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Continued from vol. x. p. 318.
Observatins on personal pronouns. THE
He following essay is intended to give a general view of the essential properties and possible variations of the personal pronouns, upon principles that are not derived from the practice of any particular language, with a few remarks on some words in the English language, that have been usually ranked as pronouns.
A PRONOUN is a word that may be occasionally substituted in the place of a noun, and performs in language the same functions with the noun itself.
When the subject is examined, we are easily led to perceive that all nouns which can admit of a substitute for them, must be in one or other of the three following states, viz.
Ist, The pronoun may be employed as a substitute for the party who speaks, or the party who addresses a discourse to another. The pronouns which perform this office have been, in general, denominated pronouns of the first person ; or,
2d, It may present the party addressed; and in this predicament it assumes the name of the pronoun of the second person ; or,
3d, It may represent objects at a distance, or not present, to which the discourse refers; and, in this
case, it has been called the pronoun of the third per
As these circumstances must occur in all languages, so we find these different classes of
pronouns in every language ; and it is these classes of words which have been denominated, in general, personal pronouns.
But though all languages agree in having these three classes of pronouns, they differ infinitely as to the variations they admit of, and other circumstances affecting them.
· The pronouns of the first and second persons are affected by circumstances so much in the same way, that we shall find it convenient to consider them together, and the pronouns of the third person, which differ from them in several respects, by itself.
As nouns, in most of the languages we have been · accustomed to study grammatically, admit of a threefuld variation, in respect to GENDER, NUMBER, and CASE *, we have naturally been disposed to consider the pronouns which become their substitutes, as being capable of the same variations. But here the general analogy fails us. In the languages usually taught grammatically, we find no variation in the pronouns of the first or second person respecting gender ; and, therefore, it has been concluded, generally, that these two classes of pronouns cannot with propriety admit of any variation in respect to gender. Our grammarians have even gone so far as to invent a reason why this rule should not be transgressed. Without being influenced by these reasons, which I
* See Bee, vol. x. po 241. et seq.
view as an attempt to shut the door against investigation, I shall here only briefly remark, that we can easily perceive that a variation in this respect is not contrary to nature ; but we can even conceive that such a variation might, if it had been practised, be the source of much elegance and refinement in language; and, therefore, we may conclude, that it is not at all impossible, but some languages may be met with which admit of this particular variation.
As I find, however, that in the course of this investigation I shall frequently have occasion to point out deficiencies, and inelegancies, which are not in general adverted to, I shall beg leave to take notice here, once for all, of the great facility with which we accustom ourselves to make use of the same word in two or more distinct senses, where we experience a deficiency of terms, without being sensible of the smallest imperfection in that respect. For example, when I say, “it pained her to be compelled to sell her house,"
not sensible of the smallest impropriety or inelegance of language ; though, had we occasion to employ the masculine instead of the feminine gender of the same pronoun, we could not say, pained him to be compelled to sell him house;" but we would find it necessary to say, “ it pained bim to be compelled to sell his house.” This example brings us at once to perceive, what we did not before suspect, that the single word ber is forced to perform, alike, the office of the two words him, and bis, with neither of which we think we could possibly dispense. Were we to proceed by the same mode of analysis, -We lheuld be able to point out a variety of great deficiencies which are never perceived in practice, though they would be immediately recognised had we been in the practice of a more perfect use of language. Where I take notice of possible variations that may take place in other languages, that do not take place among those we know, let me, therefore, not be accused of fanciful refinement, on the ground that we do not perceive the want of them. It would astonish any person who were to consider how many of the most essential parts of language might, by, this mode of arguing, be annihilated.
Gender. THOUGH no-- European language therefore admits of more than three GENDERS, for their pronouns of the first and second persons, and few of them even of more than one ; yet there is no impossibility but other languages may exist which admit of some, or all of the variations that follow *. · ist, For the masculine gender, where the sex of the animal is known to be male. · 2d, For the feminine, where it is known to be fémale.
3d, For the indefinite, where the sex of the parties is either not known, or iminaterial, and therefore not necessary to be known, or where it is wished to be concealed.
46h, In countries where eunuchism "prevails, and where of course, this gender of animals must free quently occur, a variation might also be admitted for
The reader will obs:rve that I take no noice of those accidental distinctions of genders, which have been produced by the particular termin nation of words.; but refer only to the natural distinction of sex, & **
them, which might be called the imperfect. We can easily conceive that prodigious force might occasionally be given to the language of contempt by the use of this pronoun.
5th, For the neuter gender, where inanimate objects are concerned. Some may, perhaps, think it would be a very unnecessary, and even an absurd refinement, to have a variation of these personal pronouns for the neuter gender; because inanimate objects neither can speak themselves, nor be spoken to. Yet it is very possible to form an idea of the utility of such a class of words, had they been in use in language. Even at present, when it is meant to denote a high degree of contempt for any person, the neuter Englith pronoun, of the third person, is often substituted for either of the other two genders in use in our language : thus, “it, meaning he or fe, is a despicable creature,” “ it, meaning as before, is a pitiful thing," i.e. person; and it is surely as necessary to give nerve to the language of contempt, when the object is present, as when absent; and, as the speaker may sometimes with to express a particular sense of humiliation or debasement of mind, denoting contrition, it is easy to conceive occasions when this gender might be adopted with great force and propriety, in the pronouns of the first and second, as well as of the third person.
Even in another way might this gender become necessary. Addresses to inanimate objects are common, even without any attempt at personification; as in the
song, Cogie gin ye were ay fu'*," &c. in which cases the neuter pronoun might be employed
A humourous Scots ballad in which a fe:en is represented as adures