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CHAPTER IV.: PROPERTIES DESIRABLE IN A LANGUAGE. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 8 (Chrestomathia, Essays on Logic and Grammar, Tracts on Poor Laws, Tracts on Spanish Affairs) 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). In 11 vols. Volume 8.
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PROPERTIES DESIRABLE IN A LANGUAGE.
Division and Enumeration of Desirable Properties.
Of what use (it may be asked) is this topic language and languages, each particular language, and the aggregate mass of signs composed of all languages put together, are everywhere what they are. Every man must take them as he finds them. By no man, be his own language in particular, be all languages in general, ever so ill adapted to the ends of language, say, in one word, ever so bad, can any of them be made better than it is.
To a considerable extent these observations will be found no less just than obvious, not but that some points, however, will, it is supposed, be seen, in relation to which observations may be brought to view, such as will be found not altogether unproductive of, or incapable of being applied to, practical use.
1. Occasions are not altogether unexampled in which a man has the choice of the language he will make use of. On such occasions, if any doubt should arise which of them to employ, he will be able to satisfy himself which of them, on the occasion in question, is best adapted to his purpose.
2. Be the language, in the use of which he has been principally bred,—be, in a word, his native language, what it may, it may be of use to him to be apprized in what degree the qualities desirable in language are possessed by it. Why? That in respect to them he may employ it to the most advantage,—that he may, on every occasion, be able to endue his language with these several desirable properties, and that in the proportions which, on the occasion in question, are best adapted to use.
3. Wild as at first mention the notion may appear, upon the list of these qualities articles may be brought to view, in relation to which improvement may be seen to be a result, the contributing to which, in one way or other, is not altogether out of the reach of individual hands. In so far as, in the instance of this or that nation, the language in universal use shall have been recognised as labouring in a greater or lesser degree under this or that imperfection correspondent and opposite to any one or more of these desirable properties, it may be seen whether in any, and what degree, that imperfection may be susceptible of a remedy, and in what ways and degrees it may be in the power of any individual to contribute to the application of such remedy.
In a certain sense every man has power over his own style; at any rate, whatsoever be the language which he employs, his style is such as he has made it.
A language is the aggregate of the significant signs employed by all the several individuals that use that language.
To know what are the properties desirable in a language is, therefore, to know the properties desirable in the sum of the discourses used by all those several individuals on all the different purposes and occasions taken together, for and on which they can have need to use the language.
Some properties will be alike desirable, or, at any rate, desirable to all purposes and on all occasions without distinction; for other properties the demand applies not to all purposes and occasions without distinction, but principally and exclusively to certain purposes and occasions.
These properties are distinguishable into three different classes, viz. 1. The information-regarding; 2. The nation-regarding; 3. The purpose-regarding.
I. The information-regarding; i. e. properties desirable for the communication of the information, for which language is employed; that is to say, whatsoever be the language by means of which it is endeavoured to convey it, the persons by whom, the persons to whom, the occasions on which, and the purposes for which, it is endeavoured to be conveyed.
II. The nation-regarding class of properties, or,—properties desirable in a language in comparison with other languages,—meaning here, by a language, and the language, the aggregate composed of all the words habitually employed by a certain aggregate of persons, in whose instance this habit of employing the same aggregate of words for all purposes of social intercourse, causes them to be spoken of as having the same language.
III. The purpose-regarding class, i. e. properties desirable, this or that one of them, or this or that other of them, in the language, or say, discourse, employed according to the occasion on which, and purpose for which, it is employed.
1. Impressiveness, as opposed to feebleness.
3. Patheticalness, or say, aptitude for exciting tender emotions.
If the above qualities be termed desirable properties of the first order, those properties which are conducive to the investing a language with this or that property of the first order, may be termed desirable properties of the second order.
Subservient, or, say conducive, to the primary properties of discibility and docibility, are,—
1. Giving expression by means of a small as effectually as by means of a larger number of inflections to the idea in question.
