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ON

LANGUAGE,

AND ON THE

ERRORS OF CLASS-BOOKS;

ADDRESSED TO THE

MEMBERS OF THE NEW YORK LYCEUM,

ALSO,

OBSERVATIONS

ON

COMMERCE,

ADDRESSED TO

THE MEMBERS OF THE MERCANTILE LIBRARY
ASSOCIATION, IN NEW YORK.

BY N. WEBSTER.

NEW HAVEN.

PRINTED BY S. BABCOCK.

1839.

301.9.2.

HAVING been requested by the Board of Directors of the NEW YORK LYCEUM, and by the Directors of the MERCANTILE LIBRARY ASSOCIATION in that city, to deliver one or more Lectures before those Institutions, the coming season, and not having it in my power to comply with these requests,—I have prepared the substance of what I should have delivered in Lectures, had I been able to comply with the request, and now present my remarks to them in a pamphlet.

The gentlemen will please to accept my acknowledgments for the respect they have shown me, and they may be assured of my best wishes for the prosperity of their institutions.

BUDI

N. WEBSTER,

HILLS

LLUMEA

OBSERVATIONS ON LANGUAGE.

LANGUAGE, in man, is, next to reason, the grand characteristic by which he is distinguished from the brutes. Its benefits are too obvious to require proof or elucidation. Its origin is buried in obscurity, although there is strong reason to believe it had its origin in divine communications. The structure of the human organs of speech, by which four or five different parts of the mouth and throat are made to utter voices and modulations of sound to an indefinite extent, is a most wonderful contrivance, indicating both the wisdom and the benevolent design of the Creator.

Without entering into the consideration of these subjects, I will proceed to state what has never been discovered, or, at least, never been explained,—the manner in which words have been formed, by additions or changes in the primary word; or how the significations of words have been varied to express derivative senses. A few examples only can be specified.

The most important observation here, preliminary to all others, is, that original words express physical action, or properties. No term in language, expressing a moral or abstract idea, is original. The principal word, in all known languages, is the verb; and it is a question not yet settled, whether all other words are not derived from verbs. The most of them are certainly thus derived.

Of the manner in which derived significations proceed from original words, take the following examples:

The word tid in our mother tongue, signifies time, season. In our present English it has not that signification, except in a few compound words; as in evening-tide, Whitsun-tide, Shrovetide. Tide now signifies the flowing and rising of the sea; and from this word we have tidings, tidy, and betide.

Now the question occurs, What connection can there be between time, or season, and tide, a flowing of the sea; or tidings, news; or tidy, neat? To determine these questions

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