« PreviousContinue »
Art. I. - 1. The English Language. By R. G. LATHAM, M.D.
Second Edition, 8vo. London: Pp. 581. 2. Elementary English Grammar for the Use of Schools. By
R. G. LATHAM, M.D. Second Edition, 12mo. London:
Pp. 219. 3. The Rise, Progress, and Present Structure of the English
Language. By Rev. M. HARRISON, A.M. 12mo. London:
the English Language,' we attempted to ascertain, with some approach to precision, the relations of Anglo-Saxon to modern English, and the extent to which the former modifies, or rather constitutes, the latter. It was shown that whether we look at a numerical comparison alone, or at the classes of words which Anglo-Saxon has given us, or at the degree in which it influences all our grammatical forms and most idiomatic constructions, there is no comparison between the importance of this element and that of any other in our beautiful and copious, though very composite language. At the same time the magnitude and value, - absolutely, though not relatively,- of Its classical element, were largely insisted upon.
Since the appearance of that article very much has been done to illustrate the grammar and history of our language, and to imbue the minds of our youth with a just knowledge of both. These subjects were formerly much neglected in the not perhaps too eager, but certainly too exclusive, study of
VOL. XCII. NO, CLXXXVIII.
the classical languages. Many a youth amongst us has been far more deeply acquainted with the struciure of Latin and Greek than with that of his mother tongue; in the condition, in fact, of those worthy Englishmen who ormerly made the ‘grand tour,' and were yet strangers to the scenery and ignorant of the antiquities of their native land.*
Few have contributed to this beneficial change more largely or more meritoriously than the writer whose elaborate volume we have placed at the head of the present article, and who, in this, as well as in more elementary works, has given us the result of much solid learning and acute criticism, in relation as well to the history as to the grammar of the English language. It may not be displeasing to many vs our readers, if we now append to our former article some few observations on the principal changes which our language has undergone since iis formation, and on the fluctuations which contact wiih oiher nations, or the operation of internal causes, has produced in literary diction. In attempting thus much we shall ireely avail ourselves of Dr. Latham's aid; and, studying a necessary brevity, shall content ourselves, wherever we can, with a simple reference to his copious chapters. We strongly recommend his entire work, however, to the attention of students: at the same time taking the liberty to remind Mr. Kemble that the sort of promise which he once held out, of a work on the History of the English Language from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, is not yet performed.
It is hardly necessary to inform any of our readers that the Anglo-Saxon was one of the numerous offshoots Crom the piolific stock of Gothic languages. Like the modern German, it had far more various and complicated inflections of iis articles, pronouns, and adjectives, than the modern English; and in the verbs more inflectional forms than the latter at p:esent exhibits. Like the modern German, it also admitted what appears to us an inverted and unnatural order in construction; and, lastly, it possessed a similar power of combining its elements, and of forming new compounds at its pleasure. This last is the singular advantage of a homogeneous language; for by a species of
* No inconsiderable benefit has resulted from that judicious regulation of the University of London, which includes among the subjects of the matriculation examination, “The Grammatical Struc• ture of the English Language.' Considerably more than a thousand youths have now passed that examination. That any university curriculum should, from first to last, dispense with all reference to a youth's native tongue, seems singular. A liberal education surely implies a knowledge of that, whatever else it implies.
Rarity of Celtic Names.
elasticity, it can thus accommodate itself to any condition of the national mind. Contracted during the period of barbarism, it readily expands in proportion to the demands of knowledge and civilisation. By far the most momentous part of the change which has converted Anglo-Saxon into modern English, consists in the loss of many of the above-mentioned grainmatical peculiarities, and in mere changes of form and orthography. The vocabulary of the older language has been to a vast extent transferred to the new. Five-eighths at least of the language spoken by Alfred still circulates in the veins of the modern English.
The Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain in 449, and in something less than a century had conquered nearly as much of the island as they ever conquered at all
. They retained their language uncorrupted — by no means always the case with conquerors. As Gibbon expresses it, ' a large army is but a small nation;' the progress of conquest is slow; and the victors, in time, are apt to adopt, with some modifications, the language of the vanquished. The Anglo-Saxons, however, partly extirpated and partly expelled the ancient inhabitants, to such an extent, that with comparatively few exceptions (as in the case of great natural landmarks), even the names of places were changed, and received Saxon appellations. The word Kent (Cantium) is an exception ; nor is it difficult to see why. The Anglo-Saxons did not make their first appearance as invaders, but ostensibly to assist the British against the Northern marauders, the Picts and Scots. It was some time before they assumed a hostile posture. While yet allies they were entertained in Kent, and they became accustomed themselves to call that province by its name, before they proceeded to eject the rightful owners. Not so with other portions of the island, where they had never planted foot except as conquerors, and to which, therefore, they naturally gave new names. Hence the retention of Celtic names is rare. In general, it may be observed, that the English possesses, relatively, few words of Celtic origin*; and in tracing the history of our language, that of the Britons, the original inhabitants of the island, demands but little notice.
