, and give our whole attention to that, not concerning ourselves about its derivation, or its etymological aptness. Practical convenience becomes the paramount consideration, to which every other is made to give way. Let us look at an example or two. There is a certain class of insects, the most brilliant and beautiful which the entomologist knows. Its most common species, both in the Old world and the New, are of a yellow colour; clouds of these yellow flutterers, at certain seasons, swarm upon the roads and fill the air. Because, now, butter is or ought to be yellow, our simple and unromantic ancestors called the insect in question the butterfly, as they called a certain familiar yellow flower the buttercup. In our usage, this word has become the name, not of the yellow species only, but of the whole class. And, though its form is unmutilated, and its composition as clear as on the day when the words were first put together to make it, probably not one person in a hundred of those who employ it has ever thought of its origin, or considered why it was applied to the use in which it serves him. We no longer invest it with the paltry and prosaic associations which, from its derivation, would naturally cluster about it; it has become, from long alliance in our thoughts with the elegant creatures which it designates, instinct with poetic beauty and grace.
Again, some ancient navigator, who discovered a certain huge island on the north-eastern coast of America, had not ingenuity enough to devise a better appellation for it than the new-found land. Such a name was evidently no more applicable to this than to any other of the newly-discovered regions in that age of discovery, yet men learned by degrees to employ it as the proper title of this particular island. At first, doubtless, they pronounced it distinctly, new-found land; but no sooner had the words fully acquired the character of a specific name for a single thing, than they began to receive the stamp of formal unity, by the accentuation of one of the three syllables, and the subordination of the rest, in quantity and distinctness of tone. There was, to be sure, a difficulty about deciding which of three constituents of so nearly equal value should receive the principal stress of voice, and our practice varies even now between Newfoúndland and Néwfoŭndland, while we occasionally even hear Newfoŭndlánd: but good usage will finally decide in favour of one of these modes, and will reject the others. How little is the primary meaning of the compound present to the minds of those who utter it! And when, transferring the name of the island to one of its most noted products, we speak of some one as "the fortunate owner of a fine Newfoundland," how little we realize that, in terms, we are asserting his lordship over a recently discovered territory!
The two words which we have instanced have suffered no modification, or only a very slight one, of their original form since they were put together out of separate elements. But it is clear enough that this readiness to forget the etymological meaning of a word in favour of its derivative application, to sink its native condition in its official character, prepares the way for mutilation and mutation. We have put together, to form the title of a certain petty naval officer, the two words boat and swain, and we know what the word means, and why: the sailors, too, know what, but the why is a matter of indifference to them; they have no leisure for a full pronunciation of such cumbrous compounds as bōatswāin; they cut it down to bos'n; and it is a chance if a single one among them who has not learned to read and write can tell you how he of the whistle comes by such a title. So also, the mariner calls to'gal'nts'ls what we land-lubbers know by the more etymologically correct, but more lumbering, name of topgallantsails. And these are but typical examples of what has been the history of language from the beginning. No sooner have men coined a word than they have begun—not, of course, with deliberate forethought, but spontaneously, and as it were unconsciously—to see how the time and labour expended in its utterance could be economized, how any complicated and difficult combination of sounds which it presented could be worked over into a shape better adapted for fluent utterance, how it could be contracted into a briefer form, what part of it could be spared without loss of intelligibility.
Thus—to recur to some of our former illustrations—as soon as we are ready to forego our separate memory of the constituents of such compounds as breāk-fâst, fōre-hĕad, fourteen-night, that we may give a more concentrated attention to the unity of signification which we confer upon them, we begin to convert them into brĕakfast, fŏre'd, fôrtnĭt. And the case is the same with all those combinations out of which grow formative elements and forms. While we have clearly in mind the genesis of god-like, father-like, and so forth, we are little likely to mutilate either part of them: our apprehension of the latter element as no longer coördinate with the former, but as an appendage to it, impressing upon it a modification of meaning, and our reduction of the subordinate element to ly, thus turning the words into godly and fatherly, are processes that go hand in hand together, each helping the other.
This brings us to a recognition of the important and valuable part played by the tendency to ease of utterance, and by the phonetic changes which it prompts, in the construction of the fabric of language. If a word is to be taken fully out of the condition of constituent member of a compound, and made a formative element, if a compound is thus to be converted into a form, or otherwise fused together into an integral word, it must be by the help of some external modification. Our words thankful, fearful, truthful, and their like, are, by our too present apprehension of the independent significance of their final syllable, kept out of the category of pure derivatives. Phonetic corruption makes the difference between a genuine form-word, like godly, and a combination like godlike, which is far less plastic and adaptable to the varying needs of practical use; it makes the difference between a synthetic combination, like I loved, and a mere analytic collocation, like I did love. It alone renders possible true grammatical forms, which make the wealth and power of every inflective language. We sometimes laugh at the unwieldiness of the compounds which our neighbour language, the German, so abundantly admits; words like Rittergutsbesitzer, 'knight's-property-possessor,' or Schuhmacherhandwerk, 'cobbler's-trade,' seem to us too cumbrous for use; but half the vocables in our own tongue would be as bulky and awkward, but for the abbreviation which phonetic change has wrought upon them. Without it, such complicated derivatives as untruthfully, inapplicabilities, would have no advantage over the tedious paraphrases with which we should now render their precise etymological meaning.
Change, retrenchment, mutilation, disguise of derivation is, then, both the inevitable and the desirable accompaniment of such composition as has formed the vocabulary of our spoken tongue. It stands connected with tendencies of essential consequence, and is part of the wise economy of speech. It contributes to conciseness and force of expression. It is the sign and means of the integration of words. It disencumbers terms of traditional remembrances, which would otherwise disturb the unity of attention that ought to be concentrated upon the sign in its relation to the thing signified. It makes of a word, instead of a congeries of independent entities, held together by a loose bond and equally crowding themselves upon the apprehension, a unity, composed of duly subordinated parts.
But the tendency which works out these valuable results is, at the same time, a blind, or, to speak more exactly, an unreflecting one, and its action is also in no small measure destructive; it pulls down the very edifice which it helps to build. Its direct aim is simply ease and convenience; it seeks, as we have seen, to save time and labour to the users of language. There may be, it is evident, waste as well as economy in the gratification of such a tendency; abbreviation may be carried beyond the limits of that which can be well dispensed with; ease and convenience may be consulted by the sacrifice of what is of worth, as well as by the rejection of what is unnecessary. No language, indeed, in the mouths of a people not undergoing mental and moral impoverishment, gives up, upon the whole, any of its resources of expression, lets go aught of essential value for which it does not retain or provide an equivalent. But an item may be dropped here and there, which, upon reflection, seems a regrettable loss. And a language may, at least, become greatly altered by the excessive prevalence of the wearing-out processes, abandoning much which in other and kindred languages is retained and valued. It is the more necessary that we take notice of the disorganizing and destructive workings of this tendency, inasmuch as our English speech is, above all other cultivated tongues upon the face of the earth, the one in which they have brought about the most radical and sweeping changes.
It has already been remarked (p. 62) that, in the earliest traceable stage of growth of our language, the first person singular of its verbs was formed by an ending mi, of which the m in am is a relic, and the only one which we have left. In Latin, too, it remains in the present indicative of only two words, sum and inquam, and in Greek, in the comparatively small class of "verbs in mi," like tithēmi, didōmi. But the history of verbal conjugation can be better illustrated by considering the changes wrought upon another set of endings, those of the plural. At the same early period of its development, the tongue from which ours is descended had an elaborate series of terminations to denote the first, second, and third persons plural of its verbs. In the oldest form in which we can trace them—when, however, they had already acquired the character of true formative elements—they were masi, tasi, and nti. By origin, they were pronominal compounds, which had "grown on" to the end of the verbal root—that is to say, had first been habitually spoken in connection with the root, then attached to it, and finally integrated with it, in the manner already illustrated: they meant respectively, 'I and thou', i.e. 'we'; 'he and thou', i.e. 'ye'; and 'they'. Thus lagamasi, lagatasi, laganti, for instance, signified at first, in a manner patent to every speaker’s apprehension, 'lie-we', 'lie-ye', 'lie-they': it would have seemed as superfluous, in using these forms, to put the subject pronouns a second time before them, as it would seem to us now to say I did loved, for I loved. But the consciousness of the origin of the endings becoming dimmed, and their independent meaning lost from view, they were left to undergo the inevitable process of reduction to a simpler form. As they appear in the Latin, they have suffered a first process of abbreviation, by rejection of the final vowel of each: they have become mus, tis, and nt, as in legimus, legitis, legunt, 'we read, ye read, they read.' The ancient Gothic, the most primitive of the Germanic dialects, exhibits them in a yet succincter form, the first two having been cut down to their initial letter only; thus, ligam, ligith, ligand. Thus far, each ending has, through all its changes, preserved its identity, and is adequate to its office; however mutilated and corrupted in form, they are still well distinguished from one another, and sufficiently characteristic. But it was now coming to be usual to put the pronouns before the verb in speaking. At first added occasionally, for greater emphasis, they had, as the pronominal character of the endings faded altogether from memory, become customary attendants of the verb in all the persons—save as, in the third person, their place was taken by the more varied subjects which that person admits. Since, then, the expressed subjects were of themselves enough to indicate the person, distinctive endings were no longer needed. Under the influence of this consideration, the Anglo-Saxon had reduced all the plural terminations to one—ath in the present, on in the imperfect—saying we licgath, ge licgath, hi licgath. Although this last was, in its inception, much such a blunder as is now committed by the vulgar among ourselves who say I is, says I, and so on, it was adopted and ratified by the community, because it was only a carrying out of the legitimate tendency to neglect and eliminate distinctions which are practically unnecessary; and all the other Germanic dialects have done the same thing, in whole or in part. We, finally, have carried the process to its furthest possible limit, by casting off the suffixes altogether; and with them, in this particular verb, even the final consonant of the root: as we say I lie, so we also say we lie, ye lie, they lie. We do not feel that we have thus sacrificed aught of that distinctness of expression which should be aimed at in language; we lie is not less unambiguous than lagamasi; it is, in fact, a composition of equivalent elements in another mode; just as I did love is, in a different form, the same combination with I loved.
In the declension of our nouns we have effected a more thorough revolution, if that be possible, than in the conjugation of our verbs. The ancient tongue from which our English is the remote descendant inflected its nouns, substantive and adjective, in three numbers, each containing eight cases. Of the numbers, the Anglo-Saxon had almost wholly given up one, the dual, retaining only scanty relics of it in the pronouns; and, of the cases, it had in familiar use but four—the nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative—with traces of a fifth, the instrumental. The dual, indeed, on account of its little practical value, has disappeared in nearly all the modern languages of our family, its duties being assumed by the plural; and the prepositions have long been usurping the office of the case-endings, and rendering these dispensable. In English, now, all inflection of the adjective has gone out of use, and we have saved for our substantives only one of the cases, the genitive or possessive—to which a few of the pronouns add also an accusative or objective: thus, he, his, him, they, their, them, etc. Here, too, we should be loth to acknowledge that we have given up what the true purposes of language required us to keep, that we can speak our minds any less distinctly than our ancestors could, with all their apparatus of inflections.
A remarkable example of the total abandonment of a conspicuous department of grammatical structure, without any compensating substitution, is furnished in our treatment of the matter of gender. The grammatical distinction of words as masculine, feminine, or neuter, by differences of termination and differences of declension, had been from the very earliest period the practice of all the languages of the family to which the English belongs. It was applied not alone to names of objects actually possessed of sex, but to all, of whatever kind, even to intellectual and abstract terms; the whole language was the scene of an immense personification, whereby sexual qualities were attributed to everything in the world both of nature and of mind: often on the ground of conceptions and analogies which we find it excessively difficult to recognize and appreciate. This state of things still prevailed in the Anglo-Saxon: nouns were masculine, feminine, and neuter, according to the ancient tradition (for example, tôth, 'tooth,' was masculine; syn, 'sin,' was feminine; and wîf, 'wife, woman,' was neuter); and every adjective and adjective-pronoun was declined in the three genders, and made to agree with its noun in gender as well as in number and case, just as if it were Latin or Greek. But in that vast decay and ruin of grammatical forms which attended the elaboration of our modern English out of its Saxon and Norman elements, the distinctive suffixes of gender and declension have disappeared along with the rest; and with them has disappeared this whole scheme of artificial distinctions, of such immemorial antiquity and wide acceptance. It has completely passed from our memory and our conception, leaving not a trace behind; the few pronominal forms indicative of sex which we have saved—namely, he, she, it, his and him, her, and its—we use only according to the requirements of actual sex or its absence, or to help a poetic personification; and we think it very inconvenient, and even hardly fair, that, in learning French and German, we are called upon to burden ourselves with arbitrary and unpractical distinctions of grammatical gender.
