Fundamental principles of language part i


All language depends on two general principles.

First. The fixed and unvarying laws of nature which regulate matter

and mind. Second. The agreement of those who use it.

In accordance with these principles all language must be explained. It

is not only needless but impossible for us to deviate from them. They

remain the same in all ages and in all countries. It should be the

object of the grammarian, and of all who employ language in the

expression of ideas, to become intimately acquainted with their use.

It is the business of grammar to explain, not only verbal language, but

also the sublime principles upon which all written or spoken language

depends. It forms an important part of physical and mental science,

which, correctly explained, is abundantly simple and extensively useful

in its application to the affairs of human life and the promotion of

human enjoyment.

It will not be contended that we are assuming a position beyond the

capacities of learners, that the course here adopted is too philosophic.

Such is not the fact. Children are philosophers by nature. All their

ideas are derived from things as presented to their observations. No

mother learns her child to lisp the name of a thing which has no being,

but she chooses objects with which it is most familiar, and which are

most constantly before it; such as father, mother, brother, sister.

She constantly points to the object named, that a distinct impression

may be made upon its mind, and the thing signified, the idea of the

thing, and the name which represents it, are all inseparably associated

together. If the father is absent, the child may think of him from the

idea or impression which his person and affection has produced in the

mind. If the mother pronounces his name with which it has become

familiar, the child will start, look about for the object, or thing

signified by the name, father, and not being able to discover him,

will settle down contented with the idea of him deeply impressed on

the mind, and as distinctly understood as if the father was present in

person. So with every thing else.

Again, after the child has become familiar with the name of the being

called father; the name, idea and object itself being intimately

associated the mother will next begin to teach it another lesson;

following most undeviatingly the course which nature and true philosophy

mark out. The father comes and goes, is present or absent. She says on

his return, father come, and the little one looks round to see the

thing signified by the word father, the idea of which is distinctly

impressed on the mind, and which it now sees present before it. But this

loved object has not always been here. It had looked round and called

for the father. But the mother had told it he was gone. Father gone,

father come, is her language, and here the child begins to learn ideas

of actions. Of this it had, at first, no notion whatever, and never

thought of the father except when his person was present before it, for

no impressions had been distinctly made upon the mind which could be

called up by a sound of which it could have no conceptions whatever. Now

that it has advanced so far, the idea of the father is retained, even

tho he is himself absent, and the child begins to associate the notion

of coming and going with his presence or absence. Following out this

course the mind becomes acquainted with things and actions, or the

changes which things undergo.

Next, the mother begins to learn her offspring the distinction and

qualities of things. When the little sister comes to it in innocent

playfulness the mother says, "good sister," and with the descriptive

word good it soon begins to associate the quality expressed by the

affectionate regard, of its sister. But when that sister strikes the

child, or pesters it in any way, the mother says "naughty sister,"

"bad sister." It soon comprehends the descriptive words, good and

bad, and along with them carries the association of ideas which such

conduct produces. In the same way it learns to distinguish the

difference between great and small, cold and hot, hard and soft.

In this manner the child becomes acquainted with the use of language. It

first becomes acquainted with things, the idea of which is left upon the

mind, or, more properly, the impression of which, left on the mind,

constitutes the idea; and a vocabulary of words are learned, which

represent these ideas, from which it may select those best calculated

to express its meaning whenever a conversation is had with another.