The Anglo-Saxons during by far the greater period of their history were barbarous; their language, therefore, could not be
* Though more than was at one time supposed. Perhaps the tendency is now rather to overstate the amount of this comparatively slight element. See the remarks of Dr. Latham on this subject, who has carefully given the results of recent investigation in his chapters on the History and Analysis of the English Language.' English Language, part ii. chap. i.
expected to be very polished, or more copious than the ideas of those who spoke it. Still, as already stated, it had great natural capabilities, and possessed resources far beyond the actual uses to which it was put; nor can there be any doubt, in case it had not passed into the modern English, and the nation had advanced, as it has since done, in science and civilisation, but that the AngloSaxon would have manifested the same facility of combination as the modern German; the same self-derived copiousness; the same power of evolving out of its own elements compound words for expressing new ideas. Ælfric, in his Saxon Grammar, scorns to go further than the vernacular for any of the terms by which to express the technicalities of grammatical science; thus he translates verbum, word; significatio, getacnunge ; actio, dede ; modus, gemet ; tempus, tid; species, hiw; persona, hat *;- just in the same manner as the modern Germans have manufactured technicalities out of their plastic vernacular in all departments of science.
The Anglo-Saxon continued to be spoken, nearly in its purity, till the Conquest (1066). It may be reckoned to have reached its highest state of development in the age of Alfred, a natural consequence of the encouragement given to literature and every species of culture by that truly enlightened and patriotic prince. The promise of improvement which his reign held out, was soon blasted by the renewed incursions and ultimate triumph of the Danes. They were a nation remotely of kindred origin, and spoke a language of the same stock,—though they were in a still stronger sense, barbarous. Ellis (in his Specimens) affirms that their incursions and, at last, ascendancy, threw back our language almost into a state of pristine • barbarism.' It does not seem that this observation is at all justified by facts. As their language was of the Gothic stock, they introduced, it may be apprehended, comparatively few words radically different from such as were already in use. The principal changes must have been dialectal, and the innovations chiefly in the inflections and pronunciation of words. To this, as well as to the comparative infrequency with which the Anglo-Saxon was written, we are no doubt to attribute those infinite varieties of orthography, with which the AngloSaxon student is at first so much perplexed. These, however, are not the sole cause of such varieties. There were, we know, dialectal differences among the original invaders, the
* Turner's Anglo-Saxons, vol. ii. p. 440. ; where the reader may see other examples, some of them very curious.
† See Latham's observations on the subject, pp. 57–59.
Pure Anglo-Saxon till the Conquest.
Jutes, Saxons, and Angles, just as there are among the English of the present day; doubtless increased, however, by the frequent settlements, and at length ascendancy, of the Danes. These dialectal differences, as in our own day, would consist principally of the interchange of certain consonants, in sound very much resembling one another, (and which, as the whole history of language shows, are perpetually liable to be interchanged,) and in the broader or sharper sound of the vowels. These last varieties we are probably liable, in interpreting the written remains of a language, to exaggerate; since the vowels, in every language, have always had a most imperfect notation,
one symbol usually representing more than one sound; and
About the time of the Conquest, or rather a little before, commenced those changes, which terminated in the formation of what we must call a new language -- the English. Yet it is not till two centuries after that event (1258), that we possess a document which shows us the transformation almost complete. To this document, and others contemporaneous with it, we shall presently allude. It may be desirable, at the point of view which we have now reached, to make a few concise observations on the probable causes of the change in question; the period during which it was being effected; and on its nature and results.
As to the first, there has been much dispute, nor can it be said that there is not still abundant scope for it. One point has been warmly contested; whether any influence, and if any, what, is to be ascribed to the Norman Conquest. In the estimate of many, it used to be considered as almost alone sufficient to account for the perplexing phenomenon; in that of others, and among them, some of the best critics of our time, it would be adjudged to have had very little to do with the matter. Thus Hallam says:— It is probable, indeed, that * the converse of foreigners might have something to do with * those simplifications of the Anglo-Saxon grammar, which
appeared about the reign of Henry II., more than a century . after the Conquest; though it is also true that languages of a
very artificial structure, like that of England before that revo• lution, often became less complex in their forms, without any
such violent process as an amalgamation of two different races.* Price, in his preface to Warton's History of English Poetry, says, “That some change had taken place in the style of composition, and general structure of the language, since the days of Alfred, is a matter beyond dispute; but that these mutations
* Literature of Europe, vol. i. p. 59.