The disposition to rid our words of whatever in them is superfluous, or can be spared without detriment to distinctness of expression, has led in our language, as in many others, to curious replacements of an earlier mode of indicating meaning by one of later date, and of inorganic origin—that is to say, not produced for the purpose to which it is applied. Thus we have a few plurals, of which men from man, feet from foot, and mice from mouse are familiar examples, which constitute noteworthy exceptions to our general rule for the formation of the plural number. Comparison of the older dialects soon shows us that the change of vowel in such words as these was originally an accident only; it was not significant, but euphonic; it was called out by the vowels of certain case-endings, which assimilated the vowels of the nouns to which these were attached. So little was the altered vowel in Anglo-Saxon a sign of plurality, that it was found also in one of the singular cases, while two of the plural cases exhibited the unchanged vowel of the theme. Man, for instance, was thus declined:
|Dat.||men,||'to man';||mannum,||'to men.'|
But the nominative and accusative singular exhibited one vowel, and the nominative and accusative plural another; and so this incidental difference of pronunciation between the forms of most frequent occurrence in the two numbers respectively came to appear before the popular apprehension as indicative of the distinction of number; its genesis was already long forgotten, as the case-endings which called it out had disappeared; and now it was fully invested with a new office—though only in a few rather arbitrarily selected cases: the word book, for example, has the same hereditary right to a plural beek, instead of books, as has foot to a plural feet, instead of foots. The case is quite the same as if, at present, because we pronounce nătional (with "short a") the adjective derived from nātion, we should come finally to neglect as unnecessary the suffix al, and should allow nātion and nătion to answer to one another as corresponding substantive and adjective.
A very similar case of substitution of distinctions originally accidental for others of formal and organic growth appears also in some of our verbs. From dælan, 'to deal,' the Anglo-Saxon formed, by the usual suffixes of conjugation, the imperfect dælde and the participle dæled. In our mouthing over of these forms to suit our ideas of convenient pronunciation, we have established a difference of vowel sound among them, saying I dēal, but he dĕalt and we have dĕalt. Here is an internal distinction, of euphonic origin, accompanying and auxiliary to the external distinction of conjugational endings. But, among the not inconsiderable number of verbs exhibiting this secondary change of vowel, there are a few, ending in d, in which we have elevated it to a primary rank, casting away the endings as inconvenient and unnecessary. Thus, where the Anglo-Saxon says lædan, lædde, læded, and rædan, rædde, ræded, we say I lēad, he lĕd, we have lĕd, and I rēad, he rĕad, we have rĕad—not even taking the trouble, in the latter instance, to vary the spelling to conform to the pronunciation.
Yet another analogous phenomenon has a much higher antiquity, wider prevalence, and greater importance, among the languages of the Germanic family: it is the change of radical vowel in what we usually call the "irregular" conjugation of verbs. The imperfect and participle of sing, for example, are distinguished from one another and from the present solely by a difference of vowel: thus, sing, sang, sung. Other verbs exhibit only a twofold change, their participle agreeing with either the present or the imperfect; thus, come, came, come; bind, bound, bound. That this mode of conjugation is Germanic only, proves that it arose after the separation of the Germanic languages from the greater family of which these form a branch. It is, in fact, like the other changes of vowel in declension and conjugation which we have just been considering, of euphonic origin, and it has acquired its present value and significance in comparatively modern times: indeed, the English alone has suffered it to reach its full development as a means of grammatical expression, by generally rejecting all aid from other sources than the variation of vowels in distinguishing the verbal forms from one another. In the Anglo-Saxon, it still wore in great measure a euphonic aspect: that language had its separate affixes for the infinitive and participle; it said singan, 'to sing,' and sungen, 'sung;' and its present, ic singe, and its preterit, ic sang, were distinguished in every person but one by terminations of different form: the varying scale of vowels, then, was only auxiliary to the sense, not essential—and it had, and still has, to a considerable extent, the same value in the other Germanic dialects, ancient and modern. Moreover, there were other frequent changes of vowel in verbal conjugation, in other forms than these; the second and third persons singular present often differed from the first, and in a very large class of verbs the preterit plural differed from the singular. Thus, from helpan, 'to help', for example, we have ic helpe, 'I help'; he hylpth, 'he helpeth'; ic healp, 'I helped'; we hulpon, 'we helped'; and finally holpen, 'helped'—a fivefold play of vowel change. We, in our unconscious endeavour to utilize what was practically valuable in this condition of things, and to reject the rest from use, have retained and now admit, at most, a threefold variation, and have made it directly and independently significant, by casting away the needless terminations.
An interesting illustration of the way in which phonetic corruption sometimes creates a necessity for new forms, and leads to their production, is to be noted in connection with this subject. The Germanic preterits were originally formed by means of a reduplication, like the Greek and some of the Latin perfects; but the variation of a radical vowel had, to no small extent, supplanted it, assuming its office and causing its disappearance in the great majority of ancient verbs. Its recognition as the sign of past meaning, and its application to the formation of preterits from new verbs, were thus broken up and rendered ineffective. At the same time, the change of vowel was too irregular and seemingly capricious to supply its place in such uses; there was no single analogy presented before the minds of the language-makers, which could be securely and intelligently followed. Hence, for all derivative and denominative verbs—additions by which every language is constantly enriching its stores of verbal expression—a new kind of past tense had to be formed, by composition with the old reduplicated preterit did, as has been already explained. This being soon converted into a suffix, and the number of preterits formed by means of it increasing greatly and rapidly, it became by degrees the more common indicator of past action, and was recognized as such by the popular apprehension. From that time, it began to exhibit a tendency to extend its sphere of application at the expense of the more ancient modes of forming the preterit tense—the same tendency which shows itself so noticeably now in every child who learns the English language, inclining him to say I bringed, I goed, I seed, until with much pains he is taught the various "irregular" forms, and is made to employ them as prevailing usage directs. Prevailing usage has in our language already ratified a host of such blunders; a large portion of the ancient Germanic verbs, formerly inflected after the analogy of sing, come, bind, give, and their like, we now conjugate "regularly." One instance we have had occasion to notice above—the verb help, of which the ancient participle holpen, instead of helped, is still to be found in our English Bibles: others are bake, creep, fold, leap, laugh, smoke, starve, wade, wield.
Further examples of the same tendency toward extension of prevailing analogies beyond their historically correct limits are to be seen in the present declension of our nouns. The letter s is, with us, the sign of all possessive cases, not in the singular number alone, but in the plural also of such words as do not form their plural in s; thus, man's, men's; child's, children's. In the Anglo-Saxon, it was the genitive ending of the singular only, and by no means in all nouns: the feminines, without exception, and many masculines and neuters, formed their genitives in other ways. But it was the possessive sign in a majority of substantives, and there was no other distinctive ending which had the same office; and accordingly, it came to be so associated with the relation of possession in the minds of English speakers, that, in the great change and simplification of grammatical apparatus which attended the transition of Anglo-Saxon into English, its use was gradually extended, till at last no exceptions were left. A like treatment has given our plural suffix the range of application which it now exhibits. Less than half the Anglo-Saxon nouns had plurals in s: it was restricted to a single gender, the masculine, nor did it even form all the masculine plurals; while, in our usage, it is almost universal, the only exceptions being the anomalous forms already referred to (men, mice, feet, etc.), and the few words, like oxen from ox, in which we have retained relics of another mode of declension, once belonging to a large class of nouns. The prevalence which this suffix has attained in our language has been plausibly conjectured to be in part due to the influence of the French-speaking Normans, in whose own tongue s was the plural-sign in all nouns, having become such by a similar extension of its original Latin use.
This extensibility of application is a part of the essential and indispensable character of a formative element. We have not to go over and over again with the primitive act of composition and the subsequent reduction, in each separate case. It needs only that there be words enough in familiar use in a language, in which a certain added element distinctly impresses a certain modification of meaning upon certain plainly recognizable primitives, and we establish a direct association between that element and the given modification of meaning, and are ready to apply the former wherever we wish to signify the latter. The ending ly, for instance, we use when we want to make an adverb, without any thought of whether the adjective like would or would not be properly combinable with the word to which we add the ending. This alone makes it possible to mobilize, so to speak, our linguistic material, to use our old and new words in all the circumstances among which they are liable to fall. We adopt into our common speech a new term like telegraph; it was manufactured out of the stores of expression of the ancient Greek language, by some man versed in that classic tongue, and is implicitly accepted, under the sanction and recommendation of the learned, by the public at large, who neither know nor care for its etymology, who know only that they want a name for a thing, and that this answers their purpose. It thus becomes to all intents and purposes an English word, a naturalized citizen in our tongue, invested with all the rights and duties of a native—and divested, also, of those which belonged to it by hereditary descent, among its own kith and kin. We proceed, accordingly, to apply to it a whole apparatus of English inflections, long since worked out by the processes of linguistic change, and not yet destroyed by the same processes. We make of it a verb, in various forms; he telegraphs, they telegraphed, I shall telegraph, we are telegraphing, the art of telegraphing; other nouns come from it, as telegrapher, telegraphist, telegraphy; we can turn it into an adjective, telegraphic; and this, again, into an adverb, telegraphically. Historical congruency is the last thing we think of in all this. To a Greek word we add, without compunction, endings of wholly diverse descent: the greater part are Germanic, coming down to us from the Anglo-Saxon; but one or two, ic, ical, are Latin; and at least one, ist, comes ultimately from the Greek. Made up, as our English language is, out of two diverse tongues, Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French, and with more or less intermixture of many others, such a condition of things could not be avoided; it is, while practically one homogeneous tongue, historically a composite structure, both in vocabulary and in grammar. Its grammatical apparatus, its system of mobile endings, whereby words may be derived, inflected, and varied, is, indeed, in its larger and more essential part Germanic; hut it is also in no insignificant measure Latin; while hosts of Latin words receive Germanic endings, not a few Germanic words appear invested with Latin and French affixes, which have more or less fully acquired in our use the value of formative elements: such are dis-belief, re-light, for-bear-ance, atone-ment, odd-ity, huntr-ess, eat-able, talk-ative.
Hitherto we have taken note only of those effects of the wearing-out process in language which lead to the substitution of one means of expression for another, or which, as in the case of grammatical gender, do away with luxuries of expression which any tongue can well afford to dispense with. But that popular use is not content with abolishing distinctions which are wanting in practical value, with giving up what is otherwise replaced, or can be spared without loss, we shall be fully persuaded, if we merely note what is all the time going on around us. The wholly regrettable inaccuracies of heedless speakers, their confusion of things which ought to be carefully held apart, their obliteration of valuable distinction—all these are part and parcel of the ceaseless changes of language, and not essentially different from the rest; they are only that part against which the best public sentiment, a healthy feeling for the conservation of linguistic integrity, arrays itself most strongly, and which therefore are either kept down altogether, or come but slowly and sparingly to acceptance. Let us note a few instances of such linguistic degeneration.
There is in English a long-standing tendency to efface the distinction of form between the imperfect and participle, usually assimilating the former to the latter, though not infrequently also the latter to the former. Spoke and broke, for spake and brake, held for holden, and many others, are of recent acceptance, but now impregnably established; from begin, and a considerable class of like verbs, the two forms he began and he begun, and so forth, are in nearly equal favour; he come for he came, I done for I did, and others like them, are still blunders and vulgarisms; and we may hope that they will always continue such. These alterations find support in one of the analogies of the language, which has doubtless done much to call them forth. In our regular verbs, namely, there is an entire coincidence of form between the preterit and participle. The careless speaker reasons—not consciously, but in effect—thus: If I say I gained and I have gained, I dealt and I have dealt, why not also I sung and I have sung, he drank and he has drank, we held and we have held, they done and they have done?
It is not often, perhaps, that the preterit and participle will stand in connections which fail to show distinctly which form is meant by the speaker or writer. But we have also a few verbs—of which put is a familiar example—in which all distinction of present and preterit is likewise lost: if we say they put, the general requirements of the sense alone can point out the tense, just as if the phrase were so much Chinese.
The common confusion of learn and teach, as in "I learnt him to swim," is another case of a somewhat similar character, being also favoured by a recognized usage of our language, which permits us in numerous instances to employ a verb in both a simple and a causative sense. We say correctly "the ship ran aground" and "they ran it aground"; why not as well "the boy learned his lesson " and "they learned him his lesson"?
A reprehensible popular inaccuracy—commencing in this country, I believe, at the South or among the Irish, but lately making very alarming progress northward, and through almost all classes of the community—is threatening to wipe out in the first persons of our futures the distinction between the two auxiliaries shall and will, casting away the former, and putting the latter in its place. The Southerner says: "It is certain that we will fail," "I would try in vain to thank you." To say I shall in circumstances where we should say he will, to put we should where good usage would require they would, seems to these people, who have never investigated either the history or the philosophy of the difference of the phraseology in the two persons, an inconsistency which may and should be avoided. The matter, however, is one which implies a violation not only of good English usage, but also of sound etymological morality: shall originally and properly contains the idea of duty, and will that of resolve; and to disregard obligation in the laying out of future action, making arbitrary resolve the sole guide, is a lesson which the community ought not to learn from any section or class, in language any more than in political and social conduct.
Once more, our verb has long been undergoing a process of impoverishment by the obliteration of its subjunctive mood. This had begun even in the Anglo-Saxon, by the partial loss of the distinctive signs of subjunctive meaning, and the assimilation of the subjunctive and indicative forms. The wearing-off of inflections since that period has nearly finished the work, in wiping out, in almost every verb in the language, all formal distinction between the two moods, except in the second and third persons singular present and the second singular preterit; there, it was still possible to say if thou love, if he love, if thou loved, instead of thou lovest, he loves, thou lovedst. But the second persons have become of so rare use with us that they could render little aid in keeping alive in the minds of speakers the apprehension of the subjunctive: it virtually rested solely upon the single form if he love. No wonder, then, that the distinction, so weakly sustained, became an evanescent one; in if they love, if we loved, and so on, forms apparently indicative answered sufficiently well the purpose of conditional expression; why not also in the third person singular? Under the influence of such considerations, it has become equally allowable to write if he loves and if he love, even in careful and elegant styles of composition, while the latter is but very rarely heard in colloquial discourse. Only in the verb to be, whose subjunctive forms were more plainly, and in more persons, distinguished from the indicative, have they maintained themselves more firmly in use: to say if I was, if he was, for if I were, if he were, is even now decidedly careless and inelegant.