2. Facility of admitting the junction of two or more words into one.
Considered as applied to language in general, that is, to every language without distinction, every one of these qualities is liable to have place in different degrees. Not, perhaps, in any one existing language is every one of these qualities possessed in a degree equal to the highest in which it could be conceived to be possessed of them respectively; at the same time, not, perhaps, in the instance of any one of them can it be said, with correctness, that there is any one of these qualities which is not, in any degree, to be found applicable to it.
With equal right, two distinguishable, though nearly related qualities may claim to be represented by this word, viz. exemption from ambiguity, and exemption from obscurity, both of them negative ones.
1. The case in which ambiguity has place, is where, after the discourse has presented itself to, and has been received by, sense, two distinguishable acceptations have presented themselves to the mind,—two distinguishable, and accordingly distinguished imports, between which the judgment hesitates, unable to determine which of the two it was that was intended should be presented and received.
By the strict and original import of the word ambiguity, the number of these imports is confined to two,—but in its application this explanation may be extended to any greater number of imports, so as they be determinate. In practice it is seldom between more than two that the mind will have to hesitate.
2. The case in which obscurity has place, is where, after the discourse has been received by sense, the mind, for a greater or less length of time, finds itself unable to fix upon any determinate import, as having been intended to be conveyed; and if, after continuing for a greater or less length of time, the endeavour is given up as hopeless, the obscurity of the discourse becomes, with relation to the individual in question, viz. the individual by whom it is thus taken in hand, converted for a time, at least, into unintelligibility.
Obscurity, so long as it lasts, may be considered as the superlative or highest point of ambiguity; ambiguity having place to the widest extent. It is not, as in the case of ambiguity in its stricter sense, between two, or some other small number of imports, and these determinate ones, that the mind hesitates, but between all, or rather among all, imaginable ones.
The greater the number is of the words that are employed in the expression of a given import, the less clear is the discourse which they compose. Take an entire paragraph, take any one of the sentences of which it is composed,—to whatsoever purpose the mass of discourse in question is considered as a whole, till the last word has been heard or read, and understood, obscurity, of a shade more or less deep, covers every part of it. Such being the case, the sooner the mind has gone over the whole, the sooner this obscurity is dispelled, and the less there is of it, the sooner it is gone through with.
The conciseness of an expression is inversely as the number of words employed in the conveyance of the idea intended to be conveyed by it.
The uses of this property are,—
I. When the signs employed are of the impermanent kind, such as words spoken,—saving in the article of time, of time employed in utterance and reception,—in speaking and hearing.
II. When they are of the permanent kind, 1, saving in the article of time employed in reading; 2, saving in the expense of giving birth and preservation to these same permanent signs; in the expense of the substraction and colouring matter for writing, printing, and engraving, or the like.
III. To a certain degree conciseness, as above expressed, is contributory to clearness; that is to say, the want of it is contributory to the absence of, or is opposite to, clearness,—is contributory, at any rate, to obscurity, and it may be to ambiguity.
IV. Conciseness is, in many instances, contributory to impressiveness.
V. To apprehensibility.
VI. To retainableness,—thus Horace,
Two branches of art and science, or say, two subject matters of knowledge there are, in its application to which, the usefulness and importance of conciseness is prodigious. These are, 1, Law; 2, Posology or (to employ the word which, unexpressive as it is, is the only one as yet in use) mathematics;—yet prodigious as is this importance, scarcely has it been taken for the subject of observation; and indeed as applied to posology, namely to the arithmetical branch of it, it seems to have hitherto altogether escaped notice.
Of the wonders performed by the means of algebra, abbreviation has been one main, not to say the principal, instrument. Abbreviation productive of conciseness,—the act of giving, in a degree more or less considerable, to the discourse in question, the property of conciseness.
That compressedness is of use not only immediately, and on its own account, but mediately and in the character of an instrument of clearness, has been already intimated;—in what way it is so, may now have been observed.
