« הקודםהמשך »
Continued from p. 130.
THIRD PERSON ONLY.
Singular number. All our grammarians remark, that, in English, the pronoun of the third person, in the singular number,
* I have often had, in the course of these lucubrations, occasion to mention the word gender, yet from several letters I have received, it appears that what I have said on that head has not been sufficiently understood. My views were chiefly directed towards the information of those who were mere English readers. I find that some who are acquainted with other languages are equally at a loss to conceive clear notions on this head.
In all-European languages, ancient and modern, the English alone ex.. cepted, the gender of nouns is a mere artificial arrangement, that has scarce.ly any dependance upon nature. In these cases the knowledge of the gender of nouns is a burden upon the memory only, in which judgement cannot be exerted; of course, in these languages, the number of genders is merely arbitrary. In some languages three, in others two genders only have been adopted ; and as the adjectives in most of these languages, and the articles, where these occur, are made to vary according to the gen
admits of a three fold distinction, respecting gender, and no more, viz.
Ist, Masculine, expressive of males.
3d, Neuter, applicable to inanimate objects, or to animals whose sex is not obvious or generally known, or not necessary to be specified. Here the division rests. And although from what has been already said on the subject of gender, it is plain that this divi
der of the nouns to which they refer, it becomes a severe talk to learners to recollect these. This is a source of many grammatical blunders in the common use of these languages. But if it be embarrassing, even where only two genders have been admitted, how much more would it have been so, had all the possible variations been adopted that a strict adherence to nature would have required ? It has probably been from this circumstance that so few.genders have been in general employed : and, where this practice is adopted, perhaps the fewer of them the better.
In the English language no variation of either adjectives or articles, respecting gender, are admitted; and it is only in the pronouns that the gender of the noun, for which they are substituted, becomes apparent. This language too possesses the singular elegance of following nature precisely with regard to gender, as far as the number of genders we have adopted will permit. If a person therefore, knows the nature of the object of which he speaks or writes, he must also know the gender of the pronoun he must employ. If it be a male animal, the masculine gender of the pro. noun only can be employed ; if it be a female, the feminine alone can be used; if the sex of the animal be unknown, or if it be an inanimate object, the neuter gender must necessarily be adopted.
This rule is general, and admits of no exception; unless where, with a poetical enthusiasm, which the genius of our language readily admits, inanimate objects are personified; and in this case the poet who has once assigned sex to the object, must adhere to the same rule when he substitutes a pronoun for it.
In this respect then the Englibh language is unequalled. It adheres to nature; but it does not extend its powers as far as the bounds of nature allows. The enquiry in the text is calculated to show how many disinca tions in that respect nature would readily admit of.
sion is in complete ; yet, perhaps, there is no language, ancient or modern, which is so chaste, or so nearly, adheres to nature and common sense, in the use of gender, respecting pronouns, as the English ; so that those who use it, are, in this respect, freed from an infinite number of embarrassments with which other languages in general are encumbered.
A very slight degree of attention, however, to the subject, will enable us to discover, that the divisions for gender we have admitted, are by far too few esa pecially in respect to the pronoun of the third person, for effecting in a perfect manner the purposes of language.
Without repeating what has been said respecting. the want of a pronoun denoting castrated animals, such as eunuch, gelding, wedder-Sheep, capon, &c, I would here confine my observations chiefly to the neuter gender, which, in the English language, comprehends not only inanimate objects, which are all that should properly belong to it, but also animals that have no sex at all, those whose sex is not apparent, and others still in which, though the sex be. known, it is not at all considered.
Many words are expressive of general classes of animals comprehending both sexes ; such as friend, servant, neighbour, and so on, whose place cannot be supplied neither by the masculine nor the feminine pronoun as a substitute, far less the neuter. The indefinite gender* is here so much wanted, that the
* See page 123, for the distinction respecting gender that affect the pronoun of the third person, in common with those of the first and sex
language becomes cramped beyond measure by this: defect; and in every page instances occur, either of ambiguity, improprieties, and inelegancies because of this; or of circumlocutions, and forced turns of expression, that are necessary to avoid it. The phrase " a true friend is one of the greatest blessings in life,” is natural, and the truth of the proposition is readily recognised. But should it be proposed to follow out the thought, by adding several particular instances of the blessings it bestows, we feel an embarrassment. And we must either repeat the word. friend, or substitute an improper pronoun in its. stead, thus" a true friend is one of the greatest blessings in life : a true friend heightens all our joys : a true friend alleviates all our misfortunes, and soothes the mind to peace ;" or,
a true friend is one of the greatest blessings in life; he heightens all our joys; he alleviates all our misfortunes, and soothes our mind to peace.” But in this last case the proposition is not fairly rendered. The effect is con. fined to the male, which ought equally to include the female. The proposition which ought to have been general, is thus rendered partial only.
The pronoun indefinite is wanted also as the substitute of all such words as denote a whole genus of animals, without regard to age, sex, or condition. In a perfect language there would be at least three distinct words for each genus of animals : one to denote the whole, indefinitely, as sheep ; another to denote males only, as ram; and the third to denote the female, as ewe. When thus employed, the word heep would be supplied by the pronoun indefinite ;
ram by the masculine, and ewe by the féminine pro
In this particular case we have another variation of the noun respecting gender, viz. wedder for a castrated male, but no particular pronoun for it.
It is true indeed, that few of our nouns admit of this triple distinction of gender; though, as we have often occasion to speak of a whole genus, we are on these occasions obliged to make use of such words.as we have ; forcing them from their particular mean-ing, to adopt one that is more general; as thus :
• The proper business of mankind is man.” Pope. In which the word Man, does not denote the male, as : opposed to the female, but the whole genus. And the same thing is done with regard to the word HORSE, and many others, that are often forced to denote the whole genus instead of the male only, which is theiç proper meaning. On all these occasions, the ambiguity arising from the want.of a proper term, expressive of the genus only, is greatly augmented by the want of the pronoun indefinite also. This pronoun is therefore very much wanted *
Plural number, But though the pronoun of the third person be somewhat defective as to variations in the singular number, it is, in the English langauge, in this respect, greatly more complete than the plural, which admits of only the single word they, for all genders, instead of the three that are used in the singular.
* I find by a late publication, that in Gloces:er' shire, there is a provincial indefinite pronoun not adopted elsewhere; it is the word ou : ou wull, means alike he will, he will, or it will, (Marlhall's survey of Glocestershire.)