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Fundamental Principles Of Language (Part I)

All language depends on two general principles. First. The fixed and unvarying laws of nature which regulate matter and mind. Second. The agreement of those who use it. In accordance with these principles all language must be explained.

It is not only needless but impossible for us to deviate from them. They remain the same in all ages and in all countries. It should be the object of the grammarian, and of all who employ language in the expression of ideas, to become intimately acquainted with their use. It is the business of grammar to explain, not only verbal language, but also the sublime principles upon which all written or spoken language depends. It forms an important part of physical and mental science, which, correctly explained, is abundantly simple and extensively useful in its application to the affairs of human life and the promotion of human enjoyment.

It will not be contended that we are assuming a position beyond the capacities of learners, that the course here adopted is too philosophic. Such is not the fact. Children are philosophers by nature. All their ideas are derived from things as presented to their observations. No mother learns her child to lisp the name of a thing which has no being, but she chooses objects with which it is most familiar, and which are most constantly before it; such as father, mother, brother, sister. She constantly points to the object named, that a distinct impression may be made upon its mind, and the thing signified, the idea of the thing, and the name which represents it, are all inseparably associated together. If the father is absent, the child may think of him from the idea or impression which his person and affection has produced in the mind. If the mother pronounces his name with which it has become familiar, the child will start, look about for the object, or thing signified by the name, father, and not being able to discover him, will settle down contented with the idea of him deeply impressed on the mind, and as distinctly understood as if the father was present in person. So with every thing else. Again, after the child has become familiar with the name of the being called father; the name, idea and object itself being intimately associated the mother will next begin to teach it another lesson; following most undeviatingly the course which nature and true philosophy mark out.

The father comes and goes, is present or absent. She says on his return, father come, and the little one looks round to see the thing signified by the word father, the idea of which is distinctly impressed on the mind, and which it now sees present before it. But this loved object has not always been here. It had looked round and called for the father. But the mother had told it he was gone. Father gone, father come, is her language, and here the child begins to learn ideas of actions. Of this it had, at first, no notion whatever, and never thought of the father except when his person was present before it, for no impressions had been distinctly made upon the mind which could be called up by a sound of which it could have no conceptions whatever. Now that it has advanced so far, the idea of the father is retained, even tho he is himself absent, and the child begins to associate the notion of coming and going with his presence or absence. Following out this course the mind becomes acquainted with things and actions, or the changes which things undergo. Next, the mother begins to learn her offspring the distinction and qualities of things.

When the little sister comes to it in innocent playfulness the mother says, "good sister," and with the descriptive word good it soon begins to associate the quality expressed by the affectionate regard, of its sister. But when that sister strikes the child, or pesters it in any way, the mother says "naughty sister," "bad sister." It soon comprehends the descriptive words, good and bad, and along with them carries the association of ideas which such conduct produces. In the same way it learns to distinguish the difference between great and small, cold and hot, hard and soft. In this manner the child becomes acquainted with the use of language. It first becomes acquainted with things, the idea of which is left upon the mind, or, more properly, the impression of which, left on the mind, constitutes the idea; and a vocabulary of words are learned, which represent these ideas, from which it may select those best calculated to express its meaning whenever a conversation is had with another.


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