Facility of Utterance, or say Pronunciability.
Though in the field of causality intimately connected with melodiousness, this quality is in its nature, and thence in idea, sufficiently distinguishable from it. In proportion as, to produce it requires effort on the part of the speaker, and on that occasion effort is accordingly employed, the fact of its being employed naturally becomes perceptible, and the existence of it is actually perceived; and in proportion as in the bosom of the speaker uneasiness is, or by the hearer is supposed to have place, by the force of sympathy, the like effect is, in his own bosom, apt to take place.
That in the formation of language in general, melodiousness and facility of utterance, taken together, have actually, in the character of ends, been generally aimed at, is a matter of fact that may be stated as perceptible in the history of some languages, and it is supposed in a degree more or less considerable in the history of every language.
In every known language, in so far as it is known, changes in structure are observable; and in every instance these changes appear to have had for their cause, a general endeavour towards the giving to the instrument of discourse these agreeable qualities in a continually increasing degree.
Of Melodiousness, or say Harmoniousness.
By each of these terms is meant the property of producing, through the medium of the ear, a sensation of an agreeable cast in the mind.
Applied to different species of discourse, i. e. to discourse considered as employed for different purposes, melodiousness or harmoniousness,* whichsoever be the term, presents two ideas somewhat different, though differing rather in degree than in any other particular. In this point of view the opposite ends of the scale may be designated by the terms positive and negative. A sort of medium being assumed—any point being taken at pleasure, as and for the middle point,—positive melodiousness has place when the degree of that quality is considered as being above that middle point, negative melodiousness, when the situation of the degree in question is considered as being below that point.
In the discourse in question, what degree of this quality is required depends upon the nature of the discourse, i. e. upon the purpose and the occasion on which the discourse is employed.
1. In the case of poetry, in so far as rhythm, i. e. the succession of measured sounds, is considered as entering into the composition of it, melodiousness, on the positive side of the scale, is universally understood as essential and indispensable; in the case of the art and labour of the composer, one great object is the securing the undiscontinued existence of it.
2. In the case of that sort of poetry in which rhythm is not employed, and of which the agreeableness is understood to depend on the intercourse between the imagination of the author and the imagination of the reader, melodiousness, in the positive degree, is not of the essence of the discourse; but the quantum of the pleasure produced cannot but be more or less dependent on the degree in which this quality has been conferred on it; and, at any rate, by any positive degree of the opposite quality—unmelodiousness or unharmoniousness—the design cannot but be proportionally counteracted.
3. In the case of public speaking—of a speech delivered to or before a public assembly—though the melody or harmony is of a different cast from what it is of, in the case of vocal music, or even that of poetry, metrical or unmetrical; and though positive harmoniousness enter not here, as there, into the very essence of the purpose, yet to that purpose, as universally acknowledged, of this quality, in so far as obtainable, an extraordinary share, is, in proportion to the degree of it, conducive; and, at any rate, by any such deficiency as leaves the degree below the middle point, the purpose cannot but be, in a proportionate degree, counteracted.
4. In a word, there is not perhaps that imaginable occasion on which, by the degree of harmoniousness or unharmoniousness appertaining to the discourse, its efficiency, with relation to the design of it, be that design what it may, may not in some degree be influenced.
This connexion, viz. between the efficiency of a discourse and the harmoniousness of it, when indicated, howsoever clear and indisputable, is in no small degree apt to be unobserved.
Speaking of the admiration universally bestowed upon Shakspeare, it is to the harmony of his numbers as much as, if not more than, to any other feature of excellence in the works of that author, that Mrs Montague attributes the effect.* When this observation first made its appearance, the character of originality was, it is believed, very generally attributed to it; at any rate, the quality in question presented itself to the author of these pages in that same character, and the observation as one which, though, when once presented, the justice of it was felt, had not till then presented itself to his mind.
