Category Archives: Grammar

Item of the Day: An Essay Towards Real Character, And a Philosophical Language (1668)

Full Title: An Essay Towards a Real Character, And a Philosophical Language. By John Wilkins . . . London: Printed for A. Gellibrand, and for John Martin Printer to the Royal Society, 1668.

 

TO THE

READER.

It may perhaps be expected by some, that I should give an account of my ingaging [sic] in a Work of this nature so unsuitable to my Calling and Business.

For the satisfaction of such, they may please to take notice, that this Work was first undertaken, during that vacancy and leasure [sic] which I formerly enjoyed in an Academicall [sic] station, to which the endeavours of promoting all kind of usefull [sic] knowledge, whereby Learning may be improved, is a very suitable imployment [sic]. In the time of that daily and intimate converse which I then injoyed [sic], with that most Learned and excellent Person Dr. Seth Ward, the present Bishop of Salisbury. I had frequent occasion of conferring with him, concerning the various Desiderata, proposed by Learned men, or such things as were conceived yet wanting to the advancement of several parts of Learning; amongst which, this of the Universal Character, was one of the principal, most of which he had more deeply considered, than any other Person that I knew. And in reference to this particular, he would say, That as it was one of the most usefull, so he judged it to be one of the most feasible, amongst all the rest, if prosecuted in a regular way. But for all such attempts to this purpse, which he had either seen or heard of, the Authors of them did generally mistake in their first foundations; whilst they did propose to themselves the framing of such a Character, from a Dictionary of Words, according to some particular Language, without reference to the nature of things, and that common Notion of them, wherein Mankid does agree, which must chiefly be respected, before any attempt of this nature could signifie [sic] any thing, as to the main end of it.

It was from this suggestion of his, that I first had any distinct apprehension of the proper course to be observed, in such an undertaking; having in a Teatise I had published some years before, proposed the Hebrew Tongue as consisting of fewest Radicals, to be the fittest ground work for such a design.

Besides the many Private conferences to this purpose, I must not forget to mention, that Publique account which he hath given to the World, of Vindiciae Academiarum; wherein he endeavours to vindicate those Ancient and famous schools of Learning, from such reproaches, whereby some Ignorant and ill-natured men (taking the advantage of those bad Times) would have exposed them to contempt and ruine [sic]. In which Treatise there is mention made of some considerable preparations, towards the Design here proposed, which if his other necessary employments [sic] would have permitted him to have prrosecuted, would without doubt, long ere this, have been advanced to as great a Perfection, as the first Essay in so difficult a matter could have attained. . . .

If any shall suggest, that some of the Enquiries here insisted upon (as particularly those about the Letters of the Alphabet) do seem too minute and trivial, for any prudent Man to bestow his serious thoughts and time about. such Persons may knwo, t hat the discovery of the true nature and Cause of any the most minute thing, doth promote real Knowledge, and therefore cannot be unfit for any Mans [sic] endeavours, who is willing to contribute to the advancement of Learning. Upon which Account some of the most eminent Persons, in several Ages, who were Men of business, have not disdained to bestow their pains about the First elements of speech . . .

 

 

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Filed under 1660's, Dictionaries, Grammar, Language, Philosophy, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: A Grammatial Institute of the English Language (1796)

Full Title: A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, Comprising an Easy, Concise and Systematic Method of Education. Designed for the Use of English Schools in America. In Three Parts. Part Second: Containing a Plain and Comprehensive Grammar, Grounded on the true Principles and Idioms of the Language. By Noah Webster, Jun. Esquire . . . Albany: Printed by Charles R. & George Webster, and sold at their Bookstore, in the Whites House, corner of State and Pearl-Streets, 1796.

APPENDIX.

VERB.

We say, what ails him? but seldom he ails a fever, or other disease.

Owing and wanting are used in a passive sense. What is wanting? A debt is owing to me, are established phrases.

