Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

his doctrine in this short theorem :- That the same combina. tions of the same or of equivalent consonants have the same virtual and elementary meaning, in all the languages with which we are acquainted.' – The two former principles are very fully stated and supported in an introductory discourse of forty pages; and the body of the work itself is devoted to the proof of the theorem. - The Introduction is rather diffusely written; and it betrays an appearance of anxiety mixed with confidence, which we are always ready to excuse in the performances of an original writer. It is proper to lay before our readers some of the most important passages in this part.

After having lamented the want of some general and extensive principle in the doctrine of former etymologists, and compared the present state of their art with the imperfect condition of arithmetic before the invention of algebra, Mr. W. proceeds to state the progress of his own discoveries in the following terms:

• Having seen that in the forming of any system it was necessary to adopt a known and acknowledged principle, universally prevailing, I began to consider, ist. What great-general fact existed; and, 2d. Whether it could be applied to any purposes in the adoption of a new theory. I sought for information in those words which were most familiarly employed; as it is manifest, that if any uniformity was observed in words so perpetually liable to change from frequent use, I had the strongest evidence for concluding, that such an uniformity was generally prevailing. Father in English I perceived to be FÆDER in Saxon—VATER in German- PADRE in Italian and Spanish-Fader in Islandic and Danish-VADER in Belgic-PATER in Latin, and PATEER (raine) in Greck: In other cases of the Greek Pateer, we have PATER and Patr (Halię o; - [Taip-os): And if the changes of the word were to be represented, as it is sounded in different dialects of the kingdom, it might be written Feethir-Fauthir, and in various other ways. . In Persian, Father is PADER, and in Sanscrit, Peetre, as I find it represented by Mr. Wilkins in his Notes to the Heetopades (page 307.). A more striking uniformity, we shall instantly acknowledge, cannot well be imagined than that which is exhibited in the preceding terms. We here perceive, though the word Father has assumed these various forms, that the differ. ence arises only from the change of the vowels themselves or of their place; but that the same consonants, or those which all Grammarians, at all times, have acknowledged to be cognate, have still been preserved. In our carliest stages of acquiring knowledge, we learn chat “ Inter-se cognatæ sunt, 11, B,0,-K,r, X-T, 4, 0,"_P, B, F, -K, G, Cb-T, D, Th; and that these letters are called cognate, because they are changed into cach other in the variations of the same word. Without embarrassing the reader or myself in this place by defining the identity of a word, I shall appeal only to the ordinary conceptions, which every one has admitted on this subject. All would allow, that Father, Feuer, Fater, Padre, Fader, Vader,

Vater,

Pater, Paler, Pateer, Pater, Patr, Feethir, Fauthir, Peetre, are the same words, or different forms of the same word. Now as vowels, not the same, or not in the same place, are here adopted; the sameness (if I may so express it) of the word does not consist in the vowels, or rather, the vowels have nothing to do in determining the sameness or identity of a word. We observe, however, that the same idea is expressed by the same consonants, or by those which Grammarians have considered as cognate, or of the same kind.'

He afterward enumerates the analogous words which are found to denote the relationship of mother, brother, and daughter, through the same range of languages, and he concludes with these expressions ; Here then we recognise manifestiy and unequivocally a principle of uniformity, by which we are at once supplied with the most important maxim to direct our researches in discovering the origin of words. In these inquiries, the consonants only are to be considered as the representatives of words, and the vowel breathings are to be totally. disregarded.' p. viii.

The author next proceeds to determine with precision what those cognate consonants are, which are changed into each other in the most familiar and ordinary instances. The generality of our grammarians, he remarks, admit P. B. and F. to be cognate. letters, but allege that the liquids L. M. N. and R. are immutable. Mr. Whiter, on the contrary, maintains that 11. is plainly a cognate with the other three labials, and is frequently interchanged with them in the infections of the Greek verb. As to the remaining consonants, he is still more heterodox to common opinion ; T. D. Th. he observes, and K. G. Ch. are allowed to be respectively cognate : but it ought to have been seen that they are all cognate, or mutually changeable into each other in the variations of the same word. The Greek verb, and the inflections of the Latin noun, are again quoted in support of this proposition; and he insists on adding S. and 2. to this second large family of cognates. Through the whole compass of language, therefore, he concludes that K.G. Ch. D. T. Th. C. $. and Z. are to be considered as different forms of the same elementary letter, and liable to be substituted for each other in the variations of the same words.