Of Ornability or Decorability.
Whatsoever be the import intended to be conveyed, by the mere conveyance of that import alone, nothing which can with propriety be termed ornament, (unless it be in so far as harmoniousness, and those other intrinsic qualities are considered in that light,) can be given to the discourse by which that import is endeavoured to be conveyed.
Saving the above exceptions, whatsoever therefore of ornament can be given to a discourse, will be given by the conveyance of some ideas which are not essential to the main or direct purpose, in addition to those which are essential to it. Of some ideas, not essential to the main purpose, will the matter of ornament be composed.
Of that matter of ornament, the exhibition and conveyance may be performed either by and with, or even without, addition to the number of the words which, if nothing in the way of ornament were conveyed, or intended to be conveyed, would have been employed.
In what manner matter of ornament, as expressed by additional words designed for that purpose, may be added to discourse, is a topic that belongs not to the design of this work. According to the general nature of the end proposed by the discourse, it belongs to the head of Rhetoric or Poetry.
The case which alone belongs in any way to the present design, is that in which, in and for the conveyance of the ornament, no greater number of words is employed than would or might have been employed, had no such design been entertained, nor any such effect been produced.
Under the present head, one very general observation may have its use.
This is,—that so long as no addition is made to the number of the words that would otherwise have been employed, the addition of any ideas, the effect of which is not in some particular and assignable way of a positively displeasing nature, the effect of which is not to produce uneasiness in some positive and assignable shape, will operate as ornament, and have the effect of producing, i. e. at any rate a tendency to produce, pleasure.
Of this pleasure the cause has been already brought to view. Among the qualities desirable in language, that of compressedness has in its place been brought to view. Communication of ideas being the benefit which it is the nature and design of discourse to confer, and the time and labour employed (on the one hand in the utterance, on the other hand in the hearing or reading, and, in both cases, in the considering the discourse) not being increased, the consequence is, that the price remaining the same, whatsoever ideas can, without any addition to that price, be imparted and received, are, with relation to the mind of the receiver, so much clear gain.
The mind is thus led to the subject of association—of the associations that have place among ideas.
1. What are the sorts of ideas which, in the character of main or principal ideas, are wont to have others associated with them in the character of accessory ones?
2. What are the ideas which, in the character of accessory ones, are respectively wont to be associated with these principal ones?
3. In what cases association is wont to be productive of an immediately pleasant or otherwise beneficial effect.
4. In what cases, if any, of a pernicious effect?
5. By what means any unpleasant, or in any other way pernicious effect, produced or producible by such association, may be put an end to or prevented?
Of Impressiveness or Force.
By the word impressiveness is meant to be brought to view the degree in which, so far as depends upon the general structure of it,—and not upon any particular talent of the individual by whom, on the occasion in question, it happens to be employed, nor yet upon the particular purpose for which, on that occasion, it is employed,—the nature of the language in question affords, on the occasion in question, be it what it may, and, with relation to the purpose in question, be it what it may, the means and probability of accomplishing that purpose.
In the nature of the purpose may be seen a circumstance, on which the form in which this quality presents itself cannot but be more or less dependent.
The time at which the purpose is designed to be accomplished, what is it with reference to the time at which the discourse is uttered? Is it present or future? If future, more or less near or remote? The faculty proposed to be operated upon, what is it?—the intellectual alone, or the volitional also? And if the volitional, by what means?—by the affections in a temperate state, or by the affections operating in a warm or in an inflamed state? In a word, by the passions? On the modifications brought to view by these questions, will depend, in some measure, not only the degree, but the mode, of the sort of impressiveness best adapted to the nature of the purpose.
In so far as time future, is the time at which the purpose is to be accomplished, and the portion in question of that time is remote, the memory is the subject on which the impression requires to be made; and thus far, as applied to a portion of discourse, impressiveness coincides with fitness for being held in remembrance.
