Immagini della pagina

in the Scottish breeks a cumulate plural, wherein the modern s is imposed upon the old strong plural; for in Saxon it was singular BrỘC plural BREC.

There was a group of neuters, forming one of Rask's declensions, which formed its plural nominative and accusative without inflection. Such were leaf, fing, wif, word, and many others, of which the plural was the same as the singular; not as now, leaves, things, wives, words. The feature has survived in two words, which are still of one form for singular and plural, viz. sheep and deer. To these might be added swine, only that it seems now to be accepted only as a plural, while sow and the upstart word pig, fill the office of the singular.

Those words which we have adopted from Latin or Greek in the singular nominative unaltered, have usually been pluralised according to Greek and Latin grammar. Thus the plural of phenomenon' is phenomena ; of oasis,' oases ; of terminus,termini ; offungus, fungi. But occasionally we see the plurals in English form, as when Dr. Badham entitles his book, not · Edible Fungi,' but Esculent Funguses, and uses this plural all through it, as

• No country is perhaps richer in esculent Funguses than our own ; we have upwards of thirty species abounding in our woods.'—(p. xiii.)

Some few of the nouns which we have admitted from Latin without alteration are not nouns in that language, and consequently have no Latin plurality. These we have pluralised with s, as items, interests.

On the subject of inflection there remains to be considered the formation of the feminine noun.

The ancient and native form of the noun feminine was in -en, as God, Deus; gyden, dea; wealh, servus; wylen, serva, ancilla ; Segen, minister; þynen, ministra.

But this form has been supplanted by a French substitute,

and so nearly extinguished that it is difficult to find an extant specimen to serve for an illustration. Beyond sporting circles, not one person in a thousand is aware that vixen is the feminine of fox. In general speech it is only known as a stigma for the character of a shrewish woman. Yet this is the history of vixen; and it is a very well preserved form, having enjoyed the shelter of a technical position. Not only is there the -en termination, but also the thinning of the masculine vowel, as in the Saxon examples above. So also in German fuchs, füchsinn.

Instead of this Saxon feminine, we now use the French termination -ess, as countess, duchess, empress, goddess, governess, laundress, marchioness, princess, sempstress!

Governess is not invariably applicable as the feminine of governor. There are considerations which override grammar, as our practice of common prayer witnesses. Yet I remember to have heard 'Queen and Governess' in church. But grammar has brought this class of cases under another rule which she has made, namely this, that the masculine gender is more worthy than the feminine. And on this ground it would have been quite admissible, majestatis causá, to have had founder in the following passage where we read foundress.


• The central plains of Australia, the untrodden jungles of Borneo, or the still vacant spaces in our maps of Africa, alone now on the globe's surface represent districts as unknown and mysterious as the north-east angle of Ireland in the reign of the great foundress of the modern British Empire.'— J. A. Froude, Reign of Elizabeth ; History, vol. x. p. 554.

Of this feminine form some are found in books which

no longer in use. Dr. Trench has produced from


Why the form sempstress is retained, in preference to the spelling seamstress, reformed on etymological principles, it will belong to the last chapter to explain.

s still

writers of the seventeeth century the following :-buildress, captainess, flatteress, intrudress, soveraintess.Some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries, p. 19.

The example of sempstress reminds us that there was a Saxon feminine termination estre, whereof a trace visible in that word between the root seam and the French termination -ess. This feminine is still extant in spinner, spinster.

But we cannot recognise the termination -ster as being, or as having been at some time past, a feminine formative in every instance. Not only does the present use of such old words as Baxter, huckster, maltster, songster, Webster, and the more recent oldster, youngster, roadster, make it hard to prove them all feminines, but even if we push our enquiries further back, we do not find the group clearly defined as such. There was in Anglo-Saxon bæcere and bæcistre, and yet Pharaoh's baker in Genesis xl. is bæcistre. Grimm has conjectured that these nouns in -estre are all that is left of an older pair of declensions, whereof one was masculine in estra, the other feminine in -estre. This would explain the attachment of masculine functions to some of the group, which was clearing itself for a special purpose. In Dutch these forms are exclusively feminine.

[ocr errors]

Concluding Observation.

If from this point we cast a look back over the verbs and substantives, we perceive a certain quietude in the former, and a corresponding energy in the latter. In making this remark I am naturally taking as my standard of comparison those languages with which the philological student is most likely to be equipped. The remark will hold good, as against the Latin language, still more so as against the

Greek, and most of all as against the Hebrew. In all of these languages, but especially in the latter, the mental activity of the nation is gathered up and concentrated in the verb. This is displayed by the immense superiority of the verb over the substantive in its attractive power of symphytism, and its expressive stores of variability. Time has been when this was partially true of our ancestral verb in the Gothic family. But it is no more so. It certainly is not so in our own insular branch. During the modern period, which dates from the fourteenth century, in which we have the movements of the language historically before us, it is equally remarkable on the one hand how little our verb has done to extend its compass, and on the other hand how much the substantive has done to increase its variability. The quotations of this section are a sufficient proof that some of the strongest lineaments of character in the English language are now and have long been finding their chosen seat of expression in our substantives.


The adjective, or word fit for attachment, is a word which presupposes a substantive, and is for this reason essentially relative and secondary. This inward nature of adjectives is beautifully expressed in Greek and Latin by the outward conformation of their physical aspect. Whereas the bulk of the Latin substantives are in -us, or -a, or -um, and the bulk of the Greek substantives are in -os, or -n, or -ov, their adjectives are, for the most part, not in some one, but in all three of the forms, as becomes those whose business it is to agree with their consorts in gender, number, and case.


They are furnished with a threefold power of modification, in consideration of their dependent, relative, and secondary nature. Such is the adjective as against the substantive. Both are presentive words; but the substantive is the primary, and the adjective is the secondary presentive word.

But what is the adjective as against the verb? It is plain that both of them are, as towards the substantive, secondary words. There is no verb without a subject; and that subject is a substantive. The verb and adjective alike have their very nature based upon the pre-supposition of the substantive. Therefore the verb and the adjective are both secondary words. And they differ only in the force and energy of their action. In the beginning of the last section verbs were compared to flame, while substantives were only inflammable stuff. We may fitly continue this metaphor, and say that adjectives are glowing embers. They not only give warmth, and tell of a flame that has been, but they also retain the power of future activity. If I say 'good man,' it is not asserted, but it is presented to thought that the man is good.' If I say "live dog,' it is contemplated as predicable, though not predicated, that the dog ' lives. And thus the adjective is nothing more nor less than a dormant verb—a verb in a state of quiescence. And by way of endeavouring to indicate the position which they both hold in the general economy of language, we will designate them as Secondary Presentives.

We will begin our catalogue of English adjectives with a sample of those whose history belongs to an elder stagethose which were already ancient at the opening of the present era of our language. Such are :--bare, bright, dear, fair, fresh, full, good, great, hard, high, late, lief, light, like, long, much, new, nigh, old, quick, rathe, ripe, short, sick, small, sooth, strong, sweet, swift, true, whole, worth, young.

« IndietroContinua »