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words of correspondent sound, that one may guard the other against the danger of that variation, which, to some of the most common, has already happened; so that the words wound and wind, as they are now frequently pronounced, will rot rhyme to sound and mind. It is to be remarked, that many words written alike are differently pronounced, as flow and brow: which may be thus registered, flow, woe : brow, now ; or of which the exemplification may be generally given by a distich : thus the words tear, or lacerate, and tear, the water of the eye, have the same letters, but may be distinguished thus, tear, dare; tear, peer.
Some words have two sounds which may be equally admitted, as being equally defensible by authority. Thus great is differently used.
For Swift and him despised the farce of state,
The care of such minute particulars may be censured as trifling; but these particulars have not been thought unworthy of attention in more polished languages.
The accuracy of the French, in stating the sounds of their letters, is well known; and, among the Italians, Crescembeni has not thought it unnecessary to inform his countrymen of the words which, in compliance with different rhymes, are allowed to be differently spelt, and of which the number is now so fixed, that no modern poet is suffered to increase it.
When the orthography and pronunciation are adjusted, the etymology or derivation is next to be considered, and the words are to be distinguished according to the different classes, whether simple, as day, light, or compound, as day-light; whether primitive, as, to act, or derivative, as action, actionable, active, activity. This will much facilitate the attainment of our language, which now stands in our dictionaries a confused heap of words without dependence, and without relation.
When this part of the work is performed, it will be necessary to enquire how our primitives are to be deduced from foreign languages, which may be often very successfully performed by the assistance of our own etymologists. This search will give occasion to many curious disquisitions, and sometimes perhaps to conjectures, which to readers unacquainted with this kind of study, cannot but appear improbable and capricious. But it may be reasonably imagined, that what is so much in the power of men as language, will very often be capriciously conducted. Nor are these disquisitions and conjectures to be considered altogether as wanton sports of wit, or vain shews of learning; our language is well-known not to be primitive or self-originated, but to have adopted words of every generation, and, either for the supply of its necessities, or the encrease of its copiousness, to have received additions from very distant regions; so that in search of the progenitors of our speech, we may wander from the tropick to the frozen zone, and find some in the vallies of Palestine, and some upon the rocks of Norway.
Beside the derivation of particular words, there
is likewise an etymology of phrases. Expressions are often taken from other languages; some apparently, as to run a risque, courir un risque; and some even when we do not seem to borrow their words; thus, to bring about or accomplish, appears an English phrase, but in reality our native word about has no such import, and is only a French expression, of which we have an example in the common phrase venir à bout d'une affaire.
In exhibiting the descent of our language, our etymologists seem to have been too lavish of their learning, having traced almost every word through various tongues, only to shew what was shewn sufficiently by the first derivation. This practice is of great use in synoptical lexicons, where mutilated and doubtful languages are explained by their affinity to others more certain and extensive, but is generally superfluous in English etymologies. When the word is easily deduced from a Saxon original, I shall not often enquire further, since we know not the parent of the Saxon dialect; but when it is borrowed from the French, I shall shew whence the French is apparently derived. Where a Saxon root cannot be found, the defect may be supplied from kindred languages, which will be generally furnished with much liberality by the writers of our glossaries; writers who deserve often the highest praise, both of judgment and industry, and may expect at least to be mentioned with honour by me, whom they have freed from the greatest part of a very laborious work, and on whom they have imposed, at worst, only the easy task of rejecting superfluities.
By tracing in this manner every word to its original, and not admitting, but with great caution, any of which no original can be found, we shall secure our language from being over-run with cant, from being crowded with low terms, the spawn of folly or affectation, which arise from no just principles of speech, and of which therefore no legitimate derivation can be shewn.
When the etymology is thus adjusted, the analogy of our language is next to be considered; when we have discovered whence our words are derived, we are to examine by what rules they are governed, and how they are inflected through their various terminations. The terminations of the English are few, but those few have hitherto remained unregarded by the writers of our dictionaries. Our substantives are declined only by the plural termination, our adjectives admit no variation but in the degrees of comparison, and our verbs are conjugated by auxiliary words, and are only changed in the preter tense,
To our language may be with great justness applied the observation of Quintilian, that speech was not formed by an analogy sent from heaven. It did not descend to us in a state of uniformity and perfection, but was produced by necessity, and enlarged by accident, and is therefore composed of dissimilar parts, thrown together by negligence, by affectation, by learning, or by ignorance.
Our inflections therefore are by no means constant, but admit of numberless irregularities, which in this Dictionary will be diligently noted. Thus fox makes in the plural foxes, but ox makes oxen. Sheep is the same in both numbers. Adjectives are sometimes compared by changing the last syllable, as proud, prouder, proudest : and sometimes by particles prefixed, as, ambitious, more ambitious, most ambitious. The forms of our verbs are subject to great variety ; some end their preter tense in ed, as I love, I loved, I have loved: which may be called the regular form, and is followed by most of our verbs of southern original. But many depart from this rule, without agreeing in any other; as I shake, I shook, I have shaken, or shook, as it is sometimes written in poetry; I make, I made, I have made; I bring, I brought; I wring, I wrung; and many others, which, as they cannot be reduced to rules, must be learned from the dictionary rather than the grammar.
The verbs are likewise to be distinguished according to their qualities, as actives from neuters; the neglect of which has already introduced some barbarities in our conversation, which if not obviated by just animadversions, may in time creep into our writings.
Thus, my Lord, will our language be laid down, distinct in its minutest subdivisions, and resolved into its elemental principles. And who upon this survey can forbear to wish, that these fundamental atoms of our speech might cbtain the firmness and immutability of the primogenial and constituent particles of matter, that they might retain their substance while they alter their appearance, and be varied and compounded, yet not destroyed.
But this is a privilege which words are scarcely to expect : for, like their author, when they are not gaining strength, they are generally losing it.