If it be on the passions that the impression is proposed to be made, the present will be the portion of time, more particularly looked to for making it.
Be the purpose what it may, of which of these sorts it may, how it is that the strength, and thence the depth of the impression is influenced by the structure of the language, is an inquiry that will call for consideration as we advance.*
At present, all that seems suited to this place is,—that in most cases impressiveness depends upon, or is promoted by, clearness, in so far as clearness stands opposed to ambiguity, and likewise, in all cases, by compressedness.
By dignity, is here to be understood, that quality or character in a man’s style, which is the result of its being such as to convey to the hearer or reader the idea of self-possession on the part of the speaker or writer; the idea of his having acquired a mastery over the subject which he has taken in hand, whatsoever it be, or at the least, of his having settled and arranged his thoughts concerning it.
This quality may be termed a secondary one, as being a quality, which is, as it were, a collateral result, produced without any separate and additional causes, by virtue of some of those which are requisite for securing to the style the qualities of clearness and impressiveness.
Of strength of mind on the part of the speaker or writer, dignity of style is a natural consequence, and by that means a sign.
The signs of strength of mind are exhibited in a man’s style in greater or less perfection, in proportion as it is clear of certain marks, which may be considered as symptoms of weakness.
Under one or other of two denominations, viz. 1. laxity; and, 2. fumbling; the principal symptoms of weakness may, it is believed, be found comprehended.
1.Laxity.—In what improprieties in the choice and arrangement of words ambiguity and obscurity take their rise, have been shown in the several preceding sections. But, as it is with the several other imperfections, which stand opposed to the several qualities desirable in language, so is it with these,—no man, who, with equal facility, could exclude them from his discourse, would leave the marks of them to appear in it and deface it. In proportion, therefore, to the degree in which it is seen to be defaced by these imperfections, is the degree of weakness under which his mind is seen to labour.
In the constitution of the mind, ambiguity and obscurity of style are symptoms of laxity and weakness; clearness and impressiveness are signs of strength.
2.Fumbling.—This is the natural result, and by that means a symptom of want of preparation.
When the field which a man has to travel over is new to him, he finds himself under the necessity of picking up as he goes the opinions which he sees reason to deliver, and the expressions which, in the delivering of them, he employs. The consequence is, that no sooner has he pitched upon one opinion, and clothed it in such expressions as at the moment have presented themselves, than he finds that, in some way or other, they are deficient in respect of correctness or completeness. Hence come clause after clause, having for their objects the producing the effects of ampliation, restriction, or modification, or, in one word, amendment.
Besides, and again, and this too, and moreover, it is by words of this sort that the symptom of weakness, here called fumbling, is betrayed.
In some cases, the seat of this disease may be found in single terms; in other cases, the whole proposition, or the whole paragraph, or in a word the whole argument, must be examined before the nature of the disease becomes apparent, and thence before the proper mode of cure can be ascertained.
Instances of fumbling, as perceptible in the character of single terms, are,—species of things picked up on the spot, and brought to view, one after another, in the order in which they have happened to present themselves. If a correct and comprehensive view of the subject had been taken, some generic term, in the import of which, the import of all these several specific terms, or at least of such of them as belonged properly to the occasion, would have been included, would have been employed. By this means, a number of repetitions, equal to the whole number of these specific terms, minus one, would have been spared; and if, for greater clearness, it had been deemed advisable to present separately to view the idea designated by these specific terms, or any of them, for producing that effect, so many single words, with the requisite small assortment of connectives for stringing them together, might have sufficed; and instead of being weakened by correction after correction, the first impression would, by so many exemplifications, illustrations, and corroberations, have been rendered stronger and stronger.
Proportioned to the difficulty of adequate preparation, is the degree in which want of preparation is apt to be unavoidable, and thence where it betrays itself, the degree in which it appears excusable. And conversely.—Proportioned to the facility of adequate preparation, is the degree in which evident want of preparation as evidenced by its symptoms, viz. laxity and fumbling is apt to render itself offensive and discreditable.
