English

Fundamental Principles Of Language (Part II)

It would be absurd and ridiculous to suppose that a person , however
great, or learned, or wise, could employ language correctly without a
knowledge of the items expressed by that language. regardless of how chaste
his words, how lofty his phrases, how sweet the intonations, or mellow
the accents. it might avail him nothing if ideas weren’t represented
thereby. it might all be an unknown tongue to the hearer or reader. It
would not be just like the loud rolling thunder, for that tells the wondrous
power of God. it might not be just like the soft zephyrs of evening, the
radiance of the sun, the twinkling of the stars; for they speak the
intelligible language of sublimity itself, and tell of the kindness and
protection of our Father who is in heaven. it might not be just like the
sweet notes of the choral songsters of the grove, for they warble hymns
of gratitude to God; not just like the boding of the distant owl, for that
tells the profound solemnity of night; not just like the hungry lion roaring
for his prey, for that tells of death and plunder; not just like the distant
notes of the clarion, for that tells of blood and carnage, of tears and
anguish, of widowhood and orphanage. It are often compared to zilch but a
Babel of confusion during which their own folly is worse confounded. And
yet, i’m sorry to mention it, the languages of all ages and nations have
been too frequently perverted, and compiled into a heterogeneous mass
of abstruse, metaphysical volumes, whose only recommendation is that the
elegant bindings during which they’re enclosed.

And grammars themselves, whose pretended object is to show the principles of
speaking and writing correctly, form but a miserable exception to the present
sweeping remark. I defy any grammarian, author, or teacher of the
numberless systems, which come, just like the frogs of Egypt, all of 1
genus, to hide the land, to offer an inexpensive explanation of even the
terms they employ to define their meaning, if indeed, meaning they need .
What is meant by an “in-definite article,” a dis-junctive
con-junction, an ad-verb which qualifies an adjective, and
“sometimes another ad-verb?” Such “parts of speech” haven’t any existence
in fact, and their adoption in rules of grammar, are found
exceedingly mischievous and perplexing. “Adverbs and conjunctions,” and
“adverbial phrases,” and “conjunctive expressions,” may function
common sewers for an outsized and most useful class of words, which the
teachers of grammar and lexicographers are unable to explain; but
learners will gain little information by being told that such is an
adverbial phrase, and such, a conjunctive expression. this is often an
easy method, I confess, a kind of wholesale traffic, in parsing
(passing) language, and should serve to cloak the ignorance of the
teachers and manufacturers of grammars. But it’ll reflect little light on the
principles of language, or prove very efficient helps to “speak or write
with propriety.” those that think, will demand the meaning of those
words, and therefore the reason of their use. When that’s ascertained, little
difficulty are going to be found in giving them an area within the company of
respectable words. But i’m digressing. More shall be said upon this
point during a future lecture, and in its proper place.

I was endeavoring to determine the position that each one language depends
upon permanent principles; that words are the signs of ideas, and ideas
are the impressions of things communicated to the mind thro the medium
of some one among the five senses. i feel I even have succeeded thus far as
simple material things are concerned, to the satisfaction of all who
have heard me. It may, perhaps, be harder on behalf of me to elucidate the
words employed to precise complex ideas, and things of immateriality,
such as mind, and its attributes. But the principles previously adopted will,
I apprehend, apply with equal ease and correctness during this case; and that we
shall have cause to admire the straightforward yet sublime foundation upon which
the whole superstructure of language is predicated .

In pursuing this investigation I shall endeavor to avoid all abstruse
and metaphysical reasoning, present no wild conjectures, or vain
hypotheses; but confine myself to plain, common place matter of fact. We
have reason to rejoice that an exquisite improvement within the science and
cultivation of the mind has taken place in these last days; that we are
no longer puzzled with the strange phantoms, the wild speculations which
occupied the enormous minds of a Descartes, a Malebranch, a Locke, a Reid,
a Stewart, and hosts of others, whose shining talents would have
qualified them for the brightest ornaments of literature, real
benefactors of mankind, had not their education lead them into dark and
metaphysical reasonings, a continued tissue of the wildest vagaries, in
which they became entangled, till, at length, they were entirely lost in
the labyrinth of their own conjectures.

