S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
It is perhaps this humour of speaking no more than we needs must, which has so miserably curtailed some of our words, that in familiar writings and conversations they often lose all but their first syllables, as in mob., rep., pos., incog., and the like; and, as all ridiculous words make their first entry into a language by familiar phrases, I dare not answer for these, that they will not in time be looked upon as part of our tongue.
I have often wished, that as in our constitution there are several persons whose business it is to watch over our laws, our liberties, and commerce, certain men might be set apart as superintendents of our language, to hinder any words of a foreign coin from passing amongst us; and in particular to prohibit any French phrases from becoming current in this kingdom, when those of our own stamp are altogether as valuable. The present war has so adulterated our tongue with strange words, that it would be impossible for one of our great-grandfathers to know what his posterity have been doing, were he to read their exploits in a modern newspaper. Our warriors are very industrious in propagating the French language, at the same time that they are so gloriously successful in beating down their power.
If any one would judge of the beauties of poetry that are to be met with in the divine writings, and examine how kindly the Hebrew manners of speech mix and incorporate with the English language, after having perused the Book of Psalms let him read a literal translation of Horace or Pindar. He will find in these two last such an absurdity and confusion of style, with such a comparative poverty of imagination, as will make him very sensible of what I have been here advancing.
But this kind of writing, which seems to be reformed, which is, that writing should be consonant to speaking, is a branch of unprofitable subtleties; for pronunciation itself every day increases, and alters the fashion; and the derivation of words, especially from foreign languages, is utterly defaced and extinguished.
Our English tongue is, I will not say as sacred as the Hebrew, or as learned as the Greek, but as fluent as the Latin, as courteous as the Spanish, as courtlike as the French, and as amorous as the Italian.
The proprieties and delicacies of the English are known to few: tis impossible even for a good wit to understand and practise them without the help of a liberal education and long reading; in short, without wearing off the rust which he contracted while he was laying in a stock of learning.
The English language has a veritable power of expression such as, perhaps, never stood at the command of any other language of men. Its highly spiritual genius and wonderfully happy development and condition have been the result of a surprisingly intimate union of the two noblest languages in modern Europe, the Teutonic and the Romaic. It is well known in what relation these two stand to one another in the English tongue; the former supplying, in far larger proportion, the material groundwork; the latter, the spiritual conceptions. In truth, the English language, which by no mere accident has produced and upborne the greatest and most predominant poet of modern times, as distinguished from the ancient classical poetry (I can, of course, only mean Shakspeare), may, with all right, be called a world-language, and, like the English people, appears destined hereafter to prevail, with a sway more extensive even than its present, over all the portions of the globe. For in wealth, good sense, and closeness of structure no other of the languages at this day spoken deserves to be compared with it,not even our German, which is torn, even as we are torn, and must first rid itself of many defects before it can enter boldly into the lists as a competitor with the English.
The best and most agreeable way of learning the state of the English language as it existed during the latter part of the fourteenth century is to read John Wycliffes version of the New Testament, and Geoffrey Chaucers Canterbury Tales. In these works the two streams combine, though perhaps not in equal proportions; for the writings of Wycliffe, being designed for the people, contain a larger proportion of Saxon words; and those of Chaucer, composed for readers who were not unacquainted with the French metrical romances, include a number of terms used in romance and chivalry; and, as we have seen, most of these terms were Norman. It is to be regretted that more attention is not paid by English readers to Wycliffe and Chaucer.
From the authors which arose in the time of Elizabeth, a speech might be formed adequate to all the purposes of use and elegance. If the language of theology were extracted from Hooker and the translation of the Bible; the terms of natural knowledge from Bacon; the phrases of policy, war, and navigation from Raleigh; the dialect of poetry and fiction from Spenser and Sidney; and the diction of common life from Shakspeare, few ideas would be lost to mankind for want of English words in which they might be expressed.
Dr. Samuel Johnson: Preface to A Dictionary of the English Language.
The Anglo-Saxon, one of the most vigorous shoots of the great Germanic or Teutonic family, forms the main stem, which supports the branches and supplies them with strength and nourishment. But it has itself been ennobled and fertilized in the eleventh century by a Norman graft from sunny France. Hence the English language has received contributions from the noblest ancient and modern tongues, and is, for this very reason, better calculated than any other to become more and more the language of the world.
Philip Schaff, D.D.: Address on American Nationality, June 11, 1856, Chambersburg, 1856, p. 17.
Our mother-tongue, which truly of itself is both full enough for prose and stately enough for verse, hath long time been counted most bare and barren of both; which default when as some endeavoured to salve and cure, they patched up the holes with rags from other languages.
In English, instead of adjectiving our own nouns, we have borrowed, in immense numbers, adjectived signs from other languages, without borrowing the unadjectived signs of these ideas; because our authors found they had occasion for the former, but not for the latter.
What has been said in respect of much of our provincial Englishnamely, that it is old English, rather than bad Englishmay be affirmed, no doubt, with equal right in respect of many so-called Americanisms.
The manifest tendency of the language is, as it has long been, to rid itself of these [brazen, oaten, oaken, birchen, &c.], and to satisfy itself with an adjectival use of the substantive in their stead.
As simple ideas are opposed to complex, and single ideas to compound, so propositions are distinguished: the English tongue has some advantage above the learned languages, which have no usual word to distinguish single from simple.