Page images

objects on account of their supposed resemblance of the objects themselves. Thus an eye represented knowledge ; and a circle, having neither beginning nor end, was the symbol of eternity. Egypt was the country where this kind of writing was most studied, and brought into a regular art. By these characters all the boasted wisdom of their priests was conveyed. They pitched upon animals to be the emblems of moral objects, according to the qualities with which they supposed them to be endowed. Thus imprudence was denominated by a fly; wisdom, by an ant; and victory, by a hawk. But this sort of writing was in the highest degree enigmatical and confused; and consequently a very imperfect vehicle of knowledge.

From hieroglyphics, some nations gradually advanced to simple arbitrary marks, which stood for objects, though without any resemblance of the objects signi. fied. Of this nature was the writing of the Peruvians. They used small cords of different colours ; and by knots upon these, of different sizes and variously rang. ed, they invented signs for communicating their thoughts to one another. The Chinese at this day use written characters of this nature. They have no alphabet of letters or simple sounds, of which their words are composed ; but every single character, which they use, is expressive of an idea ; it is a mark which signifies some one thing or object. The number of these characters must consequently be immense. They are said indeed to amount io seventy thousand. To be perfectly acquainted with them is the business of a whole life; which must have greatly retarded among them the progress of every kind of science.

It is evident that the Chinese characters, like hiero. glyphics, are signs of things, and not of words. For we are told, that the Japanese, the Tonquinese, and the Coreans, who speak different languages from each other, and from the inhabitants of China, use however the same written characters with them, and thus correspond intelligibly with one another in writing, though mutually ignorant of each other's language. Our arithmetical figures, 1, 2, 3, 4, &c. are an example of this sort of writing. They have no dependance on words ; each figure represents the number for which it stands; and consequently, is equally understood by all nations, who have agreed in the use of these figures.

The first step to remedy the imperfection, the am. biguity, and the tediousness of each of the methods of communication, which have been mentioned, was the invention of signs, which should stand not directly for things, but for words by which things were named and distinguished. An alphabet of syllables seems to have been invented previously to an alphabet of letters. Such a one is said to be retained at this day in Æthiopia and some countries of India. But at best it must have been imperfect and ineffectual; since the number of characters, being very considerable, must have rendered both reading and writing very complex and laboriows.

To whom we are indebted for the sublime and refina ed discovery of leiters, is not determined. They were brought into Greece by Cadmus, the Phænician, who, according to Sir Isaac Newton's chronology, was contemporary with king David. His alphabct contained only sixteen letters. The rest were afterward added; according as signs for proper sounds were found to be vanting. The Phænician, Hebrew, Greek and Roman alphabets agree so much in the figure, names, and arrangement of the letters, as amounts to demonstra. tion, that they were derived originally from the same


The ancient order of writing was from the right hand to the left. This method, as appears from some very old inscripcions, prevailed even among the Greeks, They afterward used to write their lines alternately from the right to the left, and from the left to right. The inscriprion on the famous Sagæan monument is a specimen of this mode of writing, which continued till the days of Solon, the celebrated legislator of Athens. At length, the motion from the left hand to the right, being found more natural and convenient, this order of writing was adopted by all the nations of Europe,

Writing was first exhibited on pillars and tables of stone; afterward on plates of the softer metals. As it became more common, the leaves and bark of certain trees were used in some countries ; and in other, tablets of wood, covered with a thin coat of soft wax, on which the impression was made with a stylus of iron. Parchment made of the hides of animals, was an invention of later times. Paper was not invented before the fourteenth century.


The common division of speech into eight paris, nouns, pronouns, verbs, participles, adverbs, prepositions, interjections, and conjunctions, is not very accu. rale ; since under the general term of nouns it comprehends both substantives and adjectives, which are parts of speech essentially distinct. Yet as we are most accustomed to this division, and as logical exactness is not necessary to our present design, we shall adopt these terms, which habit has made familiar to'us.