What has been given must suffice as illustration of the abbreviation of forms, the mutilation and wearing out of formative elements. But this, though a fundamentally and conspicuously important part of the phonetic history of a language, is only a part: the same tendency, to economize the time and labour expended in speaking, to make the utterance of words more easy and convenient, shows itself in a great variety of other ways. None of the articulate elements of which our vocables are composed are exempt from alteration under the operation of this tendency; while a word continues to maintain its general structure and grammatical form, it is liable to change by the conversion of some of its sounds into others, by omission, even by addition or insertion. The subject of phonetic change in language is too vast, and runs out into a too infinite detail, to be treated here with any fulness: we can only attempt to direct our attention to its most important features and guiding principles.
Each one of the sounds composing our spoken alphabet is produced by an effort in which the lungs, the throat, and the organs of the mouth bear a part. The lungs furnish the rough material, an expulsion of air, in greater or less force; the vocal cords in the larynx, by their approximation. and vibration, give to this material resonance and tone; while it receives its final form, its articulate character, by the modifying action of the tongue, palate, and lips. Each articulation thus represents a certain position of the shaping organs of the mouth, through which a certain kind and amount of material is emitted. A word is composed of a series of such articulations, and implies a succession of changes of position in the mouth-organs, often accompanied by changes in the action of the larynx upon the passing column of air. Thus, for example, in the word friendly. At first, the tips of the upper teeth are pressed upon the edge of the lower lip, and simple breath, not intonated in the larynx, is forced out between the two organs: the rustling thus produced is the f-sound. The teeth and lips are now released from service, and the tip of the tongue is brought near to the roof of the mouth at a point a little way behind the gums; at the same instant, the vocal cords are raised and strained, so that the escaping air sets them in vibration and becomes sonant; tone, instead of mere breath, is expelled; and the sound of r is heard. Next the tongue is moved again; its point is depressed in the mouth, and its middle raised toward the palate, yet not so near but that the sonant breath comes forth freely, giving an opener, a more sonorous and continuable tone than either of the preceding positions yielded: this we call a vowel, short e. Once more the tip of the tongue approaches the upper part of the mouth behind the teeth, and this time forms a close contact there, cutting off all exit of the breath through the oral passage; but the passage of the nose is opened for its escape, and we hear the nasal n. To produce the next sound, d, the only change needed is the closure of the nasal passage; the mouth and nose being both shut, no emission of breath is possible; yet the tone does not cease; breath enough to support for an instant the sonant vibration of the vocal cords is forced up into the closed cavity of the mouth, behind the tongue: were the vibration and tone intermitted during the instant of closure, the sound uttered would be a t, instead of a d. Before the oral cavity is so full that the sonant utterance can be no longer sustained, the contact of the tongue with the roof of the mouth is broken at its sides, but kept up at its tip, in which position the continuance of intonated emission generates an l. Finally, the tongue is released at the tip and elevated in the middle, to a posture nearly the same with that in which the former vowel was spoken, only a little closer, and we have another vowel, a short i. Here, unless some other word immediately follows, the process is ended, and inarticulate breathing is commenced again. Thus, during the pronunciation of so brief and simple a word, the mouth-organs have been compelled to assume in succession seven different positions: but all their movements have been made with such rapidity and precision, one position has followed another so closely and accurately, that no intermediate sounds, no slides from one to another, have been apprehended by the ear; it has heard only the seven articulations. The action of the throat has varied once; passing without modification the breath expended in uttering the f, it has intonated, in one unbroken stream, all that followed. The general effort of utterance, too, the degree of exertion put forth by the lungs, has not been the same throughout: the former part of the word has been accented—that is to say, spoken with a fuller and stronger tone—with which effect, when not contravened by the emphasis, or tone of the sentence, a slight rise of musical pitch is wont to ally itself. And yet once more, we have to note that our word, whether we regard it as seven-fold or as one-fold in respect to the action of the articulating organs, presents itself to our apprehension as a two-fold entity: it is dissyllabic. This property, the foundation of which is in the ear of the hearer rather than in the mouth of the speaker, depends upon the antithesis of the opener and closer sounds composing the word: the comparatively open and resonant vowels strike the ear as the prominent and principal constituents of the series, while the closer consonants appear as their adjuncts, separating at the same time that they connect them.
This example brings to light the principal elements which enter into the structure of spoken signs for ideas, and which have to be taken into account in all inquiries into the phonetic history of language. Each constituent of the spoken alphabet requires, in order to its production, a certain kind and amount of effort on the part of the various organs concerned in articulate utterance. Some of them call for greater change from the quiescent condition of the organs, and so are in themselves harder to utter, than others. And again—what is of far higher importance in phonology—some are much harder to utter than others in connection with one another; the changes of position and mode of action of the articulating organs which they imply are more difficult of production and combination. Thus, it is perfectly practicable to arrange the sounds composing the word friendly in such ways as to give very harsh combinations, which, although we may make shift to utter them by a great effort, we should ordinarily and properly call unpronounceable: for example, nfdrely, lrefdny, yrfdnle. And our word itself, easy as it seems to us, would be deemed harsh and unpronounceable by many a race and nation of men. It is all a question of degree, of the amount of labour to which we are willing to subject our articulating organs in speaking. Hosts of series of sounds may be made up which, though not unutterable by dint of devoted and vehement exertion, never appear in actual speech, because they are practically too hard; their cost is greater than their value; the needs of speech can be supplied without resorting to them. And half the languages in the world have sounds and combinations of sounds which other tongues eschew as being harder than they choose to utter. No word that a community has once formed and uttered is incapable of being kept unchanged in their use; yet use breeds change in all the constituents of every language: each sound in a word exercises an assimilating influence over the others in its neighbourhood, tending to bring them into some other form which is more easily uttered in connection with itself. The seat of "euphony," as we somewhat mistakenly term it, is in the mouth, not in the ear; words are changed in phonetic structure, not according to the impression they make upon the organs of hearing, but according to the action which they call for in the organs of speaking; physiological, not acoustic relations determine how sounds shall pass into one another in the process of linguistic growth.
A spoken alphabet, then, in order to be understood, must be arranged upon a physiological plan. It is no chaos, but an orderly system of articulations, with ties of relationship running through it in every direction. It has its natural limits, divisions, and lines of arrangement. It is composed of series of sounds, produced each in its own part of the mouth, by different degrees of approximation of the same organs. According to these different degrees of approximation, mainly, it is separated into classes: the opener sounds we call vowels; the closer, consonants; and, upon the limit between the two are sounds—like l, r, n in English—which are capable of use as either consonants or vowels. The consonants, again, are subdivided into classes of lesser extent, also determined by their correspondence in respect to measure of openness, resonance, and continuability: such are the semivowels, the nasals, the fricatives (which may be further subdivided into sibilants and spirants), and the mutes. And, after a certain grade of closeness is reached, each position of the mouth-organs gives rise to two distinct sounds, sonant and surd, according as intonated or unintonated breath is expelled through it.
The English spoken alphabet, arranged according to this method, presents the following scheme:
The scale of these lectures does not require us to enter into a more detailed examination of the organs of speech and their product, articulate sounds, or a more exact definition of the physical relations of articulate sounds, than has thus been given. The principal and most frequent phonetic transitions are sufficiently explained by our alphabetic scheme. Let us notice a few of them.
The conversion of a surd letter into its corresponding sonant, or of sonant into surd, is abundantly illustrated in the history of every language. Our own plural sign, s, is pronounced as s only when it follows another surd consonant, as in plants, cakes; after a sonant consonant or a vowel, it becomes z, as in eyes, pins, pegs. A like change is common between two vowels, as in busy; the vowel intonation being continued through the intervening consonant; instead of intermitted during its utterance. So, on the other hand, we turn a d into a t after another surd consonant, where a sonant would be only with difficulty pronounced, as in looked (lookt); and the German eliminates the intonation from all his final mutes, speaking kind, kalb, as if they were written kint, kalp. Sounds of the same series, but of different classes, easily pass into one another: thus, the spirants (f, th, and so on) are almost universally derived from the full mutes, by a substitution of a close approximation (usually accompanied, it is true, by a slight shifting of position) for the full mute contact; and they come especially from such mutes as were originally aspirated—that is to say, had an audible bit of an h pronounced after them, before the following sound; the way in which they are often written, as ph, th, ch (German), is a result and evidence of this their origin. A v, too, has in many languages taken the place of an earlier semivowel w. Of the transition of the spirant th into the sibilant s a notable example is offered in our substitution—now become universal except in antiquated and solemn styles—of he loves for he loveth: s as of the third person singular of verbs is rare in Chaucer, and quite unknown a little earlier. An s between vowels, instead of being turned into its own corresponding sonant, z, becomes sometimes the next opener sonant of the same series, namely r: this change prevails very extensively in many tongues, as the Sanskrit, Latin, Germanic; a familiar example of its effect is seen in our were, plural and subjunctive of was, which has retained the original sibilant. A less frequent and regular change puts in place of a letter of one series one belonging to the same class but a different series. Thus, when the English gave up in pronunciation its palatal spirant—still written in so many of our words with gh—while it usually simply silenced it, prolonging or strengthening, by way of compensation, the preceding vowel, as in light, bough, Hugh, it sometimes substituted the labial spirant f as in cough, trough; and, in the latter word, a common popular error, doubtless going back to the time of first abandonment of the proper gh sound, substitutes the lingual spirant, th, pronouncing troth. So the Russians put f for th, turning Theodore into Fedor. Exchanges of the mutes of different organs with one another are not very seldom met with, though not so easy to illustrate with English instances: the pent of pentagon and the quinq of quinquennial are Greek and Latin versions of the same original word, which in our own tongue, moreover, has become five. We often hear persons who have a constitutional or habitual inaptness to pronounce an r, and who turn it into a w, or an l: r and l, indeed, throughout the history of language, are the most interchangeable of sounds. Combination of consonants leads with especial frequency to the assimilation of the one to the other: our ditto is the Latin dictum, 'said'; we say dis-join, but dif-fuse; in-different, but im-possible; ad-dict, but an-nul, ap-pend, as-sign, ac-cede, af-firm, ag-gress, al-lude, am-munition.
If the consonants are thus variously liable to pass into one another, a yet higher degree of mobility belongs to the vowels. It is needless to go into particulars upon this point; the condition of our own vowel-system is a sufficient illustration of it. The letters a, e, i, o, u were originally devised and intended to represent the vowel-sounds in far, prey, pique, pole, and rule, respectively, and they still have those values, constantly or prevailingly, in most of the other languages which employ them. But, during the written period of our own tongue, the pronunciation of its vowels has undergone—partly under the influence of circumstances which are still clearly to be pointed out—very sweeping and extensive changes, while our words have continued to be spelt nearly as formerly; and the consequence has been a grand dislocation of our orthographical system, a divorcement of our written from our spoken alphabet. Our written vowels have from three to nine values each, and they are supplemented in use by a host of digraphs, of equally variable pronunciation; our spoken vowels have each from two to twelve written representatives. All the internal relations of our sounds are turned awry; what we call "long" and "short" a, or i, or u, or e, or o, are really no more related to one another as corresponding long and short, than dog and cat, sun and moon, are related to one another as corresponding male and female. With our consonants, also, the case is but little better than with our vowels: our words, as we write them, are full of silent and ambiguous signs of every class, unremoved ruins of an overthrown phonetic structure. And our sense of the fitness of things has become so debauched by our training in the midst of these vicious surroundings, that it seems to us natural and proper that the same sound should be written in many different ways, the same sign have many different sounds; the great majority of us seriously believe and soberly maintain that a historical is preferable to a phonetic spelling—that is to say, that it is better to write our words as we imagine that somebody else pronounced them a long time since, than as we pronounce them ourselves; and an orthoepical corruption or anomaly, like kyind for kind, dănce for dânce, neīther for nēither, is less frowned on by public opinion, and has a better chance for adoption into general use, than any, the most obvious, improvement of orthography.
