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difficulty of reconciling with the recognized principles of physical science the historical changes affecting every one of these varieties. Every part of nature, whether mineral, plant, or animal, is the same in kind from the beginning to the end of its existence, whereas few languages could be recognized as the same after the lapse of but a thousand years. The language of Alfred is so different from the English of the present day that we have to study it in the same manner as we study Greek and Latin. We can read Milton and Bacon, Shakespeare and Hooker; we can make out Wycliffe and Chaucer ; but, when we come to the English of the thirteenth century, we can but guess its meaning, and we fail even in this with works previous to the Ormulum and Layamon. The historical changes of language may be more or less rapid, but they take place at all times and in all countries. They have reduced the rich and powerful idiom of the poets of the Veda to the meagre and impure jargon of the modern Sepoy. They have transformed the language of the Zend-Avesta and of the mountain records of Behistún into that of Firdusi and the modern Persians; the language of Virgil into that of Dante, the language of Ulfilas into that of Charlemagne, the language of Charlemagne into that of Goethe. We have reason to believe that the same changes take place with even greater violence and rapidity in the dialects of savage tribes, although, in the absence of a written literature, it is extremely difficult to obtain trustworthy information, But in the few instances where careful observations have been made on this interesting subject, it has been found that among the wild and illiterate tribes of Siberia, Africa, and Siam, two or three generations are
sufficient to change the whole aspect of their dialects. The languages of highly civilized nations, on the
contrary, become more and more stationary, and seem - sometimes almost to lose their power of change. Where
there is a classical literature, and where its language is spread to every town and village, it seems almost impossible that any further changes should take place. Nevertheless, the language of Rome, for so many centuries the queen of the whole civilized world, was de posed by the modern Romance dialects, and the ancient Greek was supplanted in the end by the modern Romaic. And though the art of printing and the wide diffusion of Bibles, and Prayer-books, and newspapers have acted as still more powerful barriers to arrest the constant flow of human speech, we may see that the language of the authorized version of the Bible, though perfectly intelligible, is no longer the spoken language of England. In Booker's Scripture and Prayer-book Glossary 1 the number of words or senses of words which have become obsolete since 1611, amount to 388, or nearly one fifteenth part of the whole number of words used in the Bible. Smaller changes, changes of accent and meaning, the reception of new, and the dropping of old words, we may watch as taking place under our own eyes. Rogers 2 said that “contemplate is bad enough, but bálcony makes me sick,” whereas at present no one is startled by contemplate instead of contémplate, and balcony has become more usual than balcony. Thus Roome and chaney, layloc and goold, have but lately been driven from the stage by Rome, china,
1 Lectures on the English Language, by G. P. Marsh: New York, 1860, p. 263 and 630. These lectures embody the result of much careful research, and are full of valuable observations. 2 Marsh, p. 532, note.
lilac, and gold, and some courteous gentlemen of the old school still continue to be obleeged instead of being obliged. Force, in the sense of a waterfall, and gill, in the sense of a rocky ravine, were not used in classical English before Wordsworth. Handbook,2 though an old Anglo-Saxon word, has but lately taken the place of manual, and a number of words such as cab for cabriolet, buss for omnibus, and even a verb such as to shunt tremble still on the boundary line between the vulgar and the literary idioms. Though the grammatical changes that have taken place since the publication of the authorized version are yet fewer in number, still we may point out some. The termination of the third person singular in th is now entirely replaced by
No one now says he liveth, but only he lives. Several of the irregular imperfects and participles have assumed a new form. No one now uses he spake, and he drave, instead of he spoke, and he drove ; holpen is replaced by helped; holden by held ; shapen by shaped. The distinction between ye and you, the former being reserved for the nominative, the latter for all the other cases, is given up in modern English ; and what is apparently a new grammatical form, the possessive pronoun its, has sprung into life since the beginning of the
seventeenth century. It never occurs in the Bible ; , and though it is used three or four times by Shake
speare, Ben Jonson does not recognize it as yet in his English Grammar.3
It is argued, therefore, that as language, differing thereby from all other productions of nature, is liable to historical alterations, it is not fit to be treated in the
1 Marsh, p. 589.
2 Sir J. Stoddart, Glossology, p. 60. 3 Trench, English Past and Present, p. 114; Marsh, p. 397.
same manner as the subject matter of all the other physical sciences.
There is something very plausible in this objection, but if we examine it more carefully, we shall find that it rests entirely on a confusion of terms. We must distinguish between historical change and natural growth. Art, science, philosophy, and religion all have a history; language, or any other production of nature, admits only of growth.
Let us consider, first, that although there is a con. tinuous change in language, it is not in the power of . man either to produce or to prevent it. We might
of.niydeclines. think as well of changing the laws which control the circulation of our blood, or of adding an inch to our height, as of altering the laws of speech, or inventing new words according to our own pleasure. As man is the lord of nature only if he knows her laws and submits to them, the poet and the philosopher become the lords of language only if they know its laws and obey them.
When the Emperor Tiberius had made a mistake, and was reproved for it by Marcellus, another grammarian of the name of Capito, who happened to be present, remarked that what the emperor said was good Latin, or, if it were not, it would soon be so. Marcellus, more of a grammarian than a courtier, replied, “ Capito is a liar; for, Cæsar, thou canst give the Roman citizenship to men, but not to words.” A similar anecdote is told of the German Emperor Sigismund. When presiding at the Council of Costnitz, he addressed the assembly in a Latin speech, exhorting them to eradicate the schism of the Hussites. “Videte Patres,” he said, “ut eradicetis schismam Hussitarum." He was very unceremoniously called
to order by a monk, who called out, “ Serenissime Rex, schisma est generis neutri.”] The emperor, however, without losing his presence of mind, asked the impertinent monk, “How do you know it?” The old Bohemian school-master replied, “ Alexander Gallus
66 And who is Alexander Gallus ?” the emperor rejoined. The monk replied, “ He was a monk.” “ Well,” said the emperor, “and I am Emperor of Rome; and my word, I trust, will be as good as the word of any monk.” No doubt the laughers were with the emperor ; but for all that, schisma remained a neuter, and not even an emperor could change its gender or termination.
The idea that language can be changed and im, proved by man is by no means a new one. We know
that Protagoras, an ancient Greek philosopher, after laying down some laws on gender, actually began to find fault with the text of Hoiner, because it did not agree with his rules. But here, as in every other instance, the attempt proved unavailing. Try to alter the small? est rule of English, and you will find that it is physi
cally impossible. There is apparently a very small difference between much and very, but you can hardly ever put one in the place of the other. You can say, “I am very happy,” but not “I am much happy,” though you may say “I am most happy.” On the contrary, you can say “I am much misunderstood,' but not “ I am very misunderstood.” Thus the western Romance dialects, Spanish and Portuguese, to
1 As several of my reviewers have found fault with the monk for using the genitive neutri, instead of neutrius, I beg to refer to Priscianus, l. vi.
c. i. and c. vii. The expression generis neutrius, though frequently used by 1
modern editors, has no authority, I believe, in ancient Latin.