A Sane Philosophy of Speech.
Good sense expressed in good style makes a winning combination. This has been triumphantly attained by Mr. George Willis in his "Philosophy of Speech." Beginning with a lively but clear and suggestive account of the birth of speech, he proceeds to discuss its growth, the relation of speech and thought, metaphor, grammar, purism, correct speech, and speech in education. On each of these topics he has something useful and memorable to say.
On the topic of grammar he points out, for example, that the ordinary definitions employed in English grammar are, for the most part, purely artificial and often ridiculous. Of the common expression: "Nouns are divided into common nouns, abstract nouns, and collective nouns," he declares, "This is as though we should say that animals are divided into sea animals, land animals, American animals, and tame animals The subdivisions of a genus should be mutually exclusive; these divisions overlap in all directions." Distinctions of gender strike him as equally untrue. Greek had distinctions of gender which were really distinctions of form. English utterly lacks these. Again we are told that we must have a verb in a sentence in order to make an assertion, though numerous quotations show that very positive assertions may be made without any verb. The sum of the matter is that Mr. Willis would avoid wasting time on make-believe grammar. He would, however, teach Latin, not for the sake of the study of syntax, but for the sake of the English vocabulary. He makes the interesting suggestion that instead of training the pupils in Ciceronian style, we should train them to translate English into simple Latin like that employed by John Milton, that is to say, medieval Latin.
It is when our author, however, comes to the discussion of purism and correct speech that he is most enlightening. Even Lounsbury never attacked more forcefully the current dogmas reflected in handy manuals of good use than does Mr. Willis. He would distinguish between personal aversions and current use. He would also recognize that there is slang and slang. Some of it is merely local or vulgar, but there is slang which constitutes necessary additions to the language. The careful speaker discriminates.
--"English Journal," Volume 10 show more