We say a man is well read in law, he was offered so much for a thing, where the subject and object seem to have changed places; for the meaning is, law is well read, so much was offered, &c. This inversion may be allowed, where it is not attended with obscurity.

On the use of auxiliary verbs, Dr. Priestly, has this criticism. “By studying conciseness, we are apt to drop the auxiliary, to have, though the sense relate to past time. I found him better than I expected to find him. In this case analogy seems to require that we say, I expected to have found him: that is, to have found him there.” This is a great error, and for the reason which he immediately assigns, that is, “the time past is sufficiently indicated by the former part of the sentence.” The truth is, the time is ascertained by the first verb, I expected, which carries the mind back to the time; then to use another verb in the past, is to carry the mind back to a time preceding the existence of my expectations. He gives an example from Hume, which he says is certainly faulty. “These prosecutions of William seem to be the most iniquitous,” &c. It is faulty, not because both verbs are not in time past, but because neither of them is past time; seem to have been, or seemed to be, would not have been correct; but seemed to have been, would not have been grammatical. His remarks on this point seem to have been made with less accuracy of judgment, than we observe in most of his writing. . . .

The use of mistaken is equally singular. When applied to persons it is synonimous [sic] with wrong or erroneous. This is almost, or quite universally understood to be its meaning; and this common understanding constitutes its true signification, which no man has a right to dispute or attempt to change. But when applied to things, it is always used in a passive sense, equivalent to misunderstood. I am mistaken, you are mistaken, mean, I am wrong, you are wrong; but the nature of a thing is mistaken, means its nature is misunderstood. . . .

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1790's, Grammar, Language, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, United States, Vocabulary

Item of the Day: Dissertations on the English Language (1789)

Full Title: Dissertations on the English Language: with Notes, Historical and Critical. To which is added, by way of Appendix, an Essay on a Reformed Mode of Spelling, with Dr. Franklin’s Arguments on that Subject. By Noah Webster, Jun. Esquire. Boston: Printed for the author, by Isaiah Thomas and Company, MDCCLXXXIX.

APPENDIX.

 

 

 

An ESSAY

On the NECESSITY, ADVANTAGES and PRACTICABILITY

of REFORMING the MODE of SPELLING, and of RENDERING the ORTHOGRAPHY of WORDS

CORRESPONDENT to the PRONUNCIATION.

 

IT has been observed by all writers on the English language, that the orthography or spelling of words is very irregular; the same letters often representing different sounds, and the same sounds often expressed by different letters. For this irregularity, two principal causes may be assigned:

1. THE changes to which the pronunciation of a language is liable, from the progress of science and civilization.

2. THE mixture of different languages, occasioned by revolutions in England, or by a predilection of the learned, for words of foreign growth and ancient origin. To the first cause, may be ascribed the difference between the spelling and pronunciation of Saxon words. The northern nations of Europe originally spoke much in gutturals. This is evident from the number of aspirates and guttural letters, which still remain in the orthography of words derived from those nations; and from the modern pronunciation of the collateral branches of the Teutonic, the Dutch, Scotch and German. Thus k before n was once pronounced; as in knave, know; the gh in might, though, daughter, and other similar words; the g in reign, feign, &c.

BUT as savages proceed in forming languages, they lose the guttural sounds, in some measure, and adopt the use of labials, and the more open vowels. The ease of speaking facilitates this progress, and the pronunciation of words is softened, in proportion to a national refinement of manners. This will account for the difference between the ancient and modern languages of France, Spain and Italy; and for the difference between the soft pronunciation of the present languages of those countries, and the more harsh and guttural pronunciation of the northern inhabitants of Europe.

IN this progress, the English have lost the sounds of most of the guttural letters. The k before k in know, the g in reign, and in many other words, are become mute in practice; and the gh is softened into the sound of f, as in laugh, or is silent, as in brought. . . .

BUT such is the state of our language. The pronunciation of the words which are strictly English, has been gradually changing for ages, and since the revival of science in Europe, the langage has received a vast accession of words from other languages, many of which retain an orthography very ill suited to exhibit the true pronunciation.

THE question now occurs; ought the Americans to retain these faults which produce innumerable inconveniencies [sic] in the acquisition and use of the language, or ought they at once to reform these abuses, and introduce order and regularity into the orthography of the AMERICAN TONGUE?

Let us consider this subject with some attention.

SEVERAL attempts were formerly made in England to rectify the orthography of the language. But I apprehend their schemes failed of success, rather on account of their intrinsic difficulties, than on account of any necessary impracticability [sic] of a reform. It was proposed, in most of these schemes, not merely to throw out superfluous and silent letters, but to introduce a number of new characters. Any attempt on such a plan must undoubtedly prove unsuccessful. It is not to be expected that an orthography, perfectly regular and simple, such as would be formed by a “Synod of Grammarians on principles of science,” will ever be substituted for that confused mode of spelling which is now established. But is is apprehended that great improvements may be made, and an orthography almost regular, or such as shall obviate most of the present difficulties which occur in learning our language, may be introduced and established with little trouble and opposition.

The principal alterations, necessary to render our orthography sufficiently regular and easy, are these:

1. THE omission of all superfluous or silent letters; as a in bread. Thus bread, head, give, breast, built, meant, realm, friend, would be spelt, bred, hed, giv, brest, bilt, ment, relm, frend. Would this alteration produce any inconvenience, any embarrassment or expense? By no means. On the other hand, it would lessent he trouble of writing, and much more, of learning the language; it would reduce the true pronunciation to a certainty; and while it would assist foreigners and our own children in acquiring the language, it would render the pronunciation uniform, in different parts of the country, and almost prevent the possibility of change.

2. A SUBSTITUTE of a character that has a certain definite sound, for one that is more vague and indeterminate. Thus putting ee instead of ea or ie, the words mean, near, speak, grieve, zeal, would become meen, neer, speek, greev, zeel. This alteration could not occasion a moments trouble; at the same time it would prevent a doubt respecting the pronunciation; whereas the ea and the ie having different sounds, may give a learner much difficulty. Thus greef should be substituted for grief; kee for key; beleev for believe; laf for laugh; dawter for daughter; plow for plough; tuf for tough; proov for prove; blud for blood; and draft for draught. In this manner ch in Greek derivatives, should be changed to k; for the English ch has a soft sound, as in cherish; but k always a hard sound. Therefore character, chorus, cholic, architecture, should be written karacter, kours, kolic, arkitecture; and were they thus written, no person could mistake their true pronunciation. . . .

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Filed under 1780's, Education, Grammar, Language, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, United States

Word of the Week: “To Become”

From BAILEY:

To BECOME [of be and cpeman, Sax. to please, of bequemen, G. to adapt or make fit, or bequem, G. fit, or of bekommen, G. to thrive or agree with] to befit, to adorn; also to be made or done. 

From JOHNSON:

To BECO’ ME. v. n. pret. I became; comp. pret. I have become. [from by and come.] 

1. To enter into some state or condition, by a change form some other.

The Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.     Genesis, ii. 7.

And unto the Jews I became a Jew, that I might gain the Jews.       I Corin. ix. 20.

A smaller pear, grafted upon a stock that beareth a greater pear, will become great.       Bacon.

My voice thou oft hath heard, and hath not feared,/But still rejoiced; how is it now become/ So dreadful to thee?        Milton.

So the least faults, if mix’d with fairest deed,/Of future ill become the fatal deed.        Prior.

 

2. To become of.  To be the fate of; to be the end of; to be the subsequent or final condition of.  It is observable, that this word is never, or very seldom, used but with what, either indefinite or interrogative.

What is then become of so huge a multitude, as would have overspread a great part of the continent.        Raleigh.

Perplex’d with thoughts, what would become of me, and all mankind.   Milton.

The first hints of circulation of the blood were taken from a common person’s wondering what became of all the blood that issued out of the heart.       Graunt

What will become of me then?  for when he is free, he will infallibly accuse me.         Dryden 

What became of this thoughtful busy creature, when removed from this world, has amazed the vulgar, and puzzled the wife.          Rogers.

3.  In the following passage, the phrase, where is he become? is used for, what is become of him?

I cannot joy, until I be resolv’d
Where our right valiant father is become.      Shakesp.

 

From WEBSTER:

BECOME, v. i. becum. pret. became. pp. become.  [Sax.  becumen, to fall out or happen; D. bekoomen; G. bekommen, to get or obtain; Sw. bekomma; Dan. bekommer, to obtain; be and come.  These significations differ from the sense in English. But the sense is, to come to , to arrive, to reach, to fall or pass to.  [See COME.]  Hence the sense of suiting, agreeing with.  In Sax. cuman, Goth. kwiman, is to come, and Sax. cweman, is to please, that is, to suit or be agreeable.]

1. To pass from one state to another; to enter into some state or condition, by a change from another state or condition, or by assuming or receiving new properties or qualities, additional matter, or a new character; as a cion becomes a tree.

The Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.

To the Jew, I became a Jew.

2. To become of, usually with what preceeding; to be the fate of; to be the end of; to be the final or subsequent condition; as, what will become of our commerce?  what will become of us?

In the present tense, it applies to place as well as condition.  What has become of my friend? that is, where is he? as well as, what is his condition?  Where is he become?  used by Shakespeare and Spenser, is obsolete; but this is the sense in Saxon, where has he fallen? 

 

Full Titles: 

Dictionarium Britannicum: or a more compleat universal etymological English dictionary than any extant. By Nathan Bailey. Second Edition. London, T. Cox, 1736.

A Dictionary of the English Language:  In Which the Words are Deduced from Their Originals, and Illustrated in Their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers.  To which are prefixed, A History of the Language, and An English Grammar.  By Samuel Johnson, LL.D.  In Two Volumes.–Vol. I.  The Sixth Edition.  London:  Printed for J. F. and C. Rivinton, L. David, T. Payne and Son, W. Owen, T. Longman, B. Law, J. Dodsley, C. Dilly, W. Lowndes, G. G. J. and J. Robinson, T. Cadell, Jo. Johnson, J. Robson, W. Richardson, J. Nichols, R. Baldwin, W. Goldsmith, J. Murray, W. Stuart, P. Elmsly, W. Fox, S. Hayes, A. Strahan, W. Bent, T. and J. Egerton, and M. Newberry.  1785.

An American Dictionary of the English Language: Intended to Exhibit, I. The origin, affinities and primary signification of English words, as far as they have been ascertained.  II. The genuine orthography and pronunciation of words, according to general usage, or to just principles of analogy.  III. Accurate and discriminating definitions, with numerous authorities and illustrations,  To which are prefixed, An Introductory Dissertation of the Origin, History and Conection of the Languages of Western Asia and of Europe, and a Concise Grammar of the English Language.  By Noah Webster, LL. D.  In Two Volumes.  Vol. I.  New York:  Published by S. Converse.  Printed by Hezekiah Howe-New Haven.  1828. 

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Filed under Dictionaries, Grammar, Language, Posted by Matthew Williams, Uncategorized

Item of the Day: A Vocabulary (1816)

Full Title: A Vocabulary, or Collection of Words and Phrases which have been supposed to be peculiar to the United States of America. To which is prefixed An Essay on the Present State of the English Language in the United States. By John Pickering. Boston: Published by Cummings and Hilliard; Cambridge: Williard and Metcalf, 1816.

ESSAY

The preservation of the English language in its purity throughout the United States is an object deserving the attention of every American, who is a friend of the literature and science of his country. It is in a particular manner entitled to the consideration of the Academy; for, though subjects, which are usually ranked under the head of Physical Science, were doubtless chiefly in view with the founders of the Academy, yet, our language also, which is to be the instrument of communicating to the public the speculations and discoveries of our countrymen, seems necessarily “to fall within the design of the insitution;” because, unless the language is well settled, and can be read with ease by all to whom it is addresssed, our authors will write and publish, certainly under many disadvantages, though perhaps not altogether in vain.

It is true, indeed, that our countrymen may speak and write in a dialect of English, which will be understood in the United States; but if they are ambitious of having their words read by Englishmen as well as by Americans, they must write the language that Englishmen can read with pleasure. And if for some time to come it should not be the lot of many Americans to publish works, which will be read out of their own country, yet all, who have the least tincture of learning, will continue to feel an ardent desire to acquaint themselves with English authors. Let us then for a moment imagine the time to have arrived, when Americans shall no longer be able to understand the works of Milton, Pope, Swift, Addison, and other English authors, justly styled classic, without the aid of a translation into a language, that is to be called at some future day the American tongue! By such a change, it is true, our loss would not be so great in works purely scientific, as in those which are usually termed works of taste; for the obvious reason, that the design of the former is merely to communicate information, without regard to elegance of language or the force and beauty of the sentiments. But the excellencies of works of taste cannot be felt even in the best translations;–a truth, which, without resorting to the example of the matchless ancients, will be acknowledged by every man, who is acquainted with the admirable works extant in various living languages. Nor is this the only view in which a radical change of language would be an evil. To say nothing of the facilities afforded by a common language in the ordinary intercourse of business, it should not be forgotten, that our religion and our laws are studied in the language of the nation, from which we are descended; and, with the loss of the language, we should finally suffer the loss of those peculiar advantages, which we now derive from the investigations of the jurists and divines of that country.

But, it is often asked among us, do not the people of this country now speak and write the English language with purity? A brief consideration of the subject will furnish a satisfactory answer to this question; it will also enable us to correct the erroneous opinions entertained by some Americans on this point, and at the same time to defend our countrymen against the charge made by some English writers, of a design to effect an entire change in the language.

As the inquiry before us is a simple question of fact, it is to be determined, like every other quiestion of this nature, by proper evidence. What evidence then have we, that the English language is not spoken and written in America, with the same degree of purity that is to be found in the writers and orators of England?

 In the first place, although it is agreed, that there is greater uniformity of the dialect throughout the United States (in consequence of the frequent removals of people from one part of the country to another) than is to be found throughout England; yet none of our countrymen, not even those who are the most zealous in supporting what they imagine to be the honour of the American character, will contend, that we have not in some instances departed from the standard of the language. We have formed some new words; and to some old ones, that are still used in England, we have affixed with new significations: while others, which have long been obsolete in England, are still retained in common use with us. If then, in addition to these acknowledgments of our own countrymen, we allow any weight of the opinions of the Englishmen, (who must be content judges in this case,) it cannot be denied, that we  have in several instances deviated from the standard of the language, as spoken and written in England at the present day. By this, however, I do not mean, that so great a deviation has taken place, as to have rendered any considerable part of our language unintelligible to Englishmen; but merely, that so many corruptions have crept into our Enlgish, as to have become the subject of much animadversion and regret with the learned of Great Britain. And as we are hardly aware of the opinion entertained by them of the extent of these corruptions, it may be useful, if it should not be very flattering to our pride, to hear their remarks on this subject in their own words. We shall find that these corruptions censured, not be mere pretenders to learning, but (so far as the fact is to be ascertained from English publications,) by all the scholars of that country, who take an interest in American literature. In proof of this, I request the attention of the Academy to the follwoing extracts from several of the British Reviews; some of which are the most distinguished of the present day, and all of which together may be considered as expressing the general opinion of the literary men of Great Britain, who have attended to this subject. That all the remarks are just, to the extent in which they will naturally be understood, few of our countrymen will be willing to admit. . . .

 

 

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Filed under 1810's, Culture, Grammar, Language, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Vocabulary