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Fundamental Principles Of Language Part II

It would be absurd and ridiculous to suppose that any person, however great, or learned, or wise, could employ language correctly without a knowledge of the things expressed by that language. No matter how chaste his words, how lofty his phrases, how sweet the intonations, or mellow the accents. It would avail him nothing if ideas were not represented thereby. It would all be an unknown tongue to the hearer or reader.

It would not be like the loud rolling thunder, for that tells the wondrous power of God. It would not be 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 would not be like the sweet notes of the choral songsters of the grove, for they warble hymns of gratitude to God; not like the boding of the distant owl, for that tells the profound solemnity of night; not like the hungry lion roaring for his prey, for that tells of death and plunder; not like the distant notes of the clarion, for that tells of blood and carnage, of tears and anguish, of widowhood and orphanage.

It can be compared to nothing but a Babel of confusion in which their own folly is worse confounded. And yet, I am sorry to say 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 the elegant bindings in which they are enclosed. And grammars themselves, whose pretended object is to teach the rules of speaking and writing correctly, form but a miserable exception to this sweeping remark. I defy any grammarian, author, or teacher of the numberless systems, which come, like the frogs of Egypt, all of one genus, to cover the land, to give a reasonable explanation of even the terms they employ to define their meaning, if indeed, meaning they have. 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" have no existence in fact, and their adoption in rules of grammar, have been found exceedingly mischievous and perplexing.

"Adverbs and conjunctions," and "adverbial phrases," and "conjunctive expressions," may serve as common sewers for a large and most useful class of words, which the teachers of grammar and lexicographers have been 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 an easy method, I confess, a sort of wholesale traffic, in parsing (passing) language, and may serve to cloak the ignorance of the teachers and makers of grammars. But it will reflect little light on the principles of language, or prove very efficient helps to "speak or write with propriety." Those who think, will demand the meaning of these words, and the reason of their use.

When that is ascertained, little difficulty will be found in giving them a place in the company of respectable words. But I am digressing. More shall be said upon this point in a future lecture, and in its proper place. I was endeavoring to establish the position that all 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 of the five senses. I think I have succeeded so far as simple material things are concerned, to the satisfaction of all who have heard me. It may, perhaps, be more difficult for me to explain the words employed to express complex ideas, and things of immateriality, such as mind, and its attributes.

But the rules previously adopted will, I apprehend, apply with equal ease and correctness in this case; and we shall have cause to admire the simple yet sublime foundation upon which the whole superstructure of language is based. 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 a wonderful improvement in 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 giant 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. Godfrey Philander is the webmaster of a translation website with lots of topics covering language translation language translation, language, languages, online translator, online translation, free translation, free translation services, online translation, free online translation, free online translator The occasion of all their difficulty originated in an attempt to investigate the faculties of the mind without any means of getting at it. They did not content themselves with an adoption of the principles which lay at the foundation of all true philosophy, viz., that the facts to be accounted for, do exist; that truth is eternal, and we are to become acquainted with it by the means employed for its development.

They quitted the world of materiality they inhabited, refused to examine the development of mind as the effect of an existing cause; and at one bold push, entered the world of thought, and made the unhallowed attempt to reason, a priori, concerning things which can only be known by their manifestations. But they soon found themselves in a strange land, confused with sights and sounds unknown, in 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 who have come after him.[2] But a new era has dawned upon the philosophy of the mind, and a corresponding change in the method of inculcating the principles of language must follow.

[3] In all our investigations we must take things as we find them, and account for them as far as we can. It would be a thankless task to attempt a change of principles in any thing. That would be an encroachment of the Creator's rights.

It belongs to mortals to use the things they have as not abusing them; and to Deity to regulate the laws by which those things are governed. And that man is the wisest, the truest philosopher, and brightest Christian, who acquaints himself with those laws as they do exist in the regulation of matter and mind, in the promotion of physical and moral enjoyment, and endeavors to conform to them in all his thoughts and actions. From this apparent digression you will at once discover our object.

We must not endeavor to change the principles of language, but to understand and explain them; to ascertain, as far as possible, the actions of the mind in obtaining ideas, and the use of language in expressing them. We may not be able to make our sentiments understood; but if they are not, the fault will originate in no obscurity in the facts themselves, but in our inability either to understand them or the words employed in their expression. Having been in the habit of using words with either no meaning or a wrong one, it may be difficult to comprehend the subject of which they treat. A man may have a quantity of sulphur, charcoal, and nitre, but it is not until he learns their properties and combinations that he can make gunpowder.