This latitude of transmutation, it might have been supposed, would have served the purpose of any ordinary theorist : but Mr. Whiter seems to have had no feeling for the embarrass. ment which he was creating to his readers, and goes on re. lentlessly in these words:

From considering this mixture of similar sounds, which is sometimes represented by a single letter, we may obtain a very important canon in the investigacion of Languages. The two letters, between which no vowel breathing is inserted, in the beginning of words,

may

I 3

may sometimes indeed represent the radical, but they may often be regarded as denoting only a conjunction of the sounds, which are attached to the first letter. Thus the ST in stir-sting-stick, &c. may perhaps be only two symbols employed to convey the union of certain sounds, which might be said to belong to the first letter of the radical, and which on other occasions would appear in a separate state. Before the adoption of the Greek £, the As, DS or TS, would have been applied for this purpose ; and the root under one form might be represented by TS-R; and again, when the sounds are separated, hy S-R and T-R. It will likewise sometimes happen, that a vowel breathing is inserted between the two letters which denote only the mixture of sound. Thus TS-R may become Tas-R, or TeS-R, &c.; and if we are induced from this circumstance to consider T-S as the Root, instead of TS-R, or T-R, and S-R, our researches on such a question would be vain and fruitless. This observation is of great importance in the Theory of Lan. guages; and we shall find, in the course of these inquiries, various examples, in which, as I trust, it has been successfully adopted.'

The author then takes notice of the great comfort and encouragement which he received in the prosecution of his theory, from the study of the Eastern languages, and parti, cularly of the Hebrew. Without entering into the mysteries of Masoretic controversy, he discovered with infinite satisfaction that the vowels were of but little importance in writing that antient language, and that its radicals were distinguished by the consonants employed to explain them. I certainly found, he continues, that the lexicons, in explaining the various senses of a single word written without vowels, would often exhibit a variety of senses which on the first view might appear but little similar or related to each other : still, however, I observed that the Hebrew lexicographers considered it as an ima portant part of their task, to discover the general idea to which these various senses might be all referred, and to detail with precision the links of the chain by which their affivity was ascertained and preserved. I observed too that the word, in ass suming these various senses, often adopted different points, or vowels.? p. xix.- The Hebrew scholar will at once perceive that Mr. Whiter has fallen into the hands of Mr. Parkhurst, and is here ascribing to the whole body of Hebrew lexicograa phers that fanciful and systematical view of the language, which is in a great measure peculiar to this late author, and has been disavowed by some of the gravest of his brethren We have quoted the passage, however, principally as an introduction to the following account of the effects of this dis, covery on the views and opinions of the present writer: it clearly exhibits the germ and developement of his theory, and may be taken as a fair specimen of his manner of thinking and expressing himself

4

[ocr errors]

* In contemplating this circumstance, a new scene of investigation was opened to my view. I began to reflect, as man was the same creature in the East and in the West, that the English language must have arisen from the same principles of mind and organs, which operated in the formation of the Hebrew; and that similar facts, as they are connected with these causes, must necessarily be found in both these languages. It was then easy to understar.d, that if the Hebrew lexicographers had formed a true conception of their subject, that a dictionary might be written in English on the same plan, and that the same mode of investigation might likewise be adopted. I then applied for confirmation of this idea to an example in English: I examined the various senses belonging to the word or the radical CP, and I found that, with different points or vowels, it signified A Species of Dress-a Vessel for drinking-and a Covering for the head, &c. &c. The forms which it assumes in our language, under these senses, are, COPE (an ancient dress of priests)-CUP-CAP, &c. I soon perceived, that the same idea was conveyed under each of these forms; though the objects, which they expressed, discharged furic, tions annexed to the original idea or quality, in a manner totally different and dissimilar to each other. I observed, that the radical CP, in its primary sense, suggested the idea of holding-containing-enfolding, &c. This was a very important step in the progress of my inquiry.