The illustrations of phonetic change which we have been considering concern, as was claimed for them at the outset, only the most frequent and easily explainable phenomena of their kind, those which are found to prevail more or less in almost every known language. But every language has its own peculiar history of phonetic development, its special laws of mutation, its caprices and idiosyncrasies, which no amount of learning and acuteness could enable the phonologist to foretell, and of which the full explanation often baffles his art. His work is historical, not prescriptive. He has to trace out the changes which have actually taken place in the spoken structure of language, and to discover, so far as he is able, their ground, in the physical character and relations of the sounds concerned, in the positions and motions of the articulating organs by which those sounds are produced. He is thus enabled to point out, in the great majority of cases, how it is that a certain sound, in this or that situation, should be easily and naturally dropped, or converted into such and such, another sound. But with this, for the most part, he is obliged to content himself; his power to explain the motive of the change, why it is made in this word and not in that, why by this community and not by that other, is very limited. He cannot tell why sounds are found in the alphabet of one tongue which are unutterable by the speakers of another; why combinations which come without difficulty from the organs of one people are utterly eschewed by its neighbour and next of kin; why, for example, the Sanskrit will tolerate no two consonants at the end of a word, the Greek no consonant but n, s, or r, the Chinese none but a nasal, the Italian none at all: why the Polynesian will form no syllable which does not end with a vowel, or which begins with more than one consonant, while the English will bear as many as six or seven consonants about a single vowel (as in splints, strands, twelfths); why the accent in a Latin word has its place always determined by the quantity of the syllable before the last, and rests either upon that syllable or the one that precedes it, while in Greek it may be given to either of the last three syllables, and is only partially regulated by quantity; why, again, the Irish and Bohemian lay the stress of voice invariably upon the first syllable of a word, and their near relations, the Welsh and Polish, as invariably upon the penult; others still, like the Russian and Sanskrit, submitting it to no restriction of place whatever. These, and the thousand other not less striking differences of phonetic structure and custom which might readily be pointed out, are national traits, results of differences of physical organization so subtile (if they exist at all), of influences of circumstance so recondite, of choice and habit so arbitrary and capricious, that they will never cease to elude the search of the investigator. But he will not, in his perplexity, think of ascribing even the most obscure and startling changes of sound to any other agency than that which brings about those contractions and conversions which are most obviously a relief to the organs of articulation: it is still the speakers of language, and they alone, who work over and elaborate the words they utter, suiting them to their convenience and their caprice. The final reason to which we are brought in every case, when historical and physical study have done their utmost, is but this: it hath pleased the community which used this word to make such an alteration in its form; and such and such considerations and analogies show the change to be one neither isolated nor mysterious. Except in single and exceptional cases, there is no such difference of structure in human mouths and throats that any human being, of whatever race, may not perfectly master the pronunciation of any human language, belonging to whatever other race—provided only his teaching begin early enough, before his organs have acquired by habit special capacities and incapacities. The collective disposition and ability of a community, working itself out under the guidance of circumstances, determines the phonetic form which the common tongue of the community shall wear. And as, in the first essays of any child at speaking, we may note not only natural errors and ready substitutions of one sound for another, common to nearly all children, but also one and another peculiar conversion, which seems the effect of mere whim, explainable by nothing but individual caprice, so in the traditional transmission of language—which is but the same process of teaching children to Speak, carried out upon a larger scale—we must look for similar cases of arbitrary phonetic transitions.
So important a part of the history of a language are its special methods of phonetic change, that, in investigating the relations of any dialect with its kindred dialects, the first step is to determine to what sounds in the latter its own sounds regularly correspond. Thus, on comparing English and German, we find that a d in the former usually agrees, not with a d, but with a t, in the latter; as is shown by dance and tanz, day and tag, deep and tief, drink and trink, and so on. In like manner, the German counterpart of an English t is s or z: compare foot and fuss, tin and zinn, to and zu, two and zwei, and the like; and a German d answers to our th, as in die for the, dein for thine, bad for bath. What is yet more extraordinary is the fact that, if we compare English with the older languages of our family—as with Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit—we discover the precise converse of this relation: as German t is English d, so English t is Latin d (compare two and duo); as German d is English th, so English d is Greek th (compare door and thura, daughter and thugatr); as German s or z is English t, so English th (the lisped letter instead of the hissed, the spirant for the sibilant) is Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit t (compare three and tres, treis, tri; that and -tud, to, tad). In short, taking the series of three dental mutes, surd, aspirate, and sonant, t, th, and d, we find that the Germanic languages in general, including the English, have pushed each of them forward one step, while the High-German dialects, chiefly represented by the literary German, have pushed each of them forward two steps. Thus, in tabular form:
|1.||t||S. tad (3),|
|2.||th||E. that (1),||Gr. thura,|
|3.||d||G. das (2).||E. door,||L. dent-em (1),|
|1.||t||G. tôr.||E. tooth (2),|
|2.||th||G. zand (3).|
And a similar rule of permutation holds good also among the consonants of the two other series, the palatal and labial: k, kh, g; p, ph, b—the whole, with certain variations and exceptions, of which we do not need here to take account. This intricate method of correspondence without identity is generally styled, after its discoverer, "Grimm's Law of Permutation of Consonants;" it is a fact of prime consequence in the history of the group of languages to which ours belongs, and, at the same time, one of the most remarkable and difficult phenomena of its class which the linguistic student finds anywhere offered him for explanation. Nor has any satisfactory explanation of it been yet devised; while, nevertheless, we have no reason to believe it of a nature essentially different from other mutations of sound, of equally arbitrary appearance, though of less complication and less range, which the history of language everywhere exhibits. The Armenian, for example, has converted its ancient surd mutes prevailingly into sonants, and its sonants into surds; the cockney drops his initial h’s, and aspirates his initial vowels: neither of these, any more than the permutation of consonants in the Germanic languages, is referable to a tendency toward ease of utterance, in any of its ordinary modes of action; yet no sound linguist would think of doubting that all the three phenomena are alike historical in their nature, results of the working out of tendencies which existed and operated in the minds of those who spoke the several languages in which they have made their appearance.
We need give but a moment's attention to another process of linguistic change, whereby not letters, parts of words, formative elements, alone are lost, but whole words, signs of ideas, disappear from among the stores of expression of a language. This, too, is always and everywhere going on. Evidence of it is to be seen in the obsolete and obsolescent material found recorded on almost every page of our dictionaries, and still more abundantly in the monuments of our literature, of periods to which our dictionaries do not pretend to go back, among the works of the earliest English writers; and, above all, in the Anglo-Saxon literature. As new thought and knowledge calls for new words and phrases, in order to its expression, so, when old thought and knowledge becomes antiquated, is superseded, and loses its currency, the words and phrases which expressed it, unless converted to other purposes, must also go out of use. It is sufficient that any constituent of language come to appear to those who have been accustomed to use it unnecessary and superfluous, and they cease to employ and transmit it; and, as tradition and use are the only means by which the life of language is kept up, it drops out of existence and disappears for ever—unless, indeed, it be maintained in artificial life by the preservation of records of the dialect in which it figured, or its mummy, with due account of its history and departed worth, be deposited, labelled "obsolete," in a dictionary. In part, things themselves pass out of notice and remembrance, and their names along with them; in part, new expressions arise, win their way to popular favour, and crowd out their predecessors; or, of two or more nearly synonymous words, one acquires a special and exclusive currency, and assumes the office of them all; in part, too, even valuable items of expression fall into desuetude, from no assignable cause save the carelessness or caprice of the language-users, and pass away, leaving a felt void behind them. Of course, those departments of a vocabulary which are liable to most extensive and rapid change by expansion are also most exposed to loss of their former substance, since the growth of human knowledge consists not merely in addition, but also in the supersession and replacement of old ideas by new: the technical phraseology of the arts, sciences, and handicrafts shows most obsolete words, as it shows most new words; yet, in the never-ending adjustment of human speech to human circumstances and needs, every part is in its own degree affected by this kind of change, as well as by the others. Rarely has any cultivated tongue, during a like period of its history, given up more of its ancient material than did the English during the few centuries which succeeded the Norman invasion; a large portion of the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary was abandoned; but this was only the natural effect of the intrusion of so many Norman-French words, an enrichment beyond all due measure, rendering necessary the relinquishment of some part of resources which exceeded the wants of the community. If, upon the whole, we have gained by the exchange, it has not been without some regrettable losses, of the significant as well as of the formative elements of expression.
The processes which we have thus examined and illustrated—on the one hand, the production of new words and forms by the combination of old materials; on the other hand, the wearing down, wearing out, and abandonment of the words and forms thus produced, their fusion and mutilation, their destruction and oblivion—are the means by which are kept up the life and growth of language, so far as concerns its external shape and substance, its sensible body: by their joint and mutual action, greatly varying in rate and kind among different peoples, at different times, and under different circumstances, spoken tongues have been from the beginning of their history, and are still, everywhere becoming other than they were. Yet they together constitute but one department of linguistic change; another, affecting the internal content of language, the meaning of its words, equally demands notice from us. To this we have not yet distinctly directed our attention, although our illustrations have necessarily set forth, to a certain extent, its action and effects, along with those of the external modifications which we have been especially considering. It is a part of linguistic history which, to say the least, possesses not less interest and importance than the other. To trace out the changes of signification which a word has undergone is quite as essential a part of the etymologist's work as to follow back its changes of phonetic form; and the former are yet more rich in striking and unexpected developments, more full of instruction, than the latter: upon them depend in no small measure the historical results which the student of language aims at establishing. It may even be claimed with a certain justice that change and development of meaning constitute the real interior life of language, to which the other processes only furnish an outward support. In their details, indeed, the outer and inner growth are to a great extent independent of one another: a word may suffer modification of form in any degree, even to the loss or mutation of every phonetic element it once contained, with no appreciable alteration of meaning (as in our I for Anglo-Saxon ic, eye for eage); and, again, it may be used to convey a totally different meaning from that which it formerly bore, while still maintaining its old form. Yet, upon the whole, the two must correspond, and answer one another's uses. That would be but an imperfect and awkward language, all whose expansion of significant content was made without aid from the processes which generate new words and forms; and the highest value of external change lies in its facilitation of internal, in its office of providing signs for new ideas, of expanding a vocabulary and grammatical system into a more complete adaptedness to their required uses. But change of meaning is a more fundamental and essential part of linguistic growth than change of form. If, while words grew together, became fused, integrated, abbreviated, their signification were incapable of variation, no phonetic plasticity could make of language aught but a stiff dead structure, incapable of continuously supplying the wants of a learning and reasoning people. If for every distinct conception language were compelled to provide a distinct term, if every new idea or modification of an idea called imperatively for a new word or a modification of an old one, the task of language-making would be indefinitely increased in difficulty. The case, however, is far otherwise. A wonderful facility of putting old material to new uses stands us in stead in dealing with the intent as well as the form of our words. The ideal content of speech is even more yielding than is its external audible substance to the touch of the moulding and shaping mind. In any sentence that may be chosen, as we shall find that not one of the words is uttered in the same manner as when it was first generated, so we shall also find that not one has the same meaning which belonged to it at the beginning. The phonetists claim, with truth, that any given articulated sound may, in the history of speech, pass over into any other; the same may with equal truth be claimed of the ideas signified by words: there can hardly be two so disconnected and unlike that they may not derive themselves historically, through a succession of intermediate steps, from one another or from the same original. The varieties of significant change are as infinite as those of phonetic change; and, as in dealing with the latter, so, here again, we must limit ourselves to pointing out and exemplifying the leading principles and more prominent general methods.
The fundamental fact which makes words to be of changeable meaning is the same to which we have already had to refer as making them of changeable form; namely, that there is no internal and necessary connection between a word and the idea designated by it, that no tie save a mental association binds the two together. Conventional usage, the mutual understanding of speakers and hearers, allots to each vocable its significance, and the same authority which makes is able to change, and to change as it will, in whatever way, and to whatever extent. The only limit to the power of change is that imposed by the necessity of mutual intelligibility; no word may ever by any one act be so altered as to lose its identity as a sign, becoming unrecognizable by those who have been accustomed to employ it. Eleēmosunē is reducible to a'ms, but only through a series of intermediate stages, of which the German almosen, the Anglo-Saxon almes, and our spelling alms are representatives; the change of significant content which it has at the same time undergone, from 'feeling of pity or compassion' to one of the practical results of such a feeling, is comparatively inconsiderable, not more than we are in the constant habit of making at a single step. Our corresponding word of Latin derivation, charity, while little altered in form from its original, caritas, 'dearness,' has suffered a much more distant transfer of signification. Priest, again, from the Greek presbūteros, 'an older person,' has wandered from its primitive to about equal distance in form and in meaning; the one departure taking place under physical inducements, brought about by an impulse to economize physical effort on the part of those who had to utter the word; the other accompanying a historical change in the character and functions of an official originally chosen simply as a person of superior age and experience to oversee the concerns of a Christian community. These are but ordinary examples of the indefinite mutability of words, such as might be culled out of every sentence which we speak. Let us look at one or two further instances, which go back to a remoter period in the history of speech, and illustrate more fully the normal processes of word-making.