The occasion of all their difficulty originated in an effort to
investigate the schools of the mind with none means of accessing
it. They didn’t content themselves with an adoption of the principles
which lay at the inspiration of all true philosophy, viz., that the
facts to be accounted for, do exist; that truth is eternal, and that we are
to become familiar with it by the means employed for its development.
They quitted the planet of materiality they inhabited, refused to look at
the development of mind because the effect of an existing cause; and at one
bold , entered the planet of thought, and made the unhallowed attempt
to reason, a priori, concerning things which may only be known by their
manifestations. But they soon found themselves during a strange land,
confused with sights and sounds unknown, within the explanation of which
they, of course, choose terms as unintelligible to their readers, as the
ideal realities were to them. This course, adopted by Aristotle, has
been too closely followed by those that have come after him.[2] But a replacement
era has dawned upon the philosophy of the mind, and a corresponding
change within the method of inculcating the principles of language must
follow.[3]

In all our investigations we must take things as we discover them, and
account for them as far as we will it might be a thankless task to
attempt a change of principles in any thing. that might be an
encroachment of the Creator’s rights. It belongs to mortals to use the
things they need as not abusing them; and to Deity to manage the laws
by which those things are governed. which man is that the wisest, the
truest philosopher, and brightest Christian, who acquaints himself with
those laws as they are doing exist within the regulation of matter and mind, in the
promotion of physical and moral enjoyment, and endeavors to evolve to
them altogether his thoughts and actions.

From this apparent digression you’ll directly discover our object. We
must not endeavor to vary the principles of language, but to
understand and explain them; to determine , as far as possible, the
actions of the mind in obtaining ideas, and therefore the use of language in
expressing them. We might not be ready to make our sentiments understood;
but if they’re not, the fault will originate in no obscurity within the
facts themselves, but in our inability either to know them or the
words employed in their expression. Having been within the habit of using
words with either no meaning or a wrong one, it’s going to be difficult to
comprehend the topic of which they treat. a person may have a quantity of
sulphur, charcoal, and nitre, but it’s not until he learns their
properties and combinations that he can make gunpowder. allow us to then
adopt a careful and independent course of reasoning, resolved to meddle
with nothing we don’t understand, and to use no words until we all know
their meaning.

A complex idea may be a combination of several simple ones, as a tree is
made from roots, a trunk, branches, twigs, and leaves. And these again
may be divided into the wood, the bark, the sap, &c. Or we may employ
the botanical terms, and enumerate its external and internal parts and
qualities; the entire anatomy and physiology, also as variety and
history of trees of that species, and show its characteristic
distinctions; for the mind receives a special impression on watching
a maple, a birch, a poplar, a tamarisk, a sycamore, or hemlock. In this
way complex ideas are formed, distinct in their parts, but blended during a
common whole; and, in conformity with the law regulating language,
words, sounds or signs, are employed to precise the complex whole, or
each distinctive part. an equivalent could also be said of all things of like
character. But this concept i will be able to illustrate more at large before the
close of this lecture.

First impressions are produced by a view of fabric things, as we’ve
already seen; and therefore the notion of action is obtained from a knowledge of
the changes this stuff undergo. the thought of quality and definition is
produced against this and comparison. Children soon learn the difference
between a sweet apple and a sour one, a white rose and a red one, a hard
seat and a soft one, harmonious sounds and people that are discordant, a
pleasant smell and one that’s disagreeable. because the mind advances, the
application is varied, and that they speak of a sweet rose, changing from
taste and sight to smell, of a sweet song, of a tough apple, &c.
According to the qualities thus learned, you’ll ask them
intelligibly of the sweetness of an apple, the colour of a rose, the
hardness of iron, the harmony of sounds, the smell or scent of
things which possess that quality. As these agree or afflict their
comfort, they’re going to call them good or bad, and speak of the qualities
of goodness and badness, as if possessed by the thing itself.

In this apparently indiscriminate use of words, the ideas remain
distinct; and every sign or object calls them up separately and
associates them together, till, at length, within the single object is
associated all the ideas entertained of its size, qualities, relations,
and affinities.