In every spoken discourse, in general, want of adequate preparation, is much more apt to be unavoidable than in any written discourse. In a spoken discourse, laxity and fumbling are accordingly more excusable and less offensive than in a written discourse.
Mutual Relation of the Properties Desirable and Undesirable in Language.
I. Clearness, conciseness, and correctness; with their opposites, obscurity, ambiguity, &c.,—their relation.
While obscurity lasts, the signs employed call up no idea signified.
While indistinctness lasts, the sign presents, along with the idea intended to be presented and conveyed, another idea, between which two the boundaries are not defined and ascertained.
While ambiguity lasts, the sign presents, along with the idea intended to be presented and conveyed, another idea which is not intended to be presented and conveyed, but between which and the idea intended to be conveyed, the boundaries are sufficiently definite and ascertained.
When incorrectness has place, instead of the idea intended to be presented and conveyed, is presented and conveyed an idea which was not intended to be presented and conveyed.
When, and in so far as non-completeness has place, either an idea or ideas which were designed to have place, or an idea or ideas in regard to which it is desirable that they should take place fail to take place.
Thus it is that comprehensiveness has two senses—a negative and a positive sense, according as the standard of reference is an idea which already has place in the mind of some person or persons, or an idea which, till the discourse in question was uttered, or at least framed, never yet had place; in the first case, the imperfection has place,* and non-comprehensiveness is the name; in the other case perfection has place, and comprehensiveness is the name of that perfection.
In so far as non-conciseness, or say non-compressedness, or say verbosity, has place, utterance is given to signs other than those by which the idea intended to be conveyed might have been expressed, though perhaps in a manner not quite so free from obscurity, ambiguity, and indistinctness, or say indeterminateness.
Compactness supposes ideas more than one: perhaps propositions more than one: opposite to compactness is non-compactness, or say perhaps desultoriness.
In so far as desultoriness, or say non-compactness has place, the propositions or portions of discourse, instead of being placed in contiguity, are placed at a distance, more or less great, from one another, other ideas, one or more, being placed between them.
Between the two desirable qualities of clearness and conciseness there is a perpetual repugnancy, a perpetual competition,—taking each of them at its maximum, even an absolute incompatibility.
Between clearness and conciseness, considered with reference to the same sentence, there exists the same sort of incompatibility as between conciseness considered as a quality of each particular sentence, and conciseness considered as a quality of the whole discourse of which that and the other sentences are component members.
II. Copiousness, Conciseness, Tractibility—their relation.
Of language, the use, and the sole use, being the communication of ideas, in proportion to its copiousness will be the usefulness, and in so far the excellence of every language.
But be the particular language what it will, at no one point of time will it contain within itself a stock of words, such as, without prejudice to the perfection of all these other desirable properties, shall be capable of giving expression to all the ideas for the expression of which a demand is capable of having place at a succeeding point of time. Hence in the property of copiousness, if considered as a constantly existing property or quality, the idea of tractibility is necessarily included.
Opposite to copiousness is poverty or scantiness. Scantiness may be distinguished into absolute and relative. Absolute is that which has place in so far as for the proposition for which a man has occasion to find expression, no expression can be found by any means; relative, where such expression may indeed be found, but not without prejudice to conciseness, to wit, by the employing, instead of a single-worded term, in the form of a noun-substantive, either a definition or a description, more or less loose and diffuse.
In so far as in language, copiousness is a perfection, scantiness cannot but be an imperfection.
Copiousness may be distinguished into useful or serviceable, and useless or unserviceable.
In respect of any given words, copiousness is serviceable, in so far as to the idea or proposition in question, without the employing of that word, expression either cannot be given at all, or not without preponderant prejudice to this or that other one of the properties desirable in language; unserviceable in so far as without preponderant prejudice to this or that property desirable in language, expression may be given to the idea or proposition in question without the employing of that word.