On again considering the mode which the Hebrew Lexicographers had adopted, though I still acknowledged that it far exceeded all our conceptions of the subject, yet I soon perceived that their ideas were bounded within the most contracted limits, and that they had not even advanced beyond the threshold of the subject. I found, that the words, which they considered to be impregnated with the same idea, were only those which were represented by the same consonants, that is, by consonants of the same name and the same form ; and they seemed to be unconscious, that among other words there existed any species of relationship-connexion, or similarity whatever. In the Hebrew lexicographers we discover no propensities to Etymology, as it relates to the language which they have undertaken to explain ; and in this point of view, they are even inferior to their fellow.labourers in a similar employment. Without inquiring into the cause of these kindred significations being attached to the same consonants; we well know, that it did not arise from the figure of the symbol; and therefore it is infinitely futile and unmeaning to confine the influence of this principle within a sphere of action which has no reference to the operations of the cause. Thus, if a general idea is affixed to the radical CP, which runs through the various words in which CP is found; we are well persuaded that the forms of C and P were not instrumental in producing this effect; and consequently that the same train of ideas will be equally found among words, which are expressed by KP - CHP, &c. &c.'

One step only was now wanting, to lead the author to a complete view of the theory which he has unfolded in this volume. These instances in English and in Hebrew convinced

I 4

him

him that the same elementary consonants conveyed the same meaning in every separate language; and it only remained to shew that this affinity pervaded all languages, and that the elementary consonants contained the rudiments of a language universal and immutable. This point, indeed, he has not laboured with any great degree of industry: he has referred to the instances, already quoted, of the similarity of all the known appellations for the nearer degrees of relationship; and he has specified the additional instance of the word earth which, he says, is expressed in all languages by the consonants RTh. RD. or RIZ. with a vowel breathing prefixed. He then undertakes to lay down the general affinity of all known languages as a fact, acknowleged and ascertained;' and to shew that, in all languages, the same elements will be found to convey the same train of ideas.

Having happily arrived at this great conclusion, Mr. Whiter looks back with some complacency on the steps by which he had reached it, and thus breaks out in the language of triumph and exultation :

• Here then, we perceive, our theory is at last completed. It is perfect in all its parts, and furnished for all its purposes. The similarity of languages has been the theme of eternal discussion. A few scattered and scanty examples of their coincidence have been perpetually urged; but the whole subject has been involved in the most impenetrable obscurity-embarrassment-and confusion: Here at last we have discovered the important clue, which will guide us safely and readily through all the windings in the great labyrinth of Human Speech. Under the banners of this directing principle (if I may be again permitted the adoption of metaphor) the numerous tribes and families of Words are at once arranged without difficulty or disorder--all marshalled in their due places-and all discharging their various and corresponding functions with the most perfect uni. formity, precision, and regularity. Here at last we have obtained what has ever been sought, but never been discovered-the Universal or Original Language--not indeed existing in the fleeting forms of any peculiar system or artifice of Specch, but in those first and Ori. ginal Elements, which universally pervade the whole machinery of Language performing in every part the same functions, and operating to the same purposes. I shall not stoop to define the various stages of progress, which others have advanced in the prosecution of this theme; nor shall I attempt to adjust the precise meaning, which is annexed to those various maxims, which others have adopted in their inquiries into this subject. I shall only simply observe, that the train of ideas, which I have now unfolded, has not been thus exhi. bited; nor has any system been formed on its foundation, such as the reader will find established in the succeeding discussions.'

In perusing this passage, we feel more indulgence for the author's confident yet questionable claim to originality, than

for

« ZurückWeiter »