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GENERAL GRAMMAR.

CHAPTER I.

189

COMBINATIONS OF WORDS.

1. The Grouping of Words.-WORDS, to affect their purpose, must be grouped together according to the laws of language. As the twenty-six letters of the alphabet are capable of forming hundreds of thousands of distinct words, so the thirty or forty thousand words of our language may be arranged into millions of different combinations, each conveying a different thought. The flexibility and resources of the language of a cultivated people are incomprehensible.

2. Natural Limit to the Vocabulary.—There is a limit beyond which the multiplication of words would cease to contribute to the efficiency of a language. There is a sense in which thoughts are compound, and require to be expressed by compound words. The common classifications of words represent orders and classes of objects, qualities, motions, processes, causes and effects in the outward world, and thoughts, feelings, experiences in the soul of man. There must therefore be classes of words, to correspond with the actual classes of objects and actions.

3. General Grammar.-There is a kind of general grammar common to all languages. Every human. being of fair mental ability is able to learn any lan

guage, and will be aided to do so by a familiarity with his mother-tongue. All languages are transcripts of the human mind. They resemble each other like photographs of the same object taken in different degrees of light, and from different points of view.

4. Comparative Importance of Words. Whether nouns or verbs are the more important, it may be impossible to decide. The primitive language probably had a few of both, or it may be that the first few ut terances of man combined the nature of both nouns and verbs.

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It is possible that single utterances, made by one impulse of the voice, expressed each a proposition, such as, The sun shines, The wind blows, The apple is ripe. If it was so, a gradual improvement in discrimination must have led to the confining of those terms, sooner or later, to a representation either of the objects, or of the assertions made, and other terms were added to express the whole thought. Thus the primitive words being few, may have been broken up, so to speak, into many, or have gained in distinctness what they lost in comprehensiveness. This process is now common, especially when a rude people are rapidly civilized, and endeavor to express their new thoughts by modifying their old language.

5. Change in the Comprehension of Words.-One of the most common changes now going on in language is seen in the restriction of words to narrower mean. ings. Thus meat once meant all kinds of food; soldier once meant any person hired (from soldatus); now it means one employed, or even volunteering, for mili

COMPOUND WORDS.

191

tary service; minister once meant any servant, now it is, at least in popular language, confined to that class of men who consent to serve their fellow-men as preachers of the Gospel, and have made their service an honorable profession, or to describe ambassadors sent to represent a nation before a foreign Government. The exactly opposite process of extending the comprehension of words, so as to embrace more objects, does also sometimes take place. Thus flesh once signified only pork; bread is sometimes used to mean all kinds of food, as in the petition, "Give us our daily bread."

6. Compound Words.-Words are often compounded, or combined, to express compound objects, as thoughts suggested by two or more causes. Thus steam and boat are combined to produce steam-boat. A compound word ought to denote one idea, different from that which would be expressed by the parts taken separately.

The English language is comparatively poor in native compound words, and this is undoubtedly one of its most serious defects. Many words that are really compound in other languages are transferred to our language as simple words, and thus the people are compelled to learn many more independent words than those who speak languages which have fewer primitive and more compound terms.

Such words as thunder-storm, thunder-cloud, witchcraft, earthquake, axe-handle, snow-plow, engine-tender, color-bearer, seven-shooter, apple-parer, need no explanation. Is it not a pity that we have sacrificed such

words as earth-tylth (earth-tillage), hand-cloth, and others, that made the mother Anglo-Saxon so much more vigorous than the daughter English? We have said* that "the tide that bears a word toward oblivion seldom has an ebb,” still it must be acknowledged that many compound words which were common in the Anglo-Saxon and early English, are more expressive than the terms from other languages which have been substituted for them, and we should be glad to see them restored.

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