From the Preface.
The present work needs only a few words by way of introduction. That its subject calls for treatment in the series of which it forms a part, especially at this time, when men's crude and inconsistent views of language are tending to crystallize into shape, no labored argument is required to prove. Very discordant opinions as to the basis and superstructure of linguistic philosophy are vying for the favor, not of the public only, but even of scholars, already deeply versed in the facts of language-history, but uncertain and comparatively careless of how these shall be coordinated and explained. Physical science on the one side, and psychology on the other, are striving to take possession of linguistic science, which in truth belongs to neither. The doctrines taught in this volume are of the class of those which have long been widely prevalent among students of man and his institutions; and they only need to be exhibited as amended and supported, not crowded out or overthrown, by the abundant ntw knowledge which the century has yielded, in order to win an acceptance well-nigh universal. They who hold them have been too much overborne hitherto by the ill-founded claims of men who arrogate a special scientific or philosophic profundity.
After one has once gone over such a subject upon a carefully matured and systematic plan, as I did in my "Language and the Study of Language" (New York and London, 1867), it is not possible, when treating it again for the same public, to avoid following in the main the same course; and readers of the former work will not fail to observe many parallelisms between the two. Even a part of the illustrations formerly used have been turned again to account; for, if it be made a principle to draw the chief exemplifications of the life and growth of language from our own tongue, there are certain matters-especially our most important recent formative endings and auxiliaries-which must be taken, because they are most available for the needed purpose. Nor has the basis of linguistic facts and their classification undergone during the past eight years such change or extension as should show conspicuously in so compendious a discussion as this. Accordingly, I present here an outline of linguistic science agreeing in many of its principal features with the former one; the old story told in a new way, under changed aspects and with changed proportions, and with considerably less fullness of exposition and illustration.
The limits imposed on the volume by the plan of the series have compelled me to abbreviate certain parts to which some will perhaps agree with me in wishing that more extension could have been given. Thus, it had been my intention to include in the last chapter a fuller sketch of the history of knowledge and opinion in this department of study. And I have had to leave the text almost wholly without references: although I may here again allege the compendious cast of the work, which renders them little called for; I trust that no injustice will be found to have been done to any. The foundation of my discussion is the now generally accessible facts of language, which are no one man's property more than another's. As for views opposed to my own, while often having them distinctly in mind in their shape as presented by particular scholars, I have hardly ever thought it necessary to report them formally; and I have on principle avoided anything bearing the aspect of personal controversy.
-New Haven, "April," 1875.show more