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definition of a class necessarily fails to meet the instances that arise; consequently, easy cases alone are noticed, difficulties are slurred over, distinctions are confounded , in short, where explanation is most wanted, it is not forthcoming.
DEFINITION OF THE NOUN. The various forms of defining the Noun reduce themselves essentially to two ways of looking at it. One is founded on meaning, or the things or objects denoted by it; the other on its place or office in the sentence, regardless of what it may signify or express. The first I hold to be in principle erroneous; the second I consider the only right mode.
I. The form that we have been most accustomed to is this: ' A Noun is the name of any person, place, or thing. Slight amendments have been introduced as follows:- Nouns are the names of persons, places, animals, or things”; “the name of a person, place, or thing, or anything perceived or imagined'. A more recent form casts out the specification of person, place, &c.', and puts stress simply upon 'naming.' • The noun names '; 'is the name of something'.
All these ways of defining are open to the gravest objections.
(1.) If we take the commoner form, 'person, place, or thing', we discern a feeble and abortive attempt to classify the objects of human knowledge. 'Persons' afford a pretty distinct class ; so do ' places'; but what are we to make of * things'? This is the vaguest word in the language, and, before being employed in defining another word, should itself be defined. When used comprehensively in logical or metaphysical discussions, it includes places, and even persons. In the narrower popular signification, it would express mountains, seas, roads, towns, and many other significations encroaching upon places. It would hardly be applied to the feelings and qualities of the mind, such as conscience, love, virtue; and yet these are neither persons, nor places, nor animals.
The additional words ‘ anything perceived or imagined' would seem intended either to supplement the word 'things', or to explain and unfold its meaning, or perhaps both. In none of the suppositions is the amendment satisfactory. The words are so wide that they cover all the previous particulars, person, place, thing’; so that there is palpable redundancy. Further, the author of the definition would seem to have in view only the things of the outer world; for 'perceived’ is unsuitable to states of the mind; and imagined', as following on 'perceived', scarcely supplies the defect. There should have been the additional word 'felt”; “perceived, felt, or imagined',
(2.) Discarding the attempt to define by subdividing and classifying the meanings of the noun, we come to the much safer form, 'The Noun names.' In this expression there is truth, but not the exact truth in question. If the specific mark of the noun, distinguishing it from every other part of speech, be to name, then the other parts of speech do not name; they are not names. But if these are not names, what are they? Are the adjectives 'just,' old,' names of nothing? They certainly have some share in naming; if 'man' is a name, ‘just man’ is also a name, a compound or two-worded name.
Besides this, we know well that because a word names something, it is not necessarily a noun. •Give me water, that I may water the flowers.' Here 'water' is the name of something; so far as that goes it is a noun; but whoever understands the grammar of the sentence knows that, while the first 'water' is a noun, the second is a verb.
· Waste will cause want' contains four words, each one of which is is noun or verb (without change of meaning) according to the form of the sentence.
Those Grammarians that give, as the definition of the Verb, 'asserting', 'stating', or 'declaring something, could get out of the difficulty by saying that the noun names, but does not assert; an asserting word is not a noun. In ‘I water the flowers’, the word 'water' asserts what I do; it is here a verb, although more usually a noun.
But this con
sideration introduces us to the second, and the only allowable mode of defining the noun.
II. The form, “The noun names', may be regarded as a hesitating approach to the definition by function or office in the sentence. So also, the name of anything that we speak about'; this suggests but does not fully express that the noun is the Subject of the sentence. A still more curious example of the wavering definition is as follows:-A noun is the name of any person, place, thing, quality, or principle; or more generally, it is the name of whatever can be an object of contemplation or subject of discourse'. The first half is the old definition by meanings; the second half, given as being more general', is really a departure from the old method, and the adoption of the new, which, however, ought to stand alone, wholly excluding the other, instead of including it, or alternating with it.
According to Sir John Stoddart (art. ' Philosophy of Language,' Encyclopædia Metropolitana), “A word is called a Noun when in a simple sentence it serves merely to name a conception, and not to assert anything concerning it.' In reviewing the same work, Dean Mansel says, “The characteristic of a noun substantive, or of its substitute, the personal pronoun, is that it can be the subject of an assertion.' Among recent Grammarians, Dr. Latham takes the same view.
