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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 muss have been imperfect and ineffectual; since the number of characters, being very considerable, must have rendered both reading and writing very complex and laborious.
To whom we are indebted for the sublime and refina ed discovery of lciters, 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 alphabet contained only sixteen letters. The rest were afterward added; according as signs for proper sounds were found to be wanting. 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 source.
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 Sagaan 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.
STRUCTURE OF LANGUAGE.
The common division of speech into eight parts, nouns, pronouns, verbs, participles, adverbs, prepositions, interjections, and conjunctions, is not very accu.. rate ; since under the general term of nouns it comprehends both substaniives and adjectives, which are parts of speech essentially distinct. Yet as we are most accustomed to this division, and as logical exact. ness 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. The genus tree, was afterward subdivided into its several species of oak, elm, ash, &c. upon experience and ob.. servation.
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 immense number of indistinguished individuals. Thus
when 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 Aleans 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, o 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, “ filius 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 and 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 two 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 Fock; 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 at 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 s to the noun, as wben we say “ Pope's Dunciad," meaning the Duociad 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
sentence, encumber speech ; and by rendering it more prolix, enervate its force. The soundof modern language is also less agreeable to the ear, being deprived of that variety and sweetness which arose from the length of words and tho change of terminations occasioned by cases in the Greek and Latin. But perhaps the greatest disadvantage we sustain by the abolition of cases, is the loss of that liberty of transposition in the ar. rangement of words, which the ancient languages enjoyed. ,
Pronouns are the representatives of nouns, and are subject to the same modifications of number, gender and case. We may observe, however, that the pronouns of the first and second person, I and thau, have no distinction of gender in any language ; for, as they always refer to persons present, their sex must be known, and therefore needs not to be marked by their pronouns. But, as the third person may be absent, or unknown, the distinction of gender there becomes requisite ; and accordingly in English, it hath all three genders, he, she, it.
Adjectives, as strong, weak, handsome, ugly, are the plainest and most simple in that class of words which are termed attributive. They are common to all languages, and must have been very early invented ; since objects could neither be distinguished nor treated of in discourse, before names were assigned to their different qualities.
STRUCTURE OF LANGUAGE...ENGLISH TONGUE.
Of all the parts of speech, verbs are by far the most complex and useful. From their importance, we may justly conclude, that they were coeval with the origin of language ; though a long time must have been requisite to rear them up to that accuracy which they now possess.
The tenses were contrived to mark the several distinctions of time. We commonly think of no more.