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Many writers on the structure and history of English, in spite of the plain evidence to the contrary, have regarded our language as one that has sprung up, comparatively speaking, within a very recent period. Some have dared to carry it as far back as Chaucer's time, because he has usually been spoken of as “the well of English undefiled.” Others again, not so bold, have deemed it quite sufficient to date the rise of the English language from the time of the greatest of Elizabethan writers. By not regarding the earlier stages of our language as English, all the necessary helps to a rational treatment of its grammatical forms and idioms have been cast aside. The Saturday Review has, very rightly, raised its voice rather loudly against the absurdity of such a view, and has properly insisted upon the right of all periods to be designated as English,--the very oldest term for our language, and one that is identified with its earliest history and with the very best writers of all its periods, from Alfred the Great down to the
present time. This outcry against an absurd nomenclature has been productive of good results, as is seen in the growing tendency that manifests itself nowadays to study the older stages of English, for the sake of the light they throw upon its later and more modern periods ; and in very many of our public schools, the upper forms possess a very creditable acquaintance with some of our old English worthies, and are enabled by the knowledge they have thus acquired to get a satisfactory account of the peculiarities and anomalies of modern English.
The unsatisfactory state of most of our English Grammars is perhaps due to the limited knowledge of their writers,' and to their unwillingness to avail themselves of the help afforded by the remains of our early literature. English Grammar, without a reference to the older forms, must appear altogether anomalous, inconsistent, and, unintelligible. In Germany, the grammar of our language has been studied and treated scientifically, in the order of its historical development, by means of our early literature, and it has also been illustrated by the results of Comparative Philology. To the most recent of the German works on our language, that by Professor Koch - the most orderly and scientific Engiish grammar yet written-I have been greatly indebted in the compilation of the present volume, especially for the chapters on word
1 I do not include Dr. Latham's English Grammars among the works of the numerous grammar-mongers here alluded to.
formation and the Appendices I. and II. I have also
“The Science of Language,” and those of Professor
To my own shortcomings I am fully alive, as I know from my experience as a teacher how difficult it is in linguistic matters to make one's statements plain and simple as well as accurate ; I have, however, been more anxious to write a useful than a popular book, and for the convenience of English students I have sacrificed the scientific method of treating English adopted by Koch,
1 It is the plain duty of every Englishman who can in any way afford it, to support this Society, and the Chaucer Society.
to the more practical one followed by Mätzner in his "Englische Grammatik.” Koch commences with hypothetical primitive Teutonic speech (Grundsprache), and traces our language chronologically through all its stages up to its present form.
In Appendix II. the reader will find an abstract (with some few additions) of Koch's historical scheme of the “ Accidence,” exhibiting the chief inflexional forms of the English language in its earlier stages. I have added comparative Tables of Adverbs, Prepositions, Conjunctions, and Interjections, and can vouch for their correctness only so far as my own reading goes. The classification is Koch's.
KING'S COLLEGE, LONDON,