The word moon, with which are akin the names for the same object in many of the languages connected with our own, comes from a root (mâ) signifying 'to measure', and, by its etymology, means 'the measurer'. It is plainly the fact—and one of some interest, as indicating the ways of thinking of our remote ancestors—that the moon was looked upon as in a peculiar sense the measurer of time: and, indeed, we know that primitive nations generally have begun reckoning time by moons or months before arriving at a distinct apprehension of the year, as an equally natural and more important period. By an exception, the Latin name luna (abbreviated from luc-na) means 'the shining one.' In both these cases alike, we have an arbitrary restriction and special application to a single object of a term properly bearing a general sense; and also, an arbitrary selection of a single quality in a thing of complex nature to be made a ground of designation for the whole thing. In the world of created objects there are a great many "measurers", and a great many "shining ones"; there are also a great many other qualities belonging to the earth's satellite, which have just as good a right as these two to be noticed in her name: yet the appellation perfectly answers its purpose; no one, for thousands of years, has inquired, save as a matter of learned curiosity, what, after all, the word moon properly signifies: for us it designates our moon, and we may observe and study that luminary to the end of time without feeling that our increased knowledge furnishes any reason for our changing its name. The words for 'sun' have nearly the same history, generally designating it as 'the brilliant or shining one', or as 'the enlivener, quickener, generator'. There are hardly two other objects within the ordinary range of human observation more essentially unique than the sun and the moon, and their titles were, as nearly as is possible in language, proper names. But such they could not continue to be. No constituent of language is the appellation of an individual existence or act; each designates a class; and, even when circumstances seem to limit the class to one member, we are ever on the watch to extend its bounds. The same tendency which, as already pointed out, leads the child, when it has learned the words papa and sky, to take the things designated by those words as types of classes, and so—rightly enough in principle, though wrongly as regards the customary use of language—to call other men papa, and to call the ceiling sky, is always active in us. Copernicus having taught us that the sun is the great centre of our system, that the earth is not the point about which and for which the rest of the universe was created, the thought is at once suggested to us that the fixed stars also may be centres of systems like our own, and we call them suns. And no sooner does Galileo discover for us the lesser orbs which circle about Jupiter and others of our sister-planets, than, without a scruple, or a suspicion that we are doing anything unusual or illegitimate, we style them moons. Each word, too, has its series of figurative and secondary meanings. "So many suns", "so many moons", signify the time marked by so many revolutions of the two luminaries respectively; in some languages the word moon itself (as in the Greek mēn), in others, a derivative from it (as the Latin mensis and our month), comes to be the usual name of the period determined by the wax and wane of our satellite—and is then transferred to designate those fixed and arbitrary subdivisions of the solar year to which the natural system of lunar months has so generally been compelled to give place. By a figure of another kind, we sometimes call by the name sun one who is conspicuous for brilliancy and influence: "made glorious summer by this sun of York." By yet another, but which has now long lost its character as a figure, and become plain and homely speech, we put sun for sunlight, saying, "to walk out of the sun", " to bask in the sun", and so on. In more learned and technical phrase, the Latin name of the moon, lune, or its diminutive, lunette, is made the designation of various objects having a shape roughly resembling some one of the moon's varying phases. A popular superstition connects with these last some of the phenomena of insanity, and so the same word lune has to signify also 'a crazy fit', while a host of derivatives—as lunatic, lunacy; as moon-struck, mooning, mooner—attest in our common speech the influence of the same delusion.
This elasticity of verbal significance, this indefinite contractibility and extensibility of the meaning of words, is capable of the most varied illustration. Among all the various workmen who take rough materials and make them supple or smooth, the arbitrary choice of our Germanic ancestors, ages ago, designated the worker in metal as the one who should be styled the smith. At a much later period, when the convenience of a more developed social condition created a demand for surnames, certain individuals of this respectable profession took from it the cognomen of Smith. Then, just as the name smith had been divorced from its connection with the more general idea of smooth, and restricted to a certain class of smoothers, so now, the name Smith was cut loose from the profession, and limited to these particular individuals and their belongings. Yet, as such, it became the nucleus of a new class-extension, in which the tie of consanguinity was substituted for that of common occupation; and, although all smiths are not Smiths, the Smiths are now even more numerous than the smiths. Every proper name, not less than every common noun, goes back thus to an individual appellation, having a historical ground, and is determined in its farther application by historical circumstances. Thus, to take a more dignified example, the first Caesar was so styled from some fact in his life—the authorities are at issue from what particular one: whether from his unnatural mode of birth (a cæso matris utero), or from his coming into the world with long hair (cæsaries), or from his slaying a Mauritanian elephant (cæsar in Mauritanian speech). His descendants then inherited from him the same name, without having to show the same reason for it; and the preëminent greatness and power of one among them made it a part of the permanent title of him who ruled the Roman state, of whatever race he might be; while from here it not only passed to the emperor (kaiser) of Germany, whose throne pretends to be the modern representative of that of Rome, but also to the autocrat (czar) of distant and barbarous Russia—thus becoming the equivalent of 'emperor' in two of the most important languages of modern Europe.
These examples are of themselves sufficient to place before our eyes the most important features in the history of significant change of words, the principal processes by which—even apart from combination or phonetic change, but yet more effectively in connection with these—the existing vocabulary of a language is adaptable to the growing knowledge and varying needs of those who use it. We see that, in Ending a name by which to designate a new conception, we may either pitch upon some one of the latter's attributes, inherent or accidental, and denominate it from that, limiting and specializing for its use an attributive term of a more general meaning; or, on the other hand, we may connect it by a tie of correspondence or analogy with some other conception already named, and extend so as to include it the sphere of application of the other's designation; while, in either case, we may improve or modify to any extent our apprehension of the object conceived of, both stripping it of qualities with which we had once invested it and attributing to it others, and may thus pave the way to the establishment of new relations between it and other objects, which shall become fruitful of further changes in our nomenclature. These two, in fact—the restriction and specialization of general terms, and the extension and generalization of special terms—are the two grand divisions under which may be arranged all the infinite varieties of the process of names-giving. Some of these varieties and their effects, however, it will be desirable for us to examine and illustrate more fully, before going on to consider farther the general character of the process. We will not attempt in our illustrations a strictly systematic method, but will take something of the same freedom which linguistic usage assumes in dealing with the material of speech.
It is obvious how vastly the resources of a language for the expression of thought are increased by attribution to the same word of different meanings. Not only does a term exchange one well-defined meaning for another, but it acquires new uses while yet retaining those it formerly possessed. For example, board appears to be originally connected with broad, and to designate etymologically that form of timber which is especially characterized by breadth rather than thickness. Here we have the customary and normal genesis of the name of a specific thing, by restriction of a general term expressing one of its attributes. Then follow yet other individualizations and transfers. The word is applied to designate a table: on the one hand, the table upon which our food is spread, and we sit around the festive board; whence, then, a metaphor makes it mean provision or entertainment; and we seek bed and board, or work for our board: on the other hand, the table about which a body of men sit for the transaction of business, and so, by another metaphor, those who sit about it, a constituted body of trustees or commissioners, the Board of Trade, or of Commerce, or of Admiralty. Again, it is specifically used to denote the plank covering of a vessel, and generates in this sense a new group of phrases, like aboard and overboard. The paper-maker, too, has his technical uses for the term; to him it signifies the stiffest and thickest, the most board-like, of his fabrics. Post (Latin positum, from pono, 'I place') means by derivation nothing more than 'put, placed, stationed'; all its varied and diverse senses—so diverse that we can not only say "as immovable as a post", but also "to travel post-haste"—we developed out of this, along with the historical growth of human institutions. The establishment of a series of stations, posts, for the trusty and rapid transmission of passengers and mails along a road, leads finally to the familiar use of such terms as post-coach, post-master, and postage. What a cluster of derived uses is gathered about the word head, as illustrated in the phrases the head of a pin, a head of cabbage, the head of a bed, the head of a household or of a sect, the head of a river, the heads of a discourse, a head of hair, so many head of sheep, of one's own head, to come to a head, to make head! Half the whole list of figures of rhetoric are exemplified in the history of this one word. In court, the secondary significations have almost effaced the primitive, and, to be clear, we say rather the court-yard than the court of a castle; but a nobleman of the court, a case in court, the court instructs the jury, to pay court; and the derivative words courtly, courteous, a courtesy, courtship, courtier, courtesan, all coming from one of the specific applications of court, tell us of the manners of those who walk in kings’ houses.
Not seldom, the proper meaning of a word is altogether lost, and it diverges into others so unlike that the common apprehension is unable to connect them by any tie. Become contains come, but not to be, although we may often render it by 'come to be' Its be is the same with that of befall, beset, bemoan, a prefix giving a transitive meaning to an intransitive verb: to become is originally 'to come upon, to come by, to obtain, to get'. The transfer of meaning, from 'obtain' to 'come to be', is a somewhat peculiar one; but that it is natural enough is shown by the fact that we have gone on to treat in the same way the, equivalent verb to get, saying he gets tired for he becomes tired, and so on. From the same primitive sense of 'come upon', we have taken a step in another direction to 'sit well upon, be adapted to, suit', as when we say "such conduct does not become one in high station". To trace the relation between these two meanings of become is out of the power of most of those who use them; even the dictionaries enter them as two separate words. Not much less difficult is the connection of kind, 'well-disposed, friendly', with kind, 'a sort of species'; or of like, 'to be fond of', with like, 'resembling'—although both are but a working out, in the minds of the language-makers, of the thought "a fellow-feeling makes us wondrous kind": the idea of kindred or resemblance leading naturally to that of consideration and affection. So, once more, how second, 'the sixtieth of a minute', and second as ordinal of two, come to be the same word, would be a puzzle for most English speakers: the fact that seconds constitute the second order in the sexagesimal subdivision of the hour and of the degree being by no means a conspicuous one; and the act which stamped this particular second order of division with the name second being not less arbitrary than that which applied the same term—coming, as it does, from sequor, 'I follow', and so signifying only 'the one next following'—to designate the ordinal which succeeded the first, rather than any other of the series.
But it is needless to multiply illustrations of this point; every one knows that it is the usual and normal character of a word to bear a variety, more or less considerable, of meanings and applications, which often diverge so widely, and are connected so loosely, that the lexicographer's art is severely taxed to trace out the tie that runs through them, and exhibit them in their natural order of development. Hardly a term that we employ is not partially ambiguous, covering, not a point, but a somewhat extended and irregular territory of significance; so that, in understanding what is said to us, we have to select, under the guidance of the context, or general requirement of the sense, the particular meaning intended. To repeat a simile already once made use of, each word is, as it were, a stroke of the pencil in an outline sketch; the ensemble is necessary to the correct interpretation of each. The art of clear speaking or writing consists in so making up the picture that the right meaning is surely suggested for each part, and directly suggested, without requiring any conscious process of deliberation and choice. The general ambiguity of speech is contended against and sought to be overcome in the technical vocabulary of every art and science: in chemistry, for instance, in mineralogy, in botany, by the observation of minor differences, even back to the ultimate atomic constitution of things, and by the multiplication and nice distinction of terms, the classes under which common speech groups together the objects of common life are broken up, and each substance and quality is noted by a name which designates it, and it alone. Mental philosophy attempts the same thing with regard to the processes and cognitions of the mind; but since, in matters of subjective apprehension, it is impracticable to bring the meaning of words to a definite and unmistakable test, the difficulty of distinctly denominating one's ideas, of defining terms, amounts to an impossibility: no two schools of metaphysics, no two teachers even, agree precisely in their phraseology; nor can any one's doctrine upon recondite points be fully understood save by those who have studied longest and most thoroughly the entirety of his system—nor always even by them.
As the significant changes of language thus bring the same word to the office of designating things widely different, so they also bring different words to the office of designating the same or nearly the same thing. Thus the resources of expression are enriched in another way, by the production of synonyms, names partly accordant, partly otherwise, distinguishing different shades and aspects of the same general idea. I will refer to but a single instance. The feeling of shrinking anticipation of imminent danger, in its most general manifestation, is called fear: but for various degrees and manifestations of fear we have also the names fright, terror, dread, alarm, apprehension, panic, tremor, timidity, fearfulness, and perhaps others. Each of these has its own relations and associations; there is hardly a case where any one of them is employed that one or other of the rest might not be put in its place; and yet, there are also situations where only one of them is the best term to use—though the selection can only be made, or appreciated when made, by those who are nicest in their treatment of language, and though no one who does not possess unusual acuteness and critical judgment can duly describe and illustrate the special significance of each term. We are not to suppose, however, that our synonymy covers all the distinctions, in this or in any other case, that might be drawn, and drawn advantageously. On learning another language, we may find in its vocabulary a richer store of expressions for the varieties of this emotion, or a notation of certain forms of it which we do not heed. Hardly any word in one tongue precisely fills the domain appropriated to the word most nearly corresponding with it in another, so that the former may be invariably translated by the latter. The same territory of significance is differently parcelled out in different tongues among the designations which occupy it; nor is it ever completely covered by them all. The varying shades of fear are practically infinite, depending on differences of constitutional impressibility to such a feeling, on differences of character and habit which would make it lead to different action. Hence the impossibility that one should ever apprehend with absolute truth what another, even with the nicest use of language, endeavours to communicate to him. This incapacity of speech to reveal all that the mind contains meets us at every point. The soul of each man is a mystery which no other man can fathom: the most perfect system of signs, the most richly developed language, leads only to a partial comprehension, a mutual intelligence whose degree of completeness depends upon the nature of the subject treated, and the acquaintance of the hearer with the mental and moral character of the speaker.
It not infrequently happens that a variation of phonetic form comes in to aid the variation of significant content of a word. That minúte portion of time of which sixty make an hour we call mínute (mín-it). Of and off are but different English forms of the same Anglo-Saxon word, the latter retaining the full significance of the ancient preposition, the former having acquired a greatly attenuated and extended sense. Can is a variety of ken, 'to know,' and means etymologically 'to know how;' the language-makers had observed that "knowledge is power" long before it occurred to Lord Bacon to make the remark. Worked and wrought, owned, owed, and ought, are identical in all their constituent elements, however differently understood and employed by us. A yet more notable diversity, both of form and meaning, has been established between also and as. Gentle, genteel, and gentile' all go back to the Latin gentilis, which means simply 'pertaining to a gens or race.' So with legal, loyal, and leal, so with fragile and frail, with secure and sure—of which the former come more directly from the Latin, the other from the corrupted French forms. So, too, with manœuvre and manure, corps and corpse, think and thank, and a host of other words which might readily be adduced.