The recent addition to Grammar—The Analysis of Sentences-conducts directly to this way of regarding the
The Sentence is divided into subject and predicate; if a sentence has but two words —' earth trembled', -the subject word ' earth’ is a Noun, the predicate word “trembled' is a Verb. We come to this decision without considering what the words express; it is of no consequence whether the subject word represent a person, a place, or a thing in general; the fact that it stands as the subject of the sentence makes it (with some restrictions) a noun, and not a verb, an adjective, or an adverb.
It is truly remarked by Dean Mansel that the subject of the sentence may be also a Pronoun; so that in order to
define the noun, we must exclude the Pronoun. This is done by the second part of the Definition in the Grammar'The Noun is the name of the thing itself, while the Pronoun names by means of a reference.' There are various ways of expressing the restriction. Dr. Latham calls the Noun an invariable name', the Pronoun 'variable'. Another expression for the contrast is notional and relational, which roughly divides the Parts of Speech into Nouns, Adjectives, Verbs, and Adverbs, on the one hand, and Pronouns, Propositions, and Conjunctions, on the other. Mr. Earle uses the designations Presentive and Symbolic for what is in the main the same distinction.
It is not enough, however, to say that the Noun is the subject of a sentence. Equally characteristic is its use as the object of a transitive verb; and for this position, there is the same equivalent—the Pronoun. The noun occurs in other connexions; the most frequent being the Phrase made up of preposition and noun. But this is not a testing situation; to test the noun we must suppose it subject or object of a sentence, and see that it is not a pronoun.
But the separating of the Pronoun does not complete the definition of the Noun. There are cases where the subject of a sentence is neither Noun nor Pronoun: 'to rule gives dignity', 'serving may be our duty'. The expressions, 'to rule', 'serving', are called Infinitives; they are an offshoot of the verb, wherein it lays aside the predicating or asserting function, and takes on the form of the noun, so as to become the subject of the sentence. Before, therefore, pronouncing the subject of a sentence to be a Noun, we must first make sure that it is not an infinitive; and next ascertain that it is not a pronoun. The tests are given in the Grammar.
DEFINITION OF THE PRONOUN. Almost universally, grammarians define the Pronoun as "A substitute for the Noun'. The explanation is occasionally added, 'to save the too frequent repetition of Nouns'. Dr. Latham's definition is this : ‘A variable name capable of forming, by itself, either the subject or the predicate of
a Proposition’; and by ‘variable' he means that the pronoun may assume different meanings in different situations.
On this definition, I submit a few observations. When substituting' a noun is spoken of, we naturally ask, why should a noun have or need a substitute ? and we are informed that the repetition of nouns may become tedious or tiresome to the ear. We ask farther, is this the case with other parts of speech ? Are the Adjective, Verb, and Adverb likewise provided with substitutes when their repetition would tire us ?
But, in the next place, it is not true that Pronouns always stand as substitutes for nouns. They frequently take the place of infinitives and clauses ; the demonstratives it, this, that’, and the relative' which', are so used. The objection might doubtless be got over, by understanding a noun or its equivalents—the infinitive and the noun clause. More fatal is the difficulty caused by Interrogatives, which represent something as yet unknown. If we knew the subject referred to, we should prefer to name it by its own name; we use the interrogative to show that we wish to be informed of some person or thing that we are ignorant of.
Again, as regards Personal pronouns. 'I' expresses much more than a name would express; it signifies that the person so named is in the act of speaking to, or addressing, some other person or persons.
This is the fact intimated by the word 'I', and it is not intimated by the Proper Noun for the person. The same applies to 'they', or 'you'. When a speaker addresses a large audience he is wholly indifferent to their real names; it does not serve his
purpose to employ these. He regards the audience solely as for the time listening to him; and that fact is precisely expressed by 'you', and would not be expressed by their real names, even if he were to take the trouble to repeat these. There are synonyms for the pronouns in this capacity, as 'my hearers', 'my listeners', 'my friends'; but these are not the names of the individuals. A speaker in the first person sometimes, instead of 'I', says 'the humble individual now addressing you