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THE DERIVATION OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE CONSIDERED.
On this subject, to a certain extent at least, there can be but one opinion among competent judges. A great part of the English language is derived from Latin and Greek. Many words have been received directly from these languages; many have been rcceived through the Italian, the Spanish, the Portuguese, German, Swedish, Danish, and Dutch; but the far greater proportion have come through the medium of the French.
The causes of the direct entrance of learned terms are, the general study of the learned languages; the facility with which such terms are applied to the various purposes of art, science and philosophy, &c., (not to mention a very general disposition in learned men to show their learning); the application of Latin to law, physic, surgery, anatomy, botany, &c. ; add to all which, the consideration that it was long almost the only written language of Europe:-to comprehend all in one sentence, Latin has for many hundred years been the learned language of Europe, and the terms of the learned are constantly descending into and becoming part of the common or vernacular language of every people on the face of the earth. It is on this obvious principle that we hope to prove, that if not all, nearly all that very part of
our language which is most confidently received as Saxon and Gothic, is, in fact, neither more nor less than a corruption of Greek and Latin.
The reason why many Greek and Latin words have been adopted by us, through the medium of the Italian, is sufficiently obvious. Rome, even when her consuls and emperors were no more, was still the seat of empire: an empire of mightier sway over the minds and habits and language of the nations, than ever was the power of the Cæsars. From other causes, too, Italy was the fountain of influence to all parts of Christendom; for, besides the Catholic religion, with its Roman priesthood and Latin tongue, science, the productions of arts, and the arts themselves, were thence derived. It was Italy, too, that took the lead in vernacular literature: and her poets, novelists, historians, and philosophers, were as much in advance of those of other modern nations, as she was in advance of the rest of Europe in arts and manufactures.
It has been intimated, that the greatest influx of Greek and Latin words has been through the channel of the French. The causes of this are, evidently, the geographical proximity of France and her predominant influence in politics, polite literature, and fashion; which influence has operated powerfully in Europe, and especially in Britain, ever since the reign of Charlemagne, and it still acts upon the English language very strongly; for if French terms be not brought in by cart-loads, as was said in the
time of Chaucer, they are very abundantly spread over the speeches and writings of a numerous class in society, who have sufficient buoyancy to be always at the top of fashionable literature.
About the commencement of our vernacular literature, there was, indeed, an extraordinary importation of French terms; and the reason is obvious; for as the French borrowed all from the Italian, (which is admitted even by Voltaire,) we at that period borrowed nearly all from the French. But the grand cause of the fact in question, was the Conquest. It is well known that William of Normandy attempted to make French the only language of England; that it was the only language spoken at court, taught in schools, employed in statutes, legal forms and pleadings, &c. &c. The inference deducible from these facts is abundantly manifest: and that they are facts, the author is prepared to establish by a very ample collection of historical testimonies, which are withheld in this place merely because he deems them unnecessary, and because he is unwilling to swell his work by superfluous matter.
It has been intimated above, that some of the learned words, of which so much of our language consists, were received through the medium of the Spanish. The reason of this was the political pre-eminence and consequent predominant influence which Spain at one time possessed. Thus we have duplicates and triplicates of many words, which we borrowed by turns from the Italians, French, and Spaniards, as
they respectively happened to be in the political ascendant. But there was another cause of the influence of the Spanish: it formed a point of contact or link of connexion with the arts and sciences of the Saracens: hence, the portion of Arabic which is found in the different languages of Europe; for knowledge has the power not only of forcing a passage from more enlightened into less enlightened nations, but also of taking with it the very terms in which it happens to be contained. The fact is, words and thoughts are so mutually adapted, that translation is always difficult, and often impossible, so that it is less from choice than necessity that a people, poor in arts and sciences, borrow not only the improvements, but, to a certain extent, the language of their richer, i. e. more intellectual, more literary, and more philosophic neighbours: thus the nations of Europe, during the middle or dark ages, borrowed largely from the Saracens and the Greeks; thus the Celts, the Goths, the Sarmatians, and even the Persians, the Arabians, &c. &c., borrowed largely, for many ages, from the Greeks and Romans. These were the Backwoods-men of Grecian influence and the Roman empire: and if those stationary and unimprovable animals, the naked savages of Indiana, already speak a corrupt English, (or Yankee,) it cannot surely be thought incredible that the venerable Gothic (whose origin, Mr. Horne Tooke says, is buried in the deepest antiquity) should prove, after all, with very little, if any exception, a corruption of
Greek and Latin. As to the Celtic, indeed, all the world knows that it is nearly as old as the creation; and if not the very language which God put into the mouth of Adam, is, without controversy, that of Gomer, Japheth's eldest son.
It will be perceived, by inspecting the pages of the following Dictionary, that besides French, Italian, and Spanish, including Portuguese; Dutch, German, Danish, and Swedish, are to be considered mediums through which not a few Greek and Latin words have passed into the English language. Such words are generally much corrupted and disguised, as all Southern terms are in passing through the guttural medium of the Gothic organs of speech (the true Northern origin of the English language); but sufficient evidence remains of their passing from Greece and Italy to England, through Germany and Holland. The obvious causes of this effect are, geographical proximity, national affinity, political alliance, (against France, our natural enemy,) religious union, (i. e. Protestantism against Popery,) but, above all, mercantile intercourse; for Holland, the Netherlands, and the North of Germany, were long, for arts and manufactures and merchandise, what Italy had previously been to the rest of Europe.
The reader will perceive that these remarks have no direct reference to those words which English, Dutch, Danish, German, &c., considered as Anglo-Saxon or Gothic, have in common: that question is immediately to be considered. It is only necessary to remark