Among the examples already given, not a few have illustrated the transfer of a word from a physical to a spiritual significance. This method of change is one of such prominent importance in the development of language that it requires at our hands a more special treatment. By it has been generated the whole body of our intellectual, moral, and abstract vocabulary; every word and phrase of which this is composed, if we are able to trace its history back to the beginning, can be shown to have signified originally something concrete and apprehensible by the senses: its present use is the result of a figurative transfer, founded on the recognition of an analogy between a physical and a mental act or product. Let us look, for example, at a few of the terms which we have just been using. Abstract is 'drawn off, dragged away;' concrete is 'grown together, compacted,' into something substantial, as we say; that is, something that 'stands beneath,' constitutes a foundation. Spirit is 'breath.' Intellect comes from a verb signifying 'to gather or select among, to choose between.' Apprehend signifies literally 'to lay hold of,' and we still use it in that sense, as when we say that the officer apprehends the felon; but we much more often apply it to the laying hold, the seizing or catching, of something set before our minds to be received; and we even speak of an apprehended calamity, as if our anticipations reached out and laid hold upon that which has not yet come, and may never come, upon us. Sympathy is good Greek for 'companionship in suffering;' but if we say that two wounded men on neighbouring pallets sympathize, we refer, not to their physical distress, but to that unselfish emotional pain with which every noble heart, forgetting so far its own griefs, is touched at the sight of another's. To possess is 'to sit by, to beset' (like the German equivalent, besitzen). When we employ the phrase "I propose to discuss an important subject," of what a medley of metaphors should we be guilty, if we had not forgotten the etymological meaning of the terms we use! To propose is 'to set in front' of us; to discuss is 'to shake to pieces;' a subject is a thing 'thrown under,' something brought under our notice; important means 'carrying within'—that is, having a content, not empty or valueless.
This subject admits of easiest and most abundant illustration from the Latin side of our language, because so large a share of our abstract phraseology comes to us from Latin sources; yet our Germanic words are full of the same kind of meaning. One of our commonest intellectual terms, understand, is also one presenting an exceptionally bold and difficult figure: as if to 'stand beneath' (or perhaps, according to the older meaning of under, to 'stand in the midst of') a thing were to take such a position of advantage with regard to it that it could not help disclosing to us its secrets. Forget is the opposite of get, and means to 'fail to get,' or, having gotten, to lose again from possession. In this latter sense the language seizes upon it, but arbitrarily restricts its application to a mental possession, and makes the compound signify 'to lose from memory' only. I get my lesson, and forget it again; but the fortune I had once gotten I have by no means forgotten, when an unlucky venture has made it slip from my hands. Forgive has had a somewhat similar history. It signifies primarily to 'give up.' I forgive a debt (in phrase now antiquated) when I magnanimously yield it up to him by whom it is due, waiving my claim against. him on account of it: I forgive an offence when in like manner I voluntarily release the offender from obligation to make amends, from liability to penalty, for it. It is only by what was originally a blunder of construction that we now talk of forgiving the offender, as well as the offence—a blunder like that which we have made in the treatment of more than one other word: for instance, in please and like; we said "if you please," "if you like," i. e. 'if it please you,' 'if it like you,' until we forgot that the you was object of the verb used impersonally, and, apprehending it as subject, began to say also "if I please," "if they like;" and again, in reproach, which means strictly to 'approach again,' to bring up anew before a person what he would fain forget, and, until its etymology was forgotten, took for direct object the offence, and for indirect the offender; as, "I reproached to my friend his fault." Befall is 'fall upon;' but, if some unlucky person is crushed under the ruins of his dwelling, we speak, not of the house, but only of the accident, as having befallen him. Right is 'straight, direct;' wrong is 'wrung, twisted;' queer is 'crosswise'—and so on, through the whole list of words of the same kind.
There is a large and important class of words, the history of whose development of meaning illustrates, not so much an elimination of the physical element, a transfer from a sensible to an intellectual use, as an effacement of significance, a fading-out of distinctive colour, a withdrawal of substantiality, a reduction to the expression of relation rather than of quality. Take as an instance the preposition of, already referred to as having been, not long since, undistinguished from off, in either form or meaning. Off still retains its distinct physical sense, of removal in place; it means 'from, away from, forth from;' in of, we have attenuated this original idea of removal, procedure, derivation, into the most general and indefinite one of possession, appurtenance, connection: we say the top of the mountain, though the former is not off, but on, the latter; we say the father of the boy, as well as the son of the man; we say a sword of steel, pride of birth, the time of Moses, the city of Athens, and so on. For, from fore, 'in front of,' has passed through a process closely similar. Also (A.-S. ealswa) was made up of all and so, and meant 'altogether thus, in just that way, in like wise;' now, like the abbreviated form of the last expression, likewise, it simply adds a circumstance coördinate with one already mentioned; it is hardly more than a particle of connection. As, as was pointed out above, is a mutilated form of the same word, with its demonstrative meaning usually converted into a relative: the act of apprehension which, in a phrase like "he is as good as he is great' (that is, 'he is in that degree or manner good in which degree he is great'), attributes a demonstrative sense to the former as, and a relative to the latter, is not less arbitrary than the one which attributes, in "the more, the merrier" (that is, 'in what degree more, in that degree merrier'), a relative sense to the former the, and a demonstrative to the latter. All those relative words which bind the parts of a sentence together into an organic whole, instead of leaving it a congeries of independent clauses, are of like origin, coming by a gradual change of meaning from words originally demonstrative or interrogative. "I knew that he was ill" is but an altered form of "he was ill; I knew that," or " I knew that thing: viz. he was ill;" "we saw the man who did it " represents "who did it? we saw the man," or "we saw the man [of whom the inquiry is made] who did it?" Than is historically the same word as then: "he is mightier than I" was once "he is mightier, then (that is, next after him) I." Or is a contracted form of other. The primary meaning of and is 'against;' the simpler form of the latter, again, has made at least partially the same transition to a connective. . Our articles are of quite modern development; an or a is the numeral one; the is the demonstrative that. We saw some time since how head has come to stand for 'individual;' the butcher talks of "twenty head of sheep," as if that part of the animal were not the least valuable from his point of view. Hand is similarly applied: "the head-carpenter and his twenty hands," if it do not describe one Briarean individual, ought at least to designate only eleven persons; but in our usage it denotes twenty-one. 'Even the peculiarly corporal word body has been spiritualized, in somebody, anybody, "if a body meet a body," and so on: to say "nobody was present" is equivalent to saying "not a soul was there," and would be true, however many corpses, or beasts, or bodies metallic, fluid, or aëriform, might have been within cognizance. The verb grow signifies properly 'to increase, to change from smaller to larger,' but we often use it in the simple sense of gradual change, of 'becoming,' and say to grow thin or small, to grow tired. By a farther extension of the same process, the verb which in our whole family of languages originally meant 'to grow' (Sansk. bhû, Greek phüō) has in many of them passed through the idea of 'becoming' to that of 'being' simply: the Latin fui, our be, been, are its descendants. Indeed, our substantive verb to be, the most bodiless and colourless of all our words, the mere copula between subject and predicate, is made up of the relics of several verbs which once had a distinct physical significance: be and been, as just noticed, contained the idea of 'growing;' am, art, is, and are, that of 'sitting;' was and were, that of 'dwelling, abiding.' The corresponding verb in modern French is partly filled up (être, étais, été) from the Latin stare, 'to stand.'
Not only are certain words thus stripped by the users and makers of language of the substantial meaning with which they once were invested, but phrase are also formed, of two or more words, and applied to uses widely remote from those which their constituents more generally and properly subserve. An event, we say, takes place, or comes to pass; a young man turns out ill; his foibles are tellingly hit off, or taken off; though they had seriously fallen out, they made up their quarrel, and a good understanding was brought about between them; they gave up further attempts; at every new turn, he was headed off anew; I was put up to it, but woefully put upon, and shall put up with such treatment no longer; don’t take on so, my good fellow—and so on indefinitely. Phrases such as these are abundant in every part of language, and are of every kind and degree of removal from literalness: in some, a moment's reflection points out the figure or the implication which has led the way to their establishment in current use; in others, the transfer has been so distant, and some of its steps so bold or so obscure, that even a careful investigation fails fully to show us how it has been accomplished. In phrases, as is well known, consists no small part of the idiom of a language; use determines, not merely the significance which each word shall bear, but how it shall be combined with other words, in order to something more than intelligibility—to expressiveness, to force, to elegance of style.
All word-making by combination, as illustrated in the last lecture, is closely analogous with phrase-making: it is but the external and formal unification of elements which usage has already made one in idea. The separate and distinctive meaning of the two words in take place is a wholly ignored by us who use the expression as is that of the two in breakfast; that we may allow ourselves to say he breakfasted, but not it takeplaced, is only an accident; it has no deeper ground than the arbitrariness of conventional usage. To hit off is as much one idea as doff (from do off), to take on as don (from do on), although we are not likely ever to fuse the two former into single words, like the two latter. It is clear that, as formerly claimed, the significant content of words is more plastic than their external form: while our language has nearly lost the habit, and so the "power," as we call it, of making new vocables out of independent elements, it is still able to combine and integrate the meanings of such elements, to no small extent.
But again, all form-making includes as an essential part something of the same attenuation of meaning of the formative element, the same withdrawal of its distinctive substantial significance and substitution of one which is relational and formal, which we have been illustrating in the history of independent words. The ly of godly, homely, lively, and so on, no longer means 'like;' still less does that of fully, mostly, etc. In the ship of lordship, the independent word shape is no more to be recognized by its significance than by its form. Even the ful of healthful and cheerful has been weakened in intent from 'full of' to 'possessed of, characterized by.' But there are other phrases which exhibit a closer resemblance and more intimate connection with form-making than any hitherto cited. The d of loved, as we have already seen, is by origin the imperfect did; I loved means etymologically 'I did or performed a loving;' the d has been converted from an independent word into a formative element, indicative of past action, by being compounded with love, and then, in the relation which it sustained toward that word, losing its distinctive force and meaning, and assuming the value of a temporal modification merely. With the form I loved, now, the phrase I did love is virtually equivalent: it contains the same elements, and they have the same logical value: the did is there for no other purpose than the d, its hereditary representative, and is in idea, not less than the latter, a formative element; it impresses a modification of temporal form upon the word with which it is connected, and has no other office. That it still maintains its grammatical standing as a separate word constitutes only a formal, not an essential, distinction between the two equivalent expressions. So also with the verb have, by the aid of which we form other of our past tenses, and of which the primitive significance is 'possession.' It is easy to see how "I have my arms stretched out" might pass into "I have stretched out my arms," or how, in such phrases as "he has put on his coat," "we have eaten our breakfast," "they have finished their work," a declaration of possession of the object in the condition denoted by the participle should come to be accepted as sufficiently expressing the completed act of putting it into that condition; the present possession, in fact, implies the past action, and, if our use of have were limited to the cases in which such an implication was apparent, the expressions in which we used it would be phrases only. When, however, we extend the implication of past action to every variety of case—as in "I have discharged my servant," "he has lost his breakfast," "we have exposed their errors," where there is no idea of possession for it to grow out of; or with neuter verbs, "you have been in error," "he has come from London," "they have gone away," where there is even no object for the have to govern, where condition, and not action, is expressed, and "you are been," "he is come," "they are gone" would be theoretically more correct (as they are alone proper in German)—then we have converted have from an independent part of speech into a purely formative element. The same word, by a usage not less bold and pregnant, though of less frequent occurrence, we make to signify causation of action, as in the phrases "I will have him well whipped for his impertinence," "he has his servant wake him every morning." And, yet once more, we turn it into a sign of future action, with further implication of necessity, as in "I have to go to him directly." As is well known, the modern European languages which are descended from the Latin have formed their simple futures by means of this phrase, eliminating from it the implication of necessity: the French j'aimerai, 'I shall love,' for instance, is by origin je aimer ai, i.e. j'ai à aimer, 'I have to love.' Nor is our own "I shall love" of different history, for I shall means properly 'I owe, am under obligation;' and the will of "he will love," although we now so commonly employ it as the mere sign of futurity, conveys the idea of 'wish, intent, determination.' The Anglo-Saxon had no future tense, but habitually employed its present in the sense of both present and future; we have struck out, in our modern usage, a peculiarly rich synonymy of expressions for future action: there are the two already mentioned, I will go, and I shall go, each of which is capable of use as simple future, or with a modal implication; further, I have to go, with the nearly equivalent I am to go; I am going to go (to which the French adds the closely correlative expression "I am coming from going," je viens d'aller, that is, 'I have just gone'); I am on the point of going, and I am about to go—with which is nearly allied the Hibernicism, I am after going, for 'I have gone.' These·phrases will illustrate the ease with which are found, in the resources of a rich and flexible language, means of denoting a given relation, the variety in which they may be produced, and the arbitrariness with which certain ones are selected for most frequent and familiar employment.
An instance of a purely formal word of a different character is furnished us in the preposition to as "sign of the infinitive." The infinitive is originally and properly the verbal noun, and, as a noun, should be governed by any preposition which the sense may require. The present usage of our language, however, forbids this freedom of construction, and assigns to the infinitive to as its almost constant accompaniment. At first, the to was only employed where it had its proper significance, as in phrases like "I am here to help him," that is, 'in order to the helping him,' "lawful for him to eat," that is, 'to the eating;' now, no regard whatever is had to this consideration, and, to the apprehension of every speaker of English, to is as arbitrary and non-significant a sign of this form of the verb as is the ending en of the German essen, or re of the Latin edere.
Yet another class of words having the grammatical status of independent members of the sentence, but the logical value of formative elements, is exemplified in the preposition of, as already noticed. The of in "a crown of gold" is equivalent to the adjective suffix en in "an golden crown;" that in "the son of the king" to the genitive ending s in "the king's son."
