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THE DIVISIONS OF GRAMMAR.
32. IN the preceding chapters we have sketched the gradual process by which was formed the English language as we have it now; we have marked those events in the history of our island which produced important effects upon our language; and we have shown the relationship of English to other members of the same family of languages. We have ascertained what the English language is, where it came from, when it arrived. We now pass on to treat of the grammar of the English language; and first let us inquire what we mean by Grammar.
33. We can speak a language, or we can write a language, or we can both speak and write a language. All languages were spoken before they were written. Some languages spoken by uncivilized tribes in Africa are not written yet. At the present day Latin and ancient Greek are written but not spoken. For this reason we call them dead languages. English, French, and German are spoken and written. Now it is clear that there must be a right way and a wrong way of writing and speaking these languages. To deal with the correct way of writing and speaking them is part of the business of Grammar. An African savage knows nothing of grammar, but he knows that the missionary does not speak his language properly. In time the missionary may come to know the language as thoroughly
as the natives know it, and may state a number of rules and principles concerning the use of the language,--rules and principles to which the natives conform in their daily speech, without having ever heard of the existence of such rules and principles. These rules and principles constitute an important part of the grammar of the language. But we need not travel so far away as Africa for an illustration. Take the case of an English child, brought up in an educated family. At an early age such a child would speak good English though he had never learnt grammar, perhaps had never even heard of the subject. On the other hand, a child brought up in an ignorant household would speak bad English, would make mistakes in pronunciation or use wrong forms of expression. Without any grammatical training in either case, these children would speak correctly or incorrectly, would pick up good English or bad English, through the influence of the people with whom they came in contact, So it is hardly a true account of the matter, at any rate so far as one's own language is concerned, to say, as is sometimes said, that grammar teaches us to speak and write correctly. We learn to speak and write correctly by mixing with educated persons and reading well-written books. What grammar does is this: it treats of the language generally, its sounds, letters and words; it supplies us with a number of rules for the correct way of using the language, and it examines why certain ways of using the language are right, and certain others are wrong, not merely stating rules, but adding reasons. Thus, suppose a person says 'Ask him to let you and I go out'; we. see that the grammar is bad, and if we alter the sentence to 'Ask him to let you and me go out,' we make the necessary grammatical correction. But if we go on to add that let is a transitive verb and requires an objective case after it, we give a reason for altering I to me. We state not merely that one form of expression is wrong and the other right, but
why one is wrong and the other right. We give a principle as well as a rule.
34. Some writers on grammar have described it as an Art and others as a Science. An Art consists of a collection of rules, with more or less practical skill to carry them out. A Science consists of the principles on which the Art is based. Now a man may be a successful artist in many subjects without understanding the principles which underlie his Art. He may have the knack of playing a tune on the piano after he has heard it whistled in the street, though he may be unable to read music from the printed page. Or he may be able to paint a landscape, though he knows nothing of the principles of perspective. And in like manner he may speak and write excellent English, though he has never been taught a line of grammar. But he would certainly be more likely to avoid mistakes as a musician, if he had learnt the principles of harmony, or as a painter, if he had learnt the principles of perspective, or as a writer and speaker, if he had learnt the principles of grammar. So even from the point of view of practical utility, we may fairly say that grammar deserves to be studied. A knowledge of grammar will not indeed make a man a good writer, in the sense of furnishing him with a pleasant or striking style, but it will help to make him a correct writer, and many of our masters of English style would have written better, if they had paid more attention to grammatical rules. If therefore anybody is disposed to say that learning grammar is a waste of time, because it is quite possible to speak and write correctly without a knowledge of it, we may fairly reply that a knowledge of grammar is of some use even as a safeguard against speaking and writing wrongly, things which we are all of us apt to do. But this is not the chief reason after all for studying grammar. We study many subjects of which it would be difficult to say precisely what is the 'good,' unless we were satisfied that the knowledge of the subject is a good in itself. It is a knowledge of such subjects which constitutes a liberal as distinct from a commercial education. We may study chemistry simply because it is interesting to know something of the constituents of the world around us, not because we intend to become chemical manufacturers. We may study animal physiology simply because it is interesting to know something of the structure of our own bodies and of the bodies of other animals. We have been breathing and digesting all our lives, and we shall breathe no better for knowing the composition of the atmosphere, and digest no better when we have learnt the nature of the gastric juice, than we breathed and digested before we acquired this information. But we do not feel that the time given to chemistry or physiology has therefore been wasted. An intelligent man likes to understand the things which he sees around him. These things are too numerous for us to understand much of many of them. We must pick and choose
according to our tastes. But a man who knows nothing but what is of 'use' to him, in the sense of its providing him with the means of getting his living, is likely to be a dull fellow, uninteresting to himself and to his neighbours. Now to English-speaking people the English language ought to be an attractive subject of study. When we think of the series of great writers who have used this language,—of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Tennyson,-when we reflect how this language is spoken to-day by many millions of people besides the inhabitants of our own little island,—by the people of the United States and Canada, of Australia and South Africa,—so that it bids fair to become the universal medium of intercourse among the chief commercial nations of the world, we can hardly fail to realise that our English tongue well deserves our attention, and that we ought not to rest satisfied with merely using it correctly, but that we should give some time and trouble to gaining information about its history and character. And some of this information a book on English grammar will give.
Grammar, then, has to do with language, and language is made up of words. A language, as we saw, may be spoken, or written, or both. Spoken words are sounds which may be pronounced rightly or wrongly, as a short experience shows us when we are learning French or German. One part of Grammar deals with the correct pronunciation of words, and is called Orthoëpy. But under this head we shall treat of a good deal besides the right pronunciation of words. We shall inquire what is the total number of elementary sounds which our English vocabulary with its 100,000 words contains. We shall classify these sounds. We shall touch upon some of the tendencies to substitute one sound for another and look for an explanation of these tendencies. That branch of the subject which has to do with topics of this sort is sometimes called Phonology, or the theory of spoken sounds.
36. Then again, words may be written as well as spoken, and they may be written rightly or wrongly. The branch of grammar which deals with the correct writing or spelling of words is called Orthography. We write, or spell, with letters, so orthography deals with the alphabet.
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37. If we are asked,-Are Orthography and Orthoëpy essential or necessary parts of Grammar? we may answer in this way: If a language is spoken but not written, as is the case with the languages of savage tribes, its grammar will contain Orthoëpy but not Orthography. If a language is a dead language,—if it is written but no longer spoken,-its grammar will contain Orthography, but its Orthoëpy will be uncertain or impossible. But either Orthography or Orthoëpy a grammar must contain, for a language must be either written or spoken, if we know it at all.
38. After examining the sounds and signs, or letters, of which spoken or written words are composed, we shall pass on to consider words themselves. We shall show that the words contained in the vocabulary of our language may be arranged in classes according to their meaning, as nouns, verbs, prepositions, etc. Then we shall inquire what changes of form, or inflexions, any of these words undergo, and what is the effect of these changes on the meaning of the words. We might also push our investigation further, and discuss the relation of English words to words in other languages, and determine the channel through which they passed into our own. As an example of these different operations, take the word mother. Of this word as it stands by itself, we can say that it is a noun, in the singular number; that it makes a possessive case singular mother's, and a plural number mothers; that compounds can be formed from it such as mother-country, and derivatives such as motherly; that it is connected with, though not borrowed from, the Latin mater, Greek unτmp, German mutter, and so forth. Now that part of grammar in which we treat of words taken separately, classifying them and considering their origin and form, is called Etymology, and a very important part of the subject it is.
39. But when we speak or write, it is rarely the case that words stand alone in this fashion. It is true that sometimes