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In the following quotation we have sor in the two characters of conjunction and preposition:
For for these things every friend will depart.—Ecclus. xxii. 22.
In the sentence, ‘I will attend to no one before you,' before is a preposition. But if the same thing be thus worded, ‘I will attend to no one before I have attended to you,' before is a conjunction.
In the sentence, ‘He behaved like a scoundrel,' like is a preposition. But if we say it in provincial English, thus, “He behaved like a scoundrel would,” like is a conjunction.
221. While was once a noun, signifying time. Indeed it is so still, as a long while. But 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 in the combination such as it is rather a relative pronoun than a conjunction; and it bears distinctly its old 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.
In quoting a passage of this sort, I am liable I know to be challenged as if I had produced an arbitrary or unauthoritative illustration. But for me it is authority enough to know that this way of speaking is used by millions of speakers. And the present is a case in which the dialect supplies a link which the central language has lost. Herein lies the difference between a grammatical and a philological illustration, that the former requires literary authority, the latter only existence, as its warrant. 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 introduce this provincialism. Occasionally a strange expression is admitted, but the privilege of ushering it belongs chiefly to those lawful lords of literature, the poets. I am under the ordinary rules of grammar in my composition, but not in my illustrations. Why, indeed, the best facts of language often lie beyond these formal props that fence the park of literature | Therefore I trust that the benevolent reader will not cavil about authority, but gratefully acknowledge the help which the dialects supply towards a completer view of our language.
We will conclude this list of interchangeable functions by the remark that the interjection shares in this faculty of transformation. It may become a verb, as when we say “to pooh-pooh a question '; or a noun, as–
Many hems passed between them, now the uncle looking on the nephew, now the nephew on the uncle.—Sir Charles Grandison, Letter xvi. Or, as in the following from Cowper:
Where thou art gone,
222. 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,
Wisdom and wit are little seen,
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 parum, not enough. 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.
Winter's Tale, i. I. 28, vast (substantive).
2. 5o, verily.
2 Henry IV, i. 3. 37, indeed (verb).
Henry V, iv. 3. 63, gentle (verb).
5. 17, friend (verb).
223. 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 of substantive, verb, adjective, adverb, 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 flectional 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 flectional state of language, each word carries about with it a formal mark of distinction, by which the habitual vocation of that word is known. 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 flectional languages are not all equally flectional; this character has its degrees. The Greek is not so rigidly flectional as the Latin. But both of them are far more so than any of the languages of modern Europe. Of the great 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. This increases the freedom with which the language moves. We are recovering some of that long-lost and infantine elasticity which was the property of primitive speech. 224. 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, hair. Or, as in communities of men, division of labour, distinct vocations, and all the concomitant rigidity of individual habit, is necessary to advanced civilisation. 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.