We have paid the more attention to this kind of words, because of their importance in the history of language. Such shadowy and half-formal parts of speech as an and the, such quasi formative elements as do and have, as to and of, are products of the development of language which by their prevalence mark a distinct tendency, known as the "analytical," and characteristic, in a greater or less degree, of many of the modern tongues with which ours is related. We shall have to take it into further account in connection with another department of our subject (see lecture seventh).
Let us now look at a single example going to show to what a rich variety the processes of development of meaning may lead among the derivatives of a single verb. Pono, in Latin, signifies 'put,' or 'place,' but we might well spend an hour in tracing out all the store of ideas which it has been made in our language the means of designating. Some of its uses we have inherited from the Latin; others were struck out during the later period of the French; yet others have grown up on English soil; and we are even now far from having exhausted its capabilities of expression. From the uncompounded root come pose, a poser, position, with its many applications, post, with its still more various and special uses, posture, positive, and so forth. Then, as combined with prefixes, for the most part significant merely of place and direction, it gives us an apposite remark; apposition of nouns; component parts; composure of mind; a great composer; compositions and declamations; a composing-stick; compost-heaps; compound interest; to compound a felony; a deponent verb; the deponent saith; a deposed king; depositions from water; a school-book depository; removal of the deposits; a railway depot; an exponent of democratic principles; to expose a fraud; exposed to attack; clear exposition of a hard text; a lawn with southern exposure; an imposing figure; imposts and customs; miserable impostor; consecrated by imposition of hands; to impound stray cattle; an imposing-stone; all his disposable forces; disposed to sleep; an amiable disposition; the prima donna is indisposed; troops disposed in three lines; God disposes; a worthy opponent; the house opposite; member of the opposition; divine interposition; he proposed to her; fifth proposition, first book; propounded for admission; locked in sweet repose; to repose confidence; what do you purpose? he did it on purpose; an effect supposes a cause; at least, I suppose so; a supposititious heir; and so on. Here is but a selection from among the multitude of expressions for heterogeneous conceptions which have grown out of the sign for the simple idea of 'putting' or 'placing;' but, though a striking, they are not an exceptional instance of the manner in which linguistic usage deals with all the material of language. As new experiences are met with, new deductions drawn, new opinions formed, new mental combinations made, new products brought forth, new existences discovered, language finds no difficulty in enlarging itself to represent them. The material which lies most conveniently at hand, even if it be not very near, is seized and applied to the purpose: that which was general is individualized; that which was individual is generalized; the concrete becomes the abstract; every variety of metaphor, of elliptical and pregnant expression, is resorted to, and, however bold and even startling at first, sinks by degrees to the level of ordinary prosaic appellation; and delicate shades of meaning are distinguished by the gradual separation of words at first equivalent. The multiplicity of these changes, and the variety of their results, our examples have been wholly inadequate to set forth with any fulness or completeness; only enough has been said to bring to light the leading facts and principles, to show what a fertile power of modification and adaptation is inherent in our speech, and that, in seeking and finding names for individual objects of conception, it is restrained within no narrow limits of action.
It must not fail to be observed that these processes of word-making, of names-giving, in all their variety, are not, in the fullest sense, consciously performed; that is to say, they are not, for the most part, premeditated and reflective, There may be found among them, indeed, every degree of reflection, sometimes rising even to full premeditation. When there is first brought to the knowledge of a community some new substance or product, either natural or artificial, some result of invention or discovery, some process formerly unknown, people ask themselves deliberately "what shall we call it?" and it is by a conscious effort that they devise and assign its appellation—there being, at the same time, an unconscious part to the process; namely, the manner in which their selection is guided and determined by the already subsisting usages and analogies of their speech, and by the limitations of their intelligence. The zoölogist, the chemist, the geologist, when they want a new technical term or distinctive name, go of set purpose to such sources as their Greek and Latin dictionaries, or search out local or personal associations upon which to found their choice; they con over the various distinctive qualities or accidental circumstances of the thing to be denominated, and weigh the capabilities and advisabilities of the case as deliberately as does the father when deciding after which rich uncle, or what noted public character, he shall have his son christened. Sometimes the scientific man has put upon him the task of devising a terminology, as well as a nomenclature—as was the case with those French chemists, at the end of the last century, who fixed the precise scientific meaning to be thenceforth signified by a whole apparatus of formative elements, of suffixes and prefixes: for example, in sulphuret, sulphuric, sulphurous, sulphate, sulphite, sulphide, bisulphate, sesquisulphide, and so on. This is, indeed, of the nature of an artificial universal language, built up of precise, sharply distinguished, and invariably regular signs for the relations of ideas—such a language as some have vainly imagined it possible to invent and teach for all the infinitely varied needs of speech, and for the use of the whole human race: the chemical terminology is, in its own sphere, of universal applicability, and is adopted by chemists of various race and native tongue. But human language is not made in this way. The most important and intimate part of linguistic growth, that which affects the vocabulary of general and daily use, learned by every child, used in the common intercourse of life, goes on in a covert and unacknowledged manner; it is almost insensibly slow in its progress; it is the effect of a gradual accumulation of knowledge and quickening of insight; it is wrought out, as it were, item by item, from the mass of the already subsisting resources of expression: the mind, familiar with a certain use of a term, sees and improves a possibility of its extension, or modification, or nicer definition; old ideas, long put side by side and compared, prompt a new one; deductions hitherto unperceived are drawn from premises already known; a distinction is sharpened; a conception is invested with novel associations; experience suggests a new complex of ideas as calling for conjoint expression. Speech is the work of the mind coming to a clearer consciousness of its own conceptions and of their combinations and relations, and is at the same time the means by which that clearer consciousness is attained; and hence, it works its own progress; its use teaches its improvement; practice in the manipulation of ideas as represented by words leads the way to their more adroit and effective management. A vocabulary, even while undergoing no extension in substantial content of words and forms, may grow indefinitely in expressiveness, becoming filled up with new senses, its words and phrases made pregnant with deeper and more varied significance. It may do so, and it will, if there lie in the nature and circumstances of the people who speak it a capacity for such growth. The speech of a community is the reflex of its average and collective capacity, because, as we have already seen, the community alone is able to make and change language; nothing can become a part of the common treasure of expression which is not generally apprehended, approved, and accepted. It is not true, as is sometimes taught or implied, that a genius or commanding intellect, arising among a people, can impress a marked effect upon its language—least of all, in the earlier stages of linguistic development, or a‘mid ruder and more primitive conditions of culture. No individual can affect speech directly except by separate items of change in respect to which he sets an example for others to follow, and an example which will be followed in proportion as the changes are accordant with already prevailing usage and naturally suggested by it: the general structure and character of language are out of his reach, save as he can raise the common intellect, and quicken and fertilize the minds of his fellows, thus sowing seed which may spring up and bear fruit in language also. If he attempt anything like innovation, the conservatism of the community will array itself against him with a force of resistance against which he will be powerless. The commanding intellect has much the better opportunity to act effectively in a cultivated and lettered people, inasmuch as his inciting and lifting influence can be immediately exerted upon so many more of his fellows, and even upon more than one generation.
Especially is it true that all form-making is accomplished by a gradual and unreflective process. It is impossible to suppose, for instance, that, in converting the adjective like into the adverbial suffix ly, there was anything like intention or premeditation, any looking forward, even, to the final result. One step simply prepared the way for and led to another. We can trace the successive stages of the transfer, but we cannot see the historical conditions and linguistic habits which facilitated it, or tell why, among all the Germanic races, the English alone should have given the suffix this peculiar application; why the others content themselves without any distinctive adverbial suffix, nor feel that their modes of expressing the adverbial relation are less clear and forcible than ours. And so in every other like case. An aptitude in handling the elements of speech, a capacity to perceive how the resources of expression can be applied to formative uses, a tendency toward the distinct indication of formal relations rather than their implication merely—these, in their natural and unconscious workings, constitute the force which produces grammatical forms, which builds up, piece by piece, a grammatical system, more or less full and complete. Every language is the product and expression of the capacities and tendencies of a race as bearing upon the specific work of language-making; it illustrates what they could do in this particular walk of human effort; and the variety of product shows the difference of human endowment in this regard, even more strikingly than the variety of the art-products of different peoples exhibits their diverse grade and kind of artistic power to conceive and execute.
For, as has been already pointed out, and must here again be insisted on, every single act in the whole process of making words and forming language, at every period of linguistic development, has been a human act. Whether more or less deliberately performed, it was always essentially of the same kind; it was something brought about by the free action of men. Its reasons lay in human circumstances, were felt in human minds, and prompted human organs to effort. No name was ever given save as a man or men apprehended some conception as calling for expression, and expressed it. Every idea had its distinct existence before it received its distinctive sign; the thought is anterior to the language by which it is represented. To maintain the opposite, to hold that the sign exists before the thing signified, or that a conception cannot be entertained without the support of a word, would be the sheerest folly; it would compel us to assert that galvanism could not be recognized as a new form of natural force, hitherto undescribed, until its discoverers had decided what to style it; that Neptune was not visible in the astronomer's glass till it had been determined after which of the Grecian divinities it should be christened; that the spinner's mule and jenny were not built till the inventor had chosen a name for them; that the aniline colours made upon the eye no impressions distinguishable from those of hues long familiar until the battle-fields had been pitched upon whose names they should bear; that the community had no appreciation of the frequent tediousness and impertinence of official forms until they had agreed to call it red tape; that the human race did not see that the colour of growing things like leaves and grass was different from those of the clear sky, of blood, of earth, of snow, until, from the name for growing, they had worked out for it a name green, as well as, by some similar process, like names for the others. Men do not lay up in store a list of ideas, to be provided with spoken signs when some convenient season shall come; nor do they prepare a catalogue of words, t0 which ideas shall be attached when found: when the thing is perceived, the idea conceived, they find in the existing resources of speech the means of its expression—a name which formerly belonged to something else in some way akin with it; a combination of words, a phrase, which perhaps remains a phrase, perhaps is fused into, or replaced by, a single word. Thus, for example, men were proposed in ancient Rome for the free suffrages of their fellow-citizens, and were, without difficulty, variously described as such, before any distinctive appellation for one in such a plight had been established; but the fortuitous circumstance that Roman usage required those who were openly seeking office to be candidatos, 'dressed in white (candidus),' led by degrees to their designation, pregnantly, as candidati; and now, through nearly the whole civilized world, he who aspires to election or selection to any place or station is styled a candidate.
Thus it is that the reason why anything is called as we are accustomed to call it is a historical reason; it amounts to this: that, at some time in the past—either when the thing was first apprehended, or at some later period—it was convenient for men to apply to it this name. And the principal item in this convenience was, that certain other things were already named so and so. Until we arrive at the very beginnings of speech (the character and origin of which must be reserved for discussion at a later period of these lectures), every name comes, by combination, derivation, or simple transfer of meaning, from some other name or names: men do not create new words out of hand; they construct them of old material. At the time and under the circumstances, then, when each term acquired its given significance, the possession of certain other resources of expression, combined with certain usages of speech and habits of thought, and influenced by external circumstances, caused men's choice to fall upon it rather than upon any other combination of sounds. Thus every word has its etymology or derivation, and to trace out its etymology is to follow up and exhibit its transfers of meaning and changes of form, as far back and as completely as the nature of the case allows. To recur to our last example—candidate is the modern abbreviated form of candidatus, participle of the (implied) Latin derivative verb candidare, 'to whiten,' from candidus, 'white;' and the historical circumstance which suggested its selection and application to its purpose has been pointed out. Candidus is itself a derivative adjective, coming from the verb candeo, which means 'to shimmer, to shine;' it designates properly a glittering or sheeny white. We have this also in our language, little altered in form, as the word candid; but, though it may be found here and there in old authors employed in its sensible, physical signification of 'white,' it has in our ordinary use been transferred, by a figure of which every one appreciates the naturalness, to indicate a mental quality, freedom from bias or prejudice, from dissimulation, from deceit—those dark shades and spots on a character. Few of us ever think of a connection of idea between candid and candidate; and the less, as the position indicated by the latter word is by no means favourable to the development of the virtue expressed by the former. The verb candeo we are able to trace one or two steps farther back, through caneo and canus, to a root can, which signifies 'shining;' this, to our analysis, is an ultimate fact, beyond which we cannot at present penetrate.
