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nel their hounds-bag their game-table their money ---stake their property-stack their hay-shield their honour and pistol its enemies. A thousand such instances might be collected, (without much trouble,) of sensible, palpable, substantive meanings, and of nouns employed in a verbal sense: and it is probable that most of those words which now appear in the abstract state of mere verbs, were previously names of physical entities.
It is true, that in all such instances as those presented above, there is ellipsis, i. e. something left out: gallant men back their friends and face their foes ; i. e. do back their friends, and do face their foes ; which is the old mode of the sentence, and that which we still adopt when we wish to speak emphatically: and even then there is much more implied than expressed ; there is much verbal ellipsis : but for the same reason that the meaning remains when so much expression is left out, the same meaning might have been conveyed if the omitted expression had never existed. Children, (as also foreigners,) when beginning to speak our language, can make themselves understood by merely pronouncing nouns. My child, now playing round my table, has just said, (few parents require to be told how interestingly and persuasively,) “ Pa, me book.” The fond father understood her as readily, and as perfectly, as if she had said, “ Please, my papa, will you give to me a book ?" or, “Please, my papa, will you take up one of these books from this table, with
one of your hands, and then put it into my hands ? for I wish to amuse myself with handling it and looking at it; but I am not tall enough to reach it, else I would not be at the trouble of asking you to hand it to me."
If language had the rude origin which Mr. Horne Tooke always supposes, it is certainly very improbable that such a metaphysical part of speech as the verb, according to our modern notions of it, (i. e. a word which signifies to be, to do or suffer, &c.,) had any distinct, separate, or independent existence. · Add to this the fact, that a very great number of verbs (as well as of all the other parts of speech) are, without doubt or controversy, resolvable into nouns.
Now we believe full justice has been done to the statements contained in the Diversions of Purley: and now, perhaps, many persons would suppose the subject to be satisfactorily disposed of: all words are resolvable into nouns, and nouns are names, and names are just names; and what more would we be at; for as we cannot proceed ad infinitum, we must stop somewhere; and where so proper to stop as with the names of things? This has certainly some show of reason, and is much more satisfactory than putting the world on the back of an elephant, and the elephant on the back of a tortoise, and the tortoise on the back of nothing : it does happen, however, that where the difficulty seems to end with Horne Tooke and others, it only begins with the author: not that he hopes for a palpable demonstration
as to the origin of language; which is nearly as troublesome to the philologist as the origin of evil, or of matter, is to the theologian (for origins are a vexatious race of entities); but he does think that the noun requires to be explained and accounted for as much as any part of speech whatever. Granting that it is resolvable into no other part of speech, what is it to be resolved into ? If it be the offspring of no vocabulary parent, nor the result of any etymologic transmigration, but started into being at once a perfect substantive or full-grown noun; whence, or how did it start into existence? Did it drop down from heaven, or leap out of the mouth of Minerva, as she did out of the brain of Jupiter ? In sound, sober earnest—What is the reason of its imposition or application ? For if (as Mr. Tooke so often affirms) there be nothing arbitrary or unaccountable about language ; if (as he also reiterates) that be a trifling etymology which does not assign the cause or discover the reason for the imposition of any word; it is doing just nothing towards satisfying my philologic curiosity, to resolve all the parts of speech into the noun, and then tell me that a noun is a name. If said noun be in any respect descriptive, (and without this, according to Mr. Tooke, it could be no significant part of speech,) what is its descriptive property—how did it acquire its designative power?
Here also we shall attempt supplementary explication, that full justice may be done to the claims set up for the noun as being the sole, original, and
pre-existent part of speech. The position of Mr. Tooke, that there is nothing arbitrary about language, we consider perfectly sound: and to assert the contrary is. (we conceive) manifestly absurd. Even those unmeaning names, with which we, in these modern times, are so familiar, called proper nouns, were originally descriptive of some quality, or expressive of some circumstance; and in the successive re-application of them there is an assignable reason for their imposition ; for such names as Robert, John, Alfred, Hunt, Fox, &c., are not employed at random, as we might suppose such new and strange names as those fabricated by Swift ; and even, for the employing of these, there is an assignable reason. Perhaps, indeed, nothing more was ever intended, (where the understanding had any share,) by affirming the meanings or applications of words to be arbitrary, than that, where, any one word is employed, some other word might have been used for the same purpose; or, that terms are liable, in process of time, to have their signification changed; or, that they may be differently understood, and applied in different ages, and even by different persons of the same age and country: and thus, (as frequently happens in controversy,) one person might affirm, and another might deny, that words are arbitrary signs ; and be all the while disputing about nothing.
But there could be no controversy with Mr. Tooke, or with any who adopt his opinions, concerning the present subject of inquiry. He frequently states, as
an essential etymologic principle, that there is a reason for the imposition of every word ; i. e. that it has a descriptive significancy, without which, he insists, it has no significancy whatever. In what, then, does the significancy of the noun consist? Or, in other words, whence does the noun itself derive its existence? This question seems to admit of an easy and satisfactory answer in reference to a certain class of words, formed by what is called onomatopæia, or imitation of the sound:* such as, buzz, hum, grunt, croak, cluck, click, clock, clang, clink, clash, whir, whiz, cuckoo. Many more might be presented; but these are sufficient as a specimen; which is all that is intended here. If such words be considered nouns, here is a satisfactory origin of the noun (and perhaps, after all, of the whole of language); for we have only to suppose the letters that indicate, to the eye, the sounds of which such words consist, contrived, (ar
* The author long doubted (probably from his sceptical distrust of received opinions) whether any words had such an origin; and he remembers conversing with an ingenious etymologist and learned lexicographer, who disallowed onomatopæia most peremptorily: the argument employed was, that if it really existed, the different languages would have the same name for the same sound or creature emitting it'; which they have not. But the author is now convinced that there is no solid ground for the doubt once entertained by him; and that there is no force in the learned Doctor's argument; for the diversity in the name (say cuckoo) for the same sound, in different languages, is easily accounted for in the same manner that other words are greatly diversified in external form among different nations and in different ages.