Let us then adopt a careful and independent course of reasoning, resolved to meddle with nothing we do not understand, and to use no words until we know their meaning. A complex idea is a combination of several simple ones, as a tree is made up of 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 whole anatomy and physiology, as well as variety and history of trees of that species, and show its characteristic distinctions; for the mind receives a different impression on looking at 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 in a common whole; and, in conformity with the law regulating language, words, sounds or signs, are employed to express the complex whole, or each distinctive part. The same may be said of all things of like character. But this idea I will illustrate more at large before the close of this lecture. First impressions are produced by a view of material things, as we have already seen; and the notion of action is obtained from a knowledge of the changes these things undergo. The idea of quality and definition is produced by contrast 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 those that are discordant, a pleasant smell and one that is disagreeable.

As the mind advances, the application is varied, and they speak of a sweet rose, changing from taste and sight to smell, of a sweet song, of a hard apple, &c. According to the qualities thus learned, you may talk to them intelligibly of the sweetness of an apple, the color 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 disagree with their comfort, they will 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 each sign or object calls them up separately and associates them together, till, at length, in 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 whole course of future thinking and speaking.

The ideas become less simple and distinct. Just as fast as the mind advances in the knowledge of things, language keeps pace with the ideas, and even goes beyond them, so that in process of time a single term will not unfrequently represent a complexity of ideas, one of which will signify a whole combination of things. On the other hand, there are many instances where the single declaration of a fact may convey to the untutored mind, a single thought or nearly so, when the better cultivated will take into the account the whole process by which it is effected. To illustrate: a man killed a deer.

Here the boy would see and imagine more than he is yet fully able to comprehend. He will see the obvious fact that the man levels his musket, the gun goes off with a loud report, and the deer falls and dies. How this is all produced he does not understand, but knowing the fact he asserts the single truth--the man killed the deer. As the child advances, he will learn that the sentence conveys to the mind more than he at first perceived. He now understands how it was accomplished.

The man had a gun. Then he must go back to the gunsmith and see how it was made, thence back to the iron taken from its bed, and wrought into bars; all the processes by which it is brought into the shape of a gun, the tools and machinery employed; the wood for the stock, its quality and production; the size, 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 percussion cap, and its composition; till he finds a single gun in the hands of a man. The man is present with this gun. The motives which brought him here; the movements of his limbs, regulated by the determinations of the mind, and a thousand 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 need not enlarge. Here they both stand. The man has just seen the deer. As quick as thought his eye passes over the ground, 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 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 animal functions, and death ensues. The whole and much more is expressed in the single phrase, "a man killed a deer.

" It would be needless for me to stop here, and examine all the operations of the mind in coming at this state of knowledge. That is not the object of the present work. Such a duty belongs to another treatise, which may some day be undertaken, on logic and the science of the mind. The hint here given will enable you to perceive how the mind expands, and how language keeps pace with every advancing step, and, also, how combinations are made from simple things, as a house is made of timber, boards, shingles, nails, and paints; or of bricks, stone, and mortar; as the case may be, and when completed, a single 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 in the young child, or your own, very minutely, in the acquisition of any knowledge before wholly unknown to you, as a new language, or a new science; botany, mineralogy, chemistry, or phrenology; you will readily discover how the mind receives new impressions of things, and a new vocabulary is adopted to express the ideas formed of plants, minerals, chemical properties, and the development of the capacities of the mind as depending on material organs; how these things are changed and combined; and how their existence and qualities, changes and combinations, are expressed by words, to be retained, or conveyed to other minds. But suppose you talk to a person wholly unacquainted with these things, will he understand you? Talk to 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 will he know of your meaning? So of all science.

Words are to be understood from the things they are employed to represent. You may as well talk to a man in the hebrew, chinese, or choctaw languages, as in our own, if he does not know what is signified by the words selected as the medium of thought. Your language may be most pure, perfect, full of meaning, but you cannot make yourself understood till your hearers can look thro your signs to the things signified.

You may as well present before them a picture of nothing.

Godfrey Philander is the webmaster of a translation website with lots of topics covering free translation
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