Scantiness and useless copiousness, i. e. redundancy, are properties very capable of co-existing in conjunction with one another in the same language.
In the vocabularies of the several arts, liberal and manual, in addition to such as are serviceable, others which, according to the explanation above given to the word, may, with strict propriety, be termed unserviceable, will, in almost every instance, to an amount more or less considerable, be found.
III. Copiousness and simplicity, their relation.
1. As to copiousness. This is a quality of a positive aspect, and presents itself as the principal one. The main use and purpose of language is to express thought, by the amount of all useful thought for which it is incapable of affording an adequate expression, therefore, any language cannot but be imperfect and inadequate.
This observation will be apt to appear so extremely obvious, that all mention of it may seem superfluous. A prejudice, however, is to be found established, and that in no small force, the harbouring of which is irreconcileable with the acknowledgement of this quality in the character of a desirable one. The word in and by which this prejudice is wont to find utterance is purity.
2. Simplicity. In this quality may be seen, as it were, the antagonist of copiousness; a language is copious, in so far as it is provided, furnished, replete, with useful matter: it is simple, in so far as it is unencumbered with matter which, being useless, is at best superfluous.
To this purpose, the words of which language is composed may be considered, 1. Singly but entire; 2. Aggregately as put together in the composition of a sentence: 3. Fractionally, i. e. each of them in respect of its component parts. By useless combinations, by words altogether useless; or, lastly, by useless modifications of words, may the simplicity of a language be destroyed.*
But allowing to the quality opposite to the one here in question the character of an imperfection, in what way, it may be asked, is it attended with any practical inconvenience, in a word, with positive uneasiness, or with loss of positive enjoyment?
I answer in this way—Whether it be his own native language, or a language which, with reference to him, is a foreign one, of no part of any language can the use be obtained by a man without labour; and in so far as it is consumed either in the learning or the employing of words or phrases that are without use, in so far is a man’s labour devoid of use.†
Comparative Importance of these several Desirable Qualities.
Such as above, is that which, in the character of a complete, as well as correct one, has presented itself as a list of the several qualities desirable in language.
Good,—it may be said,—desirable; but in what degree, as compared with one another? All in equal degree, or in different degrees?
Answer,—different and widely distant in the scale of importance will these several qualities, it is believed, upon comparison with each other, be found.
Copiousness and clearness, viz. clearness from ambiguity and obscurity,—compared with all the several others, these two qualities present themselves as seated upon a lofty eminence.
1. On the highest point stands copiousness. It is only in proportion as it is copious that a language contributes anything to its end:—to any of the modifications of which the universal end, wellbeing, is susceptible. Reduce its copiousness, and in proportion as you reduce it, the height of the place occupied by man, in the scale of being, is reduced from that of a member of the best governed and mannered community, down to that of a barbarian, of a savage, of a beast.
2. Next in the order of importance, and at no great distance, comes clearness;—clearness, from the two kindred imperfections of ambiguity and obscurity.
This, however, is but as it were a sort of negative quality consisting in the absence of two peculiar imperfections, each of them diminishing, as far as it goes, the benefits attached to copiousness.
3. Upon a yet lower level, presents itself the quality of impressiveness,—at any rate if considered by itself, viz. as having place no otherwise than in a case in which, in respect of the article of clearness, no deficiency has place.
A circumstance by which, in so far as importance corresponds with utility, the importance of this quality, viz. impressiveness, may, it should seem, be found to experience no inconsiderable reduction, is its liability to be rendered subservient to pernicious purposes in a degree superior to that in which it is likely to be rendered subservient to purposes of a beneficial character;—the greater the intensity of passion, the greater its aptitude to be productive of pernicious consequences, and in the case of a discourse, the object or tendency of which is to operate upon the passions, the greater the degree of its impressiveness, the greater the degree of efficiency with which it is likely to operate upon the passions;—the greater the degree of intensity