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1. What a Language is.—A Language is a number of connected sounds which convey a meaning. These sounds, carried to other persons, enable them to know how the speaker is feeling, and what he is thinking. More than ninety per cent of all language used is spoken language; that which is written forms an extremely small proportion. But, as people grow more and more intelligent, the need of written language becomes more and more felt; and hence all civilised nations have, in course of time, slowly and with great difficulty made for themselves a set of signs, by the aid of which the sounds are, as it were, indicated upon paper.
But it is the sounds that are the language, and not the signs. The signs are a more or less artificial, and more or less accurate, mode of representing the language to the eye. Hence the names language, tongue, and speech are of themselves sufficient to show that it is the spoken, and not the written, language that is the language,that is the more important of the two, and that indeed gives life and vigour to the other.
2. The Spoken and the Written Language. Every civilised language had existed for centuries before it was written or printed. Before it was written, then, it existed merely as à spoken language. Our own tongue existed as a spoken language for many centuries before any of it was committed to writing. Many languages—such as those in the south of Africa—are born, live, and die out without having ever been written down at all. The parts of a spoken language are called sounds; the smallest parts of a written language are
called letters. The science of spoken sounds is called Phonetics ; the science of written signs is called Alphabetics.
3. The English Language.—The English language is the language of the English people. The English are a Teutonic people who came to this island from the north-west of Europe in the fifth century, and brought with them the English tongue
but only in its spoken form. The English spoken in the fifth century was a harsh guttural speech, consisting of a few thousand words, and spoken by a few thousand settlers in the east of England. It is now a speech spoken by more than a hundred millions of people—spread all over the world ; and it probably consists of a hundred thousand words. It was once poor; it is now one of the richest languages in the world : it was once confined to a few corners of land in the east of England; it has now spread over Great Britain and Ireland, the whole of North America, the whole of Australia, and parts of South America and Africa.
4. The Grammar of English.—Every language grows. It changes as a tree changes. Its fibre becomes harder as it grows older; it loses old words and takes on new—as a tree loses old leaves, and clothes itself in new leaves at the coming of every new spring. But we are not at present going to trace the growth of the English Language; we are going, just now, to look at it as it is. We shall, of course, be obliged to look back now and again, and to compare the past state of the language with its present state ; but this will be necessary only when we cannot otherwise understand the present forms of our tongue. A description or account of the nature, build, constitution, or make of a language is called its Grammar.
5. The Parts of Grammar.-Grammar considers and examines language from its smallest parts up to its most complex organisation. The smallest part of a written language is a letter; the next smallest is a word; and with words we make sentences. There is, then, a Grammar of Letters; a Grammar of Words; and a Grammar of Sentences. The Grammar of Letters is called Orthography; the Grammar of Words is called Etymology; and the Grammar of Sentences is called Syntax.
There is also a Grammar of musically measured Sentences ; and this grammar is called Prosody.
(i) Orthography comes from two Greek words: orthos, right; and graphē, a writing, The word therefore means correct writing.
(ii) Etymology comes from two Greek words : etŭmos, true; and logos, an account. It therefore means a true account of words.
(iii) Syntax comes from two Greek words: sun, together, with; and taxis, an order. When a Greek general drew up his men in order of battle, he was said to have them “in syntaxis.” The word now means an account of the build of sentences.
(iv) Prosody comes from two Greek words: pros, to; and õdē, a song. It means the measurement of verse.
THE GRAMMAR OF SOUNDS AND LETTERS,
6. The Grammar of Sounds.—There are two kinds of sounds in our language : (i) the open sounds; and (ii) the stopped sounds. The open sounds are called vowels; the stopped sounds consonants. Vowels can be known by two tests—a negative and a positive. The negative test is that they do not need the aid of other letters to enable them to be sounded; the positive test is that they are formed by the continuous passage
of the breath. (i) Vowel comes from Fr. voyelle ; from Lat. vócālis, sounding. (ü) Consonant comes from Lat. con, with; and sono, I sound. (iii) Two vowel-sounds uttered without a break between them are called a diphthong. Thus oi in boil ; ai in aisle are diphthongs. (The word comes from Greek dis, twice ; and phthongē, a sound.)
7. The Grammar of Consonants : (1) Mutes.—There are different ways of stopping, checking, or penning-in the continuous flow of sound. The sound may be stopped (i) by the lips—as in ib, ip, and im. Such consonants are called Labials. Or (ii) the sound may be stopped by the teeth—as in id, it, and in. Such consonants are called Dentals. Or (iii) the sound may be stopped in the throat—as in ig, ik, and ing.
These consonants are called Gutturals. The above set of sounds are called Mutes, because the sound comes to a full stop.
(i) Labial comes from Lat. labium, the lip.
(iv) Palatal comes from Lat. palātum, the palate. 8. The Grammar of Consonants : (2) Spirants. Some consonants have a little breath attached to them, do not stop the sound abruptly, but may be prolonged. These are called breathing letters or spirants. Thus, if we take an ib and breathe through it, we make it an iv—the b becomes a v. If we take an ip and breathe through it, it becomes an if—the p becomes an f. Hence v and f are called spirant labials. The following is a complete
(i) The above table goes from the throat to the lips—from the back to the front of the mouth.
(ii) b and d are pronounced with less effort than p and t. Hence b and d, etc., are called soft or flat; and p and t, etc., are called hard or sharp.
9. The Grammar of Letters.—Letters are conventional signs or symbols employed to represent sounds to the eye. They have grown out of pictures, which, being gradually pared down, became mere signs or letters. The steps were these : picture; abridged picture; diagram; sign or symbol. The sum of all the letters used to write or print a language is called its Alphabet. Down to the fifteenth century, we employed a set of Old English letters, such as a bc-3, which were the Roman letters ornamented; but, from that or about that time, we have used and still use only the plain Roman letters, as a b c-x y z.
The word alphabet comes from the name of the first two letters in the Greek language : alpha, beta.
10. An Alphabet.-An alphabet is, as we have seen, a code of signs or signals. Every code of signs has two laws, neither of which can be broken without destroying the accuracy and trustworthiness of the code. These two laws are :
(i) One and the same sound must be represented by one and the same letter.
Hence: No sound should be represented by more than one letter. (ii) One letter or set of letters must represent only one and the same sound.
Hence: No letter should represent more than one sound. Or, put in another way : (i) One sound must be represented by one distinct symbol.
(ii) One symbol must be translated to the ear by no more than one sound.
(i) The first law is broken when we represent the long sound of a in eight different ways, as in-fate, braid, say, great, neigh, prey, gaol, gauge.
(ii) The second law is broken when we give eight different sounds to the one symbol ough, as in--bough, cough, dough, hiccough (=cup), hough (=hock), tough, through, thorough.
11. Our Alphabet.—The spoken alphabet of English contains forty-three sounds; the written alphabet has only twenty-six symbols or letters to represent them. Hence the English al