Substantive nouns are the foundation of grammar, and the most ancient part of speech. When men had advanced beyond simple interjections or exclamations of passion, and had begun to communicate their ideas to each other, they would be obliged to assign names to objects by which they were surrounded. Wherever a savage looked, he beheld forests and trees. To distinguish each by a separate name would have been endless. Their common qualities, such as springing from a root, and bearing branches and leaves, would suggest a general idea and a general name. nus tree, was afterward subdivided into its several species of oak, elm, ash, &c. upon experience and observation.

Still however only general terms were used in speech: For oak, elm, and ash, were names of whole classes of objects, each of which comprehended an immerise number of indistinguished individuals. Thus

The gewhen the nouns man, lion, or tree, were mentioned in conversation, it could not be known, which man, lion, or tree, was meant among the multitude, comprehended under one name. Hence arose a very useful contrivance for determining the individual object intended, by Areans of that part of speech called the article. In English, we have two articles, a and the ; a is more general, the more definite. The Greeks had but one, which agrees with our definite article the. They supplied the place of our article a by the absence of their article : thus Anthropos signifies a man, Anthropos, the man.

The Latins had no article ; but in the room of it used the pronouns hic, ille, iste. This, however, seems a defect in their language ; since articles certainly contribute much to perspicuity and precision.

To perceive the truth of this remark, observe the different imports of the following expressions: “The son of a king,” “the son of the king," “ a son of the king's." Each of these 'three phrases has a separate meaning, too obvious to be misunderstood. But, in Latin, " plius regis," is entirely undetermined ; it may bear either of the three senses mentioned.

Beside this quality of being defined by the article, three affections belong to nouns, number, gender anci case, which deserve to be considered.

Number, as it makes a noun significant of one or more, is singular or plural ; a distinction found in all tongues, which must have been coeval with the origin of language, since there were few things which mea had more frequent necessity of expressing, than the distinction between one and more. In the Hebrew, Greek, and some other ancient languages, we find not only a plural, but a dual number ; the origin of which may very naturally be accounted for, as separate terms of numbering were yet undiscovered, and one, two and many, were all, or at least the principal numeral distinctions, which men at first had any occasion to make.

Gender, which is founded on the distinction of the iwo sexes, can with propriety be applied to the names of living creatures only. All other nouns ought to be of the neuter gender. Yet in most languages the same

distinction is applied to a great number of inanimate objects. Thus in the Latin tongue, ensis, a sword, is masculine.; sagitta, an arrow, is feminine ; and this assignation of sex to inanimate objects often appears entirely capricious. In the Greek and Latin, however, all animate objects are not distributed into masculine and feminine ; but many of them are classed, where all ought to be under the neuter gender ; as saxum, a rock ; mare, the sea. But in the French and Italian tongues, the neuter gender is unknown, all their names of inanimate objects being put upon the same footing with those of living creatures, and distributed without reserve into masculine and feminino. In the English language, all nouns literally used, that are the names of living creatures, are neuter ; and ours is perhaps the only tongue (except the Chinese, which is said to resemble it in this particular) in which the distinction of gender is philosophically applied.

Case denotes the state or relation which one object bears to another, by some variation of the name of that object; generally in the final letters, and by some languages in the initial. All tongues however do not agree in this mode of expression. Declension is used by the Greek and Latin ; but in the English, French and Italian, it is not found ; or al most it exists in a very imperfect state. These languages express the relation of objects by prepositions, which are the names of those relations prefixed to the names of objects. English nouns have no case, except a sort of genitive, commonly formed by adding the letter o to the noun, as wben we say “ Pope's Dunciad,” meaning the Dunciad of Pope.

Whether the moderns have given beauty or utility to language, by the abolition of cases, may perhaps be doubted. They have, however, certainly rendered it more simple, by removing that intricacy which arose from different forms of declension, and from the irreg. ularities of the several declensions. But in obtaining this simplicity, it must be confessed, we have filled language with a multitude of those little words, called prepositions, which by perpetually occurring in every

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »