« הקודםהמשך »
esteemed as Mr. Mitford's, that political disturbances have produced a corresponding confusion in the structure of a nation's language, and that a disjointed time has been found to subvert the whole economy of a dialect, we are in justice bound to inquire, by what law of our nature these singular results ensue, and in what degree the example given will warrant such a conclusion. We may readily grant the learned advocate of this hypothesis any state of civil confusion he chooses tò assume, in the ages immediately following upon the Norman conquest; and still, with every advantage of this concession, the position he has adopted must preserve all the native nakedness of its character. For, until it shall be shown that political commotions have a decided tendency to derange the intellectual and physical powers, in the same degree that they disorganize civil society; and that, under the influence of troubled times, men are prone to forget the natural means of communicating their ideas, to falter in their speech, and recur to the babble of their infancy,—we certainly have not advanced beyond the threshold of the argument. That such effects have ever occurred from the cause alleged, in any previous age, remains yet to be demonstrated; that they do not occur in the existing state of society,—that they are not therefore the necessary results of any acknowledged law of our nature,—the experience of the last thirty years of European warfare and political change may at least serve as a testimony.
An influx of foreigners, or a constant intercourse with and dependence upon them, may corrupt the idiom of a dialect to a limited extent, or charge it with a large accumulation of exotic terms; but this change in the external relation of the people speaking the dialect, will neither confound the original elements of which it is composed, nor destroy the previous character of its grammar. The lingua franca as it is called, of
the shores washed by the Mediterranean sea, contains an admixture of words requiring all the powers of an erudite linguist to trace the several ingredients to their parent sources ; yet with all the corruptions and innovations to which this oddly assorted dialect has been subjected, it invariably acknowledges the laws of Italian grammar. A similar inundation of foreign terms is to be found in the German writers of the seventeenth century, where the mass of Latin, Greek and French expressions almost exceeds the number of vernacular words: yet here again the stranger matter has been made to accommodate itself to the same inflections and modal changes as those which govern the native stock. In considering the language of Layamon, however, there is no necessity for having recourse to this line of argument. In the specimen published by Mr. Ellis, not a Gallicism is to be found, nor even a Norman term: and so far from exhibiting any “appearance of a language thrown into confusion by the circumstances of those who spoke it,” nearly every important form of Anglo-Saxon grammar is rigidly adhered to; and so little was the language altered at this advanced period of Norman influence, that a few slight variations might convert it into genuine Anglo-Saxon. That some change had taken place in the style of composition and general structure of the language, since the days of Alfred, is a matter beyond dispute; but that these mutations were a consequence of the Norman invasion, or were even accelerated by that event, is wholly incapable of proof; and nothing is supported upon a firmer principle of rational induction, than that the same effects would have ensued if William and his followers had remained in their native soil. The substance of the change is admitted on all hands to consist in the suppression of those grammatical intricacies, occasioned by the inflection of nouns, the seemingly arbitrary distinctions of gender, the government of prepositions, &c.
How far this may be considered as the result of an innate law of the language, or some general law in the organization of those who spoke it, we may leave for the present undecided : but that it was no way dependent upon external circumstances, upon foreign influence or political disturbances, is established by this undeniable fact that every branch of the Low German stock, from whence the Anglo-Saxon sprang, displays the same simplification of its grammar. In all these languages, there has been a constant tendency to relieve themselves of that precision which chooses a fresh symbol for every shade of meaning, to lessen the amount of nice distinctions, and detect as it were a royal road to the interchange of opinion. Yet in thus diminishing their grammatical forms and simplifying their rules, in this common effort to evince a striking contrast to the usual effects of civilization, all confusion has been prevented by the very manner in which the operation has been conducted: for the revolution produced has been so gradual in its progress, that it is only to be discovered on a comparison of the respective languages at periods of a considerable interval.
The opinions of Mr. Turner 178 upon the character of the
178 It would take a much greater is false in its grammatical construction space, to offer a detailed refutation of and defective in alliteration : Mr. Turner's opinions, than is occu
Gif thu Grendles dearst pied in the original recital of them. But
Night longne in a future publication, when examining
Fyrstne anbidan. Mr. Tyrwhitt's Essay on the Language and Versification of Chaucer, the editor Mr. Turner's translation : pledges himself to substantiate by the If thou darest the Grendel most irrefragable proofs all that he has The space of a long night advanced. In the present state of the
Awaits thee. question, he can only appeal to the Restore the grammar, and we obtain common sense and daily experience of the alliteration, without changing a the reader, coupled with an assurance letter of the text. that the counsel and practice of Junius
Gif thu Grendles dearst and Hickes are directly opposed to this novel theory. It may be as well
Nean bidan. perhaps to offer one instance out of a thousand, in proof of the assistance to If thou darest Grendles (encounter, be gained by a knowledge of the Anglo gething, of the context) Saxon grammar. The following pas
(A) night long space sage, as it stands in our present text,
Anglo-Saxon language might be safely left to the decision of the practical inquirer, who, without allowing himself to be dazzled by the brilliancy of an abstract speculation, or to be swayed by the influence of a long-established prejudice, considers every theory with reference to man in society. To him we might appeal for the solution of our doubts, as to the possibility of conducting the commonest concerns of life, with these imperfect means of communicating our wants; or how the Babel-like confusion attendant upon a people, who had “no settled grammar to guarantee their meaning, who were compelled to guess the import of their mutual absurdities,” was not to involve a second dissolution of the social compact, and another separation of the families of the earth so visited. But fortunately Mr. Turner, in the same spirit of candour that attends all his investigations, has supplied us with the proofs upon which his conclusions are gounded; and in so doing has afforded us the most satisfactory means of producing a refutation of his opinions. It may appear surprising, but it is nevertheless true, that of the numerous specimens adduced in support of the “capricious anomalies” to be found in Saxon grammar, not a single instance occurs which is not rigidly in unison with the laws of that grammar: and so strikingly consistent is the obedience they display to the rules there enforced, that any future historian of the language might select the same examples in proof of a contrary position. He would only have to apprise the reader of some peculiarities in those laws, which Mr. Turner seems to have misunderstood, or not to have been acquainted with; and to inform him that the simple rule observed in our own times respecting the genders of nouns, was not acknowledged in Saxon grammar; and consequently, that in this department there was a greater degree of complexity; that the inflection of nouns was governed by no single norm, but varied as in
the languages of the ancient world; that every class embraced in this same part of speech, was not alike perfectly inflected; that some exhibit a change of termination in almost every case, while others approach the simplicity of our present forms, having only a change in the genitive; that a difference in the sense produced a change in the government of the prepositions 179; and lastly, that the adjective was differently inflected, as it was used in conjunction with the definite or indefinite article. With these observances, a reader unacquainted with a single line of Anglo-Saxon, and only assisted by the paradigm of declensions contained in any grammar, might reduce Mr. Turner's anomalies to their original order; and collect from the regularity with which they conform to the standards given, the general spirit of uniformity that obtained throughout the language. Indeed there is nothing more striking, or more interesting to the ardent philologer, than the order and regularity preserved in Anglo-Saxon composition, the variety of expression, the innate richness, and plastic power with which the language is endowed; and there are few things more keenly felt by the student of Northern literature, or a mind strongly alive to the same qualities as they are retained in the language of Germany, than that all these excellencies should have disappeared in our own. But it will be better to remain silent on a subject of such vain regret, and to avail ourselves of the only advantage to be derived from the knowledge of it. It is capable of demonstration, that in the golden days of Anglo-Saxon literature, the æra of Alfred, the language of written composition was stable in its character, and to all appearance continued so till the cultivation of it among the learned became no longer an object of emulation. The mutations that ensued, it has been already asserted, were not
179 Mr. Turner has noticed this pecu was systematically observed ; which is liarity, but then he has denied that it the point at issue.