Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

Among scholars, however, that portion of these words which end in a consonant, have fallen into the more general mode of contraction, as in the changed forms of nouns, called the possessive case,

In all instances then, where mine, ours, and other words of this class occur, they are only to be explained by the fact of their being an adjective with a following noun understood, as being included in a contracted form.

ADJECTIVES

115. A traveller, on his journey, came to tlie river Rhone. He met a rustic who had always lived near its border, and had never seen any other large stream. “Mon bon garcon, dit le voyageur, comment appelle tu ce fleuve ?" My good fellow, said the traveller, what river do you call this? “C'est le fleuve, Monsieur, je n'en ai jamais entendu d'autre nom. It is the river, sir; I have never heard any other name for it.

If there was really but one river in the world, it would be as useless for others, as for the clown of the Rhone, to employ a great number of secondary words, to distinguish one river from others. .

There would have been no need of the proper names Rhone, Rhine, Seine, Garonne, and others, to denote various streams by appropriate individual designation. We could not say that one river is large and an other smaller ; some rivers limpid, clear, and beautiful ; others turbid and unwholesome; this river broad, deep, and sluggish in its

course; and that narrow, turbulent, and rapid ; nor that three American rivers are larger and more majestic than any river on the eastern continent.

A more full exposition of this class of words will be given, from an impression of their great importance, as well as the limited and mistaken principles upon which grammarians have attempted to explain them.

116. The great leading character of the adjective is founded on the countless relations which things bear to each other. They are, like other words, nouns and verbs, by origin : they assume an astonishing variety in their modifications, while their general nature and use are easily distinguished by children.

Though adjectives are secondary words by use, they are an exceedingly numerous class; and it is a great mistake of some learned writers to suppose that any language is without them.

I have before taken occasion to advert to the common error in not distinguishing the relative from the absolute meaning of words. The nature of this error I shall endeavor to explain.

117. It is asserted by the learned and excellent President Dwight, that from his childhood he learned the language of the Stockbridge tribe of Indians, and afterwards became conversant with the principal dialects of North America. He represents them all as entirely destitute of adjectives. This authority is quoted with approbation by several European writers, and by Horne Tooke among the rest. It is a simple mistake of the form for the substance. When the savage speaks of a ship as a "water wigwam ;” does not every one perceive that the epithet water, instead of being em

ployed primarily, as the name of a thing, takes a secondary relation, as descriptive of an other thing; and, with the same specific meaning, as before, acquires a new character, by its “manner of signification?” It is the same when he calls his brandy "fire water," and cannon, the “white men's thunder.”

The latter expression is his simple and natural manner of distinguishing this new discovered fulmination from the thunder of “the Great Spirit.”

118. Grammarians, in general, have conceived it necessary to give practical rules for distinguishing the parts of speech; but probably most persons who know the difference between a chesnut horse and a horse chesnut will find no great difficulty in telling adjectives from nouns.

119. Adjectives are words used with nouns to specify or describe them.

This definition implies two kinds, specifying and describing adjectives. To understand these we must see how they apply to the noun, or to the pronoun, as its substitute, according to the nature of the thing.

Common nouns name things with reference to their general descriptive qualities : for instance, a book is a collection of leaves, fastened together at one edge, enclosed between two covers, to open and shut, for the purpose of containing some form of written language. The idea included in the word books, according to its plain meaning, takes the entire range, from two to the whole number ever manufactured ; leaving the mind in total uncertainty as to every thing else comprehended under the general definition of the word. Mention the word books to any person in conversation. Several questions successively and spontaneously

arise in his mind : what books? which books ? horo many? what sort of books ? how conditioned or situated? Any single word which answers either of these questions, is an adjective.

SPECIFYING ADJECTIVES.

120. These limit, particularize, define, point out,

1st. By identity; or precise relation: 2d. By extension.

First. Many specifying adjectives serve to distinguish things from each other, by reference to their identity or individuality, by special relative circumstances, and not according to any mode of descriptive classification. They answer to the direct and specific question, which thing? what things ? as, which book do you mean? answer, I mean this book, or the book which is on the table, and not

any

of those books which are on that shelf. The adjectives this, the, any, those, that, imply nothing respecting the quality or descriptive character of any book; but wholly relate to the identity of the one alluded to. This kind of designation is frequently attended by a farther specification in words, as the allusion to the table, or that shelf: or it is accompanied by present explaining circumstances, known both to the speaker and hearer. If both books are in sight, the distinction is between the nearest and most distant. Frequently some outward sign, as a look, a motion of the hand, concurs with what is spoken; and this corporeal sign thus makes part of the language. These words have all been called articles; for they come under the definition given to that class; but the article, from its character and use, is necessarily an adjective, and as they run into each other in such various ways that no complete dividing line can be drawn

between them, it is most simple and most practically convenient to consider the whole only as modifications of the same thing.

121. The adjectives which specify things with particular reference to their identity, or individuality, and which answer to the questions which or what things, are this, that, both, any, these, those, all, each, every, either, no, first, second, third, last, and all the ordinal numbers. The words which and what also belong to the same class.

122. Second. Adjectives which limit or specify with immediate reference to extension, apply to things, in two ways, according as they are taken by quantity or number. Any adjective of number will not apply to the word wheat for the same reason that the noun itself has no plural; because it is always estimated by weight or measure, and is never counted. If the single grains should be counted, the adjective of number would apply to grains, or kernels, and not to the noun wheat. We can say much wheat, but not many wheats.

The adjectives which have relation to numerical extension, are all the words known as, cardinal numbers : a, one, twain, two, three, four, few, many, both, several, more, and most.

These words, in general, specify with perfect precision; but where the exact number is not known, the words few, nany, several, and others specify within a limited or discretionary range. Several means three or more, up to a moderate number, but not ten thousand, nor one hundred. It comes from the verb to sever, or divide, and is applied to things, the exact number of which is not known. Some, any, no, and all, are common to number, quantity, and identity.

« PoprzedniaDalej »