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preposition. But if we say it in provincial English, thus, “he behaved like a scoundrel would,” like is a conjunction. The word much starts as an adjective, that is to say, the earliest grammatical character it bears within the limits of our observation is adjectival. Thus we say much seed, much wealth, much time, much people. Thence it easily becomes an adverb, as much less, much mightier, much discouraged, much afflicted, much regretted. So far I have the authority of Webster. When he goes on to give much as a noun in phrases like
“He that gathered much had nothing over, Exodus xvi.,
I should so far differ from him, that I should prefer to call it a pronoun, for reasons that will appear in the next chapter.
From this pronominal use it becomes qualified to enter into conjunctional phrases, though it does not constitute a conjunction all by itself.
“The geological collection at Scarborough is much as William Smith left it.”
Here much as is the conjunction which adjusts the relation of the two verbs is and left. We could not refuse to acknowledge this as a conjunction, seeing we should be forced to admit that inasmuch as and/orasmuch as are conjunctions.
While was once a noun, signifying time. And so indeed it still is, as a long while. But now it is better known as a conjunction: thus—
“It is very well established that one man may steal a horse while another may not so much as look over the hedge.’
As is generally called a conjunction, but we see it in the character of a relative pronoun in the following quotation:—
“As far as I can see, 'tis them as is done wrong to as is so sorry and penitent and all that, and them as wrongs is as comferble as ever they can stick.’ Lettice Lisle, ch. xxvii.
Here a philological friend steps in, and questions the propriety of this example on the ground of ‘authority.’ This is an unphilological objection. Does he question the fact that as is so used by millions of speakers ? No; that is out of all question. He only means that it is not established in literature. And I grant that if in any writing of my own I adopted this use of as, I might be justly confronted with the demand for my ‘authority.' If I declined the challenge, and continued to use the expression, it would amount to a trial of strength on my part whether I had the power to get this provincialism accepted, or at least permitted. Occasionally a strange expression is admitted, but the privilege of ushering it belongs chiefly to those lawful lords of literature, the poets. My friend's objection is in short a grammatical and not a philological objection. I am under the ordinary rules of grammar in my composition, but I entirely repudiate them in my illustrations. Why, indeed, the best facts of language often lie beyond these formal props that fence the park of literature | This is a digression, but one for which I make no apology. On the contrary, I thank the friend whose objection has led to the re-assertion of a principle which, in the present state of philology, can hardly be too often reiterated or too variously exemplified.
The difference of function which one and the same word may perform, often furnishes the ground of a playful turn of expression, something like a pun. But it is distinct from a pun, is more subtle, and is allowed to constitute the point of an epigram, as in that of Mrs. Jane Brereton on Beau Nash's full-length picture being placed between the busts of Newton and Pope:–
‘This picture placed these busts between,
This is a play on two functions of the word little, which must here be thought of as adjective and adverb at once, i.e. (in Latin) as equal at once to exigui (small) and to raró (seldom). For want of attention to this, the line has been erroneously edited thus:–
“Wisdom and wit are seldom seen.’
If any one wishes for more illustrations of this fact—that the grammatical character of a word is only a habit, one actual habit out of many possible ones—he should consider some of the following references to Shakspeare.
These examples all point to the one conclusion that the quality of speech-part-ship (if the expression may be for once admitted), is not a fixed and absolute one, but subject to and dependent upon the relations of each word to the other words with which it is forming a sentence. If we have recourse, for example's sake, to those languages which have preserved their grammar in the most primitive and rudimentary condition, we find that each word has retained its natural faculty for discharging all the functions of the parts of speech.
In Chinese there is “no formal distinction between a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, a preposition. The same root, according to its position in a sentence, may be employed to convey the meaning of great, greatness, greatly, and to be great. Everything in fact depends in Chinese on the proper collocation of words in a sentence '.' Between this state of things and the development of the modern languages, there has intervened the inflectional state of speech, of which the grammatical character is as nearly as possible the direct opposite to that which has been stated concerning the Chinese. In the inflectional state of language, each word carries about with it a formal mark of distinction, by which it is known what the habitual vocation of that word is. Thus in Greek the word tróvos, even standing alone, bears the aspect of being a noun in the nominative case. But the English word labour, standing alone, is no more a noun than it is a verb, and no more a verb than it is a noun. The inflectional languages are not all equally inflectional; this character has its degrees. The Greek is not so rigidly inflectional as the Latin. But both of them are far more so than any of the languages of modern Europe. Of all the modern languages, that which has most shaken off inflections is the English, and next to the English, the French. We have but a very few inflections remaining in our language. And this increases the freedom with which our language may be handled. We are recovering some of that long-lost and infantine elasticity which was the property of primitive speech.
* Lectures on the Science of Language, by Max Müller, 1861, p. 275.
But while the modern languages, and English especially, are casting off that cocoon of inflections which the habits of thousands of years had gradually swathed about them, there is no possibility of their getting back to a Chinese state of verbal homogeneousness. Such a state is incompatible with a high condition of development. A language of which no part has any fixed character must rank low among languages, just as among animals those which have no distinction of flesh, bone, sinew, or hair. Or, as in communities of men, division of labour, distinct vocations, and all the concomitant rigidity of individual habit, is necessary to advanced civilization.
There is no appearance of a tendency to fall back into a primitive state of language. The freedom which modern languages are asserting for themselves as against the restraints of flexion, may be carried out to its extremest issues, and no appearance would ever arise of a tendency backwards to a state of pulpy homogeneousness. For there is a movement from which there is no going back, a slow but incessant movement, which gradually creates a distinction among words greater and more deeply seated than that of the parts of speech. This is a movement in which all languages partake more or less, according to the vigour of intellectual life with which they are animated. This is a movement which rears barriers of distinction between one and another class of words as immoveable as the sea-wall which the sea itself has sometimes built to sever the pasture from the bed of the ocean. The explanation of this movement must occupy another chapter.