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THE PRINCIPLES OF GRAMMATICAL ANALYSIS.
C. P. MASON, B.A.
FELLOW or UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, LONDON.
UPPER COWER STREET, AND IVY LANE, PATERNOSTER ROW.
If the difficulties of the English language bore any proportion to the number of treatises upon the grammar of it, they might well be thought rather appalling. I have before me a list, comprising the names of four hundred and thirty works of this nature. The number published since the list was made would probably raise the total to at least five hundred. The addition of one more to such a list must, under any circumstances, be regarded as a venial offence: I trust it will be found that the addition is not altogether superfluous. In the course of a protracted search after an English Grammar suitable for boys, it appeared to me that the existing works on the subject were divisible into two classes;— works displaying deep and accurate knowledge of the principles of grammar generally, and of English grammar in particular, but quite unsuited for school use; and works well adapted for use, as far as size, form,and generalarrantemeabwejeconcerned, but defaced by serious inaccuracies and o^jssionS.'jl found that the perpetual correction of these faults was a more laborious task than the production of a systematic exposition of my own views and method; and so the present work was commenced, at first simply in the form of manuscript lessons. The design kept in view has been, to give the learner an accurate system of grammatical definitions and principles which, though applied in the first instance to English, hold good, in the main, of the other languages of the same family. If a sound knowledge of the general laws of grammatical construction be acquired through the medium of English grammar,— which is far the easiest for an English pupil,—much time may be saved that is often spent in going over and over again the same elementary principles in various and often contradictory forms.
In grammar, as in every other science, the accuracy of the definitions is of vital importance. They must be such that there shall be no ambiguity in their terms, and that they shall be convertible; that is, that the description given as a definition of the thing defined shall apply to it, and to nothing else; so that the definition remains true when read conversely. To say that " a square is a plane rectilinear figure with four equal sides," would not be to give a definition, because it is not true that " a (i. e. any) plane rectilinear figure with four equal sides is a square." No doubt, it is often difficult to give perfectly accurate grammatical definitions, and still more difficult for a pupil to understand them thoroughly; but difficulties are not surmounted by being evaded; and the clumsy, slipshod attempts at definition, with which most of the school grammars in current use abound, are worse than useless. If a rough, inexact notion of grammatical terms and principles is sufficient, the study of grammar becomes superfluous; because a reasonably intelligent pupil can make such for himself. The object of the study of grammar is to shape these rough notions into accuracy. The faults above referred to are inexcusable, because more correct statements might have been obtained from sources easily accessible. A favourite blunder is to obliterate the distinction between things or notions and the words that represent them. Thus it is repeatedly laid down that "gender is the distinction of sex" as if words were divided into males and females, as animals are; that " case is the state or condition of a noun ;" that " the possessive case represents a noun in the state or case of possessing something" (that is to say," John's book " implies that the noun or name John possesses a book); that " a noun is in the nominative case when it is the agent" (so that when we say " a horse kicked me," we are to understand that the kick was given by the noun—horse, which is accordingly in the nominative case); that "adjectives denote the qualities of nouns" (so that when we say a red apple, we mean that the noun is of a red colour); that tense is the same as time; that (as one writer puts it) "a preposition is a word placed before nouns and pronouns, to show the relation (of position, motion, agency, instrumentality, &c.) which they bear to each other;" or, when we say, "he ran to the door," the preposition to denotes the relation of motion which the pronoun he bears to the noun door; that is, the pronoun ran to the noun. Of course, this is not the only class of mistakes. One writer (of whose grammar I have the 27th edition before me), besides other eccentric modes of manipulating the conjugation of a verb, annihilates the subjunctive mood in toto. (It would be curious to hear him parse such a sentence as, "If it were done, then it were well it were done quickly.") Even this blunder is not too gross to have been reproduced, with others, by a recent writer, whose Explanatory Grammar has already gone through several editions. In one grammar we are told that the subjunctive mood is always preceded by a conjunction, and find for the present tense of that mood, " If I am, If thou art, he." When the author writes R Latin Grammar, we shall of course be told that si sum is the subjunctive mood of esse. The following * are rich specimens:—" The comparative degree is that which exceeds or lessens the positive." "The superlative degree is the greatest or least quality of an adjective." "A verb is a word which affirms what is said of persons and things." When grammar is taught in this style, most rational persons will agree that it had better be let alone. If the above were exceptional cases, it would not be worth while to notice them; but the curious part of the matter is, that few grammars are more extensively used than those from which the preceding quotations are made.
A word or two of explanation may be necessary, on one or two points, with relation to the present work.
One of the first distinctions that a learner must get thoroughly familiar with is that between a substantive and an adjective,—between a word that can be the subject of a sentence, or be governed by a verb or preposition, and a word that cannot. I have therefore, in the first instance, introduced the learner to a considerable number of the so-called pronouns, under the head of adjectives. These last I have distributed into the three classes of Qualitative, Quantitative, and Demonstrative Adjectives. It is very perplexing to a beginner to have his notions of an adjective derived from the Qualitative class exclusively, and then to be left to deal with the rest as he best can. Indeed, many writers of grammars have perplexed themselves as much as their pupils, and have put such words as all, many, &C., and even the numerals, into the class of
* Quoted from the 4th edition of a book published in 1854.