But, while words thus have their historical grounds, while the etymologist can explain how they came to receive the value which we attribute to them, we must beware of ascribing too cogent or too permanent a force to the etymological reason. It was not a necessary reason; there was no element of compulsion in it. The Roman seeker for office might as well have gotten some such name as proponent, 'proposer,' or petent, 'seeker,' as the one by which he actually came to be called; either of these, it may be claimed, is more truly significant than candidate, which expresses only a fortuitous circumstance of external garb, and was applicable to any one who should choose to wear a white dress. All that can be said in reply is that the Romans were in fact guided by the fortuitous rather than the more significant circumstance to their selection of a name. So, also, the Latin word albus or the Germanic word white might have been not less readily than candidus applied to designate the possession of candour; only the language-makers, for reasons which they themselves could not have explained, willed it otherwise. Among the various metaphors by which such a quality was signifiable and from time to time signified, this chanced to be the one which established itself in frequent use, and of which the metaphorical origin was by degrees forgotten. From among many possible expedients, it was the one pitched upon for filling this special need, for increasing in this direction the resources of expression. And then, when the expedient is once found, when the name is accepted by the community and installed in its office, the etymological reason becomes no longer operative; the sole and sufficient authority for the use of the term is the common assent and custom. Individuals do not go on indefinitely to repeat the act of transfer which first allotted a word to its use; they establish a direct mental association between the idea and the sign, and depend upon that. As was pointed out in the first lecture (p. 14), the child does not concern himself with questions of etymology when learning to talk; the words which he acquires he receives and employs implicitly, for the sole reason that those about him employ them. As he grows older, he will, in varying degree, according to his turn of mind, his general culture, and his particular education, turn his attention to etymological inquiries, and please himself with tracing out why the words which he has learned or learns were elected to the office in which they serve him. But it is always a matter of reflection, of learned curiosity; it concerns, not the general users of speech, but him who would study its history. To the greatest etymologist who lives, not less than to the most ignorant and unreflective speaker, the reason why he calls a certain idea by a certain name is simply that the community in which he lives so call it, and will understand him when he does the same. It is quite worth while to know how candidate and candid came to mean as they do; but our knowledge or our ignorance of their etymology do not determine our use and understanding of the terms. It is, no doubt, an interesting and valuable bit of information for the physicist that galvanism was named after its first discoverer; the fact is one of which no student, no well-informed man even, should be ignorant; but one may use the word galvanism as well for all practical purposes without ever having heard of Galvani; and thousands do it every day. How few of those who talk about electricity are aware that it signifies by derivation 'the quality of being like amber (Greek, elektron),' and has no better ground than the accidental circumstance that the first recognized manifestation of this potent force was the power of attracting light objects exhibited by a piece of amber when rubbed? And as to the etymological reason of elektron itself, as Greek designation of 'amber,' it is irrecoverably lost. It is, however, far from being at our option to declare the etymology of electricity a paltry and insufficient one, and to resolve that we will have a name which shall denote some more essential quality of the force, and of which we can trace the history back to the very beginning; he would be laughed at for a fool who should attempt such a revolution; a designation in the use of which the community are agreed is good enough for any one: it requires no other sanction. If the case were otherwise, if the right to use a word depended in any manner on its etymology, then every human being would have to be an etymologist, prepared to render a reason, when called upon, for everything he utters. But, in fact, only the most skilled and practised student of his native tongue can explain the history of any considerable part of its vocabulary; and even his researches are apt to carry him back through no more than the latest stages of its growth: the ultimate facts are out of his reach.
We study, then, the history of words, not in order to assure ourselves of our right to employ them as we do, but to satisfy a natural curiosity respecting the familiar and indispensable means of our daily intercourse, and to learn something of the circumstances and character of those who established them in use. It is because every act of word-making is a historical act, the work of human minds under the guidance of human circumstances, that the investigation of language is an inquiry into the internal and external history of men. The results of such investigation are of the most varied character. Sometimes we find at the basis of a word a mere blunder of philosophy, as when we talk about lunatics, as if we still believed the aberration of their wits to depend upon the devious motions of the moon (luna); or a blunder of natural history, as when we call our own native American feathered biped a turkey, in servile imitation of that ill-informed generation of Englishmen, which, not knowing whence he came, but surmising that it might probably enough be Turkey, dubbed him "the Turkey fowl;" or a blunder of geography, as when we style our aborigines Indians, because the early discoverers of this continent set their faces westward from Europe to find India, and thought at first that they had found it. Copper, the magnet, parchment commemorate for us the countries Cyprus, Magnesia, and Pergamos, whence those substances were first brought to the founders of our civilization. Manumit, like candidate, owes its existence to a peculiar Roman custom—of dismissing, namely, with a slap of the hand a slave made free. Money and mint (two different forms of the same original, moneta, the one coming from the French monnaie, the other from the Anglo-Saxon mynet) tell of Roman superstition and Roman convenience: within the imperial city was raised a temple to Juno Moneta, 'Juno the Monisher,' in recognition of the supernatural monitions the goddess had given them in certain crises of their history; and in this temple, as it chanced, was set up the first stamp and die for coining money. We say calculate, because the early Romans reckoned by the aid of little pebbles (calculi). We call a truckling and unscrupulous parasite a sycophant, because it once pleased the men of Athens to pass a law forbidding the exportation of figs from Attica; which, as is apt to be the case with such laws, was little more than a dead letter; while yet there were found in the community certain mean fellows who sought to gain their selfish ends by blabbing, or threatening to blab, of those who violated it (sūko-phantēs, 'fig-blabber'). We put on a "pair of rubbers," because, when that most multifariously valuable substance, caoutchouc, was first brought to us, we could find for it no better use than the rubbing out of pencil-marks. A whole chapter of literary history is included in the derivation of romantic from Rome: it tells of the rise of rude popular dialects, alongside the learned and polished Latin, in the various provinces of the Roman empire; and of the rise of modern European fiction, written so distinctively in these dialects that it got its name from them; and, finally, of the tone and style of fictitious writing, and the characters it deals with. In like manner, a chapter of religious history is summed up in the word pagan (literally, 'villager'): it tells of the obstinate conservation of heathenism in the villages and hamlets under Roman dominion, when the cities had already learned and embraced Christianity. And, once more, slave suggests a chapter in ethnological history: it tells of the contempt in which the Slaves or Slavonians of eastern and central Europe were held by the more powerful and cultivated Germans, and of the servitude to which so many of them were reduced. Several among the words we have thus instanced—as lunatic, candidate, romantic, money—farther include, as an essential part of their history, the career of one great conquering and civilizing power, the Roman, whose language, along with its knowledge and institutions, has been spread to every part of the globe. The etymology of moon, as signifying 'measurer'’ has given us an interesting glimpse of the modes of thought of that primitive people who first applied this name to the earth's satellite, and to whom her office as a divider of times was so prominent among her attributes. And this is but one among innumerable instances in which our conceptions of olden times and peoples are aided, are made definite and vivid, by like means. To study the moral and intellectual vocabulary of any tongue is of high interest, and full of instruction as to the laws and phenomena of association which have led to its development out of the earlier signs for physical and sensible things: we are constantly brought to the recognition both of the unity of human nature, as shown by the general resemblances which such study brings to light, and of the diversity of human character and circumstance, as exhibited in the etymological variety of corresponding appellations. In this capacity of language to yield to its historical investigator information concerning both the internal life and external history and circumstances of those who have made it what it is, lies, as was pointed out in the outset of our inquiries, no small portion of the interest attaching to linguistic study.
But etymological reminiscences, while thus of the highest value to him who reflects upon language and examines its history, are, as regards the practical purposes of speech, of very subordinate consequence; nay, they would, if more prominent before our attention, be an actual embarrassment to us. Language would be half spoiled for our use by the necessity of bearing in mind why and how its constituents have the value we give them. The internal development of a vocabulary, too, would be greatly checked and hampered by a too intrusive etymological consciousness. All significant transfer, growth of new meanings, form-making, is directly dependent upon our readiness to forget the derivation of our terms, to cut loose from historical connections, and to make the tie of conventional usage the sole one between the thing signified and its spoken sign. Much the greater part of the resources of expression possessed by our language would be struck off at a blow, if a perceived bond of meaning between etymon and derivative were a requisite to the latter's existence and use. Those, then, are greatly in error who would designate by the name "linguistic sense" (sprachsinn) a disposition to retain in memory the original status and value of formative elements, and the primary significance of transferred terms; who would lay stress upon the maintenance of such a disposition, and regard its wane as an enfeeblement, a step downward toward the structural decay of language. On the contrary, the opposite tendency is the true principle of lively and fertile growth, both of the form and content of speech, and, as we shall see hereafter, it prevails most in the languages of highest character and destiny. A certain degree of vividness, of graphic and picturesque quality, it is true, is conferred upon a term which has been applied by a metaphor to a mental or philosophic use, by the continued apprehension of the metaphor; but vividness is a quality which is dearly bought at the expense of any degree of objective clearness, of dry and sober precision; and it can always be attained, when really wanted, by new figures, after old figures have become prosaic appellations. As we rise, too, in the scale of linguistic use, from that which is straightforward and unreflective to that which is elaborate, pregnant, artistic, etymological considerations in many cases rise in value, and constitute an important element in that suggestiveness which invests every word, giving it its delicacy of application, making it full of significance and dignity where another term, coarsely synonymous with it, would be tame and ineffective. A pregnant implication of etymologic meaning often adds strikingly to the force and impressiveness of an expression. Yet this is but one element among many, and its degree of consequence is, I am convinced, apt to be over-estimated. To recur once more to some of our former illustrations—while an allusion to the whiteness of soul signified in candid may touch and interest one whose classical education enables him to recognize and appreciate it, nothing but a joke or a conceit could well be extracted from the etymology of candidate; while apprehend affords possible ground for a use in which both the physical and intellectual meanings shall be clearly felt, the one enforcing the other, understand would lend itself to no such treatment. And most of our words are in the condition of candid, candidate, and understand; either, as in the case of the two last, the etymology is trivial or obscure, or, as in the case of the first, it is within reach only of the learned, and cannot aid the general speaker and hearer. On the whole, a word, both in its direct significance and in its suggestiveness, is just what our usage makes it. Hardly any two vocables that we employ are more instinct with deep meaning, more untranslatable into other tongues, than home and comfort; yet neither of them borrows aught from etymology; the one signifies by derivation nothing more intimate than the place where one lives, the other, than the conferral of strength (con-fortare); nor has either an etymon in English, discoverable without curious research. It is true that fatherly, brotherly, womanly have, to our apprehension, a greater depth and intimacy of significance than paternal, fraternal, feminine, and so in many other like cases; yet the part of this which is due to the perceived connection of the former with father, brother, woman is probably less than is usually imagined; the difference of the two classes consists much more in their character as Anglo-Saxon and as Latin respectively, and in the more formal and learned use of the latter class, as is usual with the Latin part of our language, when compared with the other. How independent of all etymological aid is our conventional sense of the meaning of the words we familiarly use may be shown by a great variety of facts in our language. It is convenient to have the various conjugational and declensional parts of our verbs and nouns agree in form as in sense; where we say I love, to say also he loves, we love, they loved, having loved; where we say man, to say also man's, men, men's; yet we say I am, he is, we are, they were, having been, and I, my, we, our, she and her, go and went, think and thought, and so on, without any sense whatever of hesitation or difficulty. So, on the other hand, it gives us no manner of trouble to separate words which ought, according to the usual analogies of the language, to stand in a near relation of meaning together; however close may be their correspondence of form, it does not disturb the independent act of association by which we bind together each separate sign and its own conventional idea: take as instances home and homely, scarce and scarcely, direct and directly, lust and lusty, naught and naughty, clerk and clergy, a forge and forgery, candid and candidate, hospital and hospitality, idiom and idiocy, light, alight, and delight, guard and regard, approach and reproach, hold, behold, and beholden—and it would be easy to gather an indefinite list of such words. They furnish, indeed, only another illustration of that power of the mind over its instruments which appears in the facility and directness wherewith, as has been already pointed out, we select from among the various and often very diverse meanings of a single word—such as kind, like, become, court, head—that one which the circumstances and the connection require. They help us to apprehend the true relation of our speech to our thoughts, as being their assistant and means of communication, not their director or indispensable accompaniment.
Our review of the processes constituting the life of language is now completed: in the next lecture, we shall go on to consider the circumstances which hasten or retard their action, and their effect in bringing about the separation of languages into dialects.
- The plural of bôc in Anglo-Saxon is bêc, as that of fôt is fêt.
- See below, lecture vii. p. 268.
- These examples are taken from Professor Hadley's "Brief History of the English Language," prefixed to the latest edition of Webster's Dictionary.
- This variation is of ancient date, and doubtless founded upon the fact that, in many verbs of the class, the vowels were unlike in the singular and plural of the preterit: thus, from singan, the Anglo-Saxon has he sang, but we sungon.
- For a fuller explanation and establishment of this method of arrangement of the alphabet, please see the author's papers on the Standard Alphabet of Professor Lepsius, in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. vii. pp. 299–332, and vol. viii., pp. 335–373. The signs used in the scheme are those of the Lepsian system. Thus, a represents the sound in fār; , in făt; e, in thĕn and thēy; i, in pĭn and pīque; ḁ, in whăt and āll; o, in nōte; u, in fŭll and rūle; , in bŭn and būrn; ž, the z of azure; š, the sh of shun; δ, the th of that; θ, the th of thin. The distinction of long and short vowels, although it is in every case founded on a difference of quality as well as quantity, is here, for convenience's sake, omitted; as are also the diphthongs ai, au, and ḁi, as in pint, pound, point (of which the two first are rather vocal slides than diphthongs). The compound consonants ch and j, in church, judge, have also strictly a right to separate representation; since, though their final element respectively is š and ž, their initial element is not precisely our usual t and d, but one of another quality, more palatal. Were all these differences of utterance noted by separate characters, our written alphabet would contain fourty-two signs, instead of the thirty given above.
- I give here the Old High-German forms, as illustrating the change more distinctly and fully than the corresponding modern German words.
- In German, simply the Lautverschiebung.
- I connect, namely, the root as with âs, 'sitting,' as being most probably a different form of the same original. Others conjecture the primitive signification to have been that of 'breathing.'
- In Anglo-Saxon, him alyfede to etanne, 'allowed him unto eating,' the Anglo-Saxon putting the infinitive after to into a distinct dative case, but leaving it uninflected when the object of a verb; as in hi ongunnon etan, 'they began eating.'