In this manner, after long, persevering toil, principles of thought are
fixed, and a foundation laid for the entire course of future thinking and
speaking. The ideas subsided simple and distinct. even as fast because the
mind advances within the knowledge of things, language keeps with the
ideas, and even goes beyond them, in order that in process of your time one
term won’t unfrequently represent a complexity of ideas, one among which
will signify an entire combination of things.

On the opposite hand, there are many instances where the only declaration
of a fact may convey to the untutored mind, one thought or nearly
so, when the higher cultivated will take into the account the entire
process by which it’s effected. To illustrate: a person killed a deer.
Here the boy would see and picture quite he’s yet fully ready to
comprehend. He will see the apparent incontrovertible fact that the person levels his musket,
the gun pops with a loud report, and therefore the deer falls and dies. How
this is all produced he doesn’t understand, but knowing the very fact he
asserts the only truth–the man killed the deer. because the child
advances, he will learn that the sentence conveys to the mind quite
he initially perceived. He now understands how it had been accomplished. The
man had a gun. Then he must return to the gunsmith and see how it had been
made, thence back to the iron taken from its bed, and wrought into bars;
all the processes by which it’s brought into the form of a gun, the
tools and machinery employed; the wood for the stock, its quality and
production; the dimensions , form and color of the lock, the principle upon
which it moves; the flint, the effect produced by a collision with the
steel, or a detonator , and its composition; till he finds one
gun within the hands of a person the person is present with this gun. The motives
which brought him here; the movements of his limbs, regulated by the
determinations of the mind, and  other such thoughts, might be
taken into the account. Then the deer, his size, form, color, manner of
living, next may claim a passing thought. But i want not enlarge. Here
they both stand. the person has just seen the deer. As quick as thought his
eye passes over the bottom , sees the prey is within proper distance,
takes aim, pulls the trigger, that loosens a spring, which forces the
flint against the steel; this produces a spark, which ignites the
charcoal, and therefore the sulphur and nitre combined, explode and force the wad,
which forces the ball from the gun, and is borne thro the air till it
reaches the deer, enters his body by displacing the skin and flesh,
deranges the functions, and death ensues. the entire and far more
is expressed within the single phrase, “a man killed a deer.”

It would be needless on behalf of me to prevent here, and examine all the operations
of the mind in coming at this state of data that’s not the thing
of this work. Such a requirement belongs to a different treatise, which may
some day be undertaken, on logic and therefore the science of the mind. The hint
here given will enable you to perceive how the mind expands, and how
language keeps with every advancing step, and, also, how
combinations are made up of simple things, as a home is made from timber,
boards, shingles, nails, and paints; or of bricks, stone, and mortar; as
the case could also be , and when completed, one term may express the
idea, and you speak of a wood, or a brick house. Following this
suggestion, by tracing the operations of the mind within the young child, or
your own, very minutely, within the acquisition of any knowledge before
wholly unknown to you, as a replacement language, or a replacement science; botany,
mineralogy, chemistry, or phrenology; you’ll readily discover how the
mind receives new impressions of things, and a replacement vocabulary is adopted
to express the ideas formed of plants, minerals, chemical properties,
and the development of the capacities of the mind as counting on
material organs; how this stuff are changed and combined; and the way
their existence and qualities, changes and combinations, are expressed
by words, to be retained, or conveyed to other minds.

But suppose you ask an individual wholly unacquainted with this stuff ,
will he understand you? ask him of stamens, pistils, calyxes; of
monandria, diandria, triandria; of gypsum, talc, calcareous spar,
quartz, topaz, mica, garnet, pyrites, hornblende, augite, actynolite; of
hexahedral, prismatic, rhomboidal, dodecahedral; of acids and alkalies;
of oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and carbon; of the configuration of the
brain, and its relative powers; do all this, and what is going to he know of
your meaning? So of all science. Words are to be understood from the
things they’re employed to represent. you’ll also ask a person in
the hebrew, chinese, or choctaw languages, as in our own, if he doesn’t
know what’s signified by the words selected because the medium of thought.

Your language could also be most pure, perfect, filled with meaning, but you can’t
make yourself understood till your hearers can look thro your signs to
the things signified. you’ll also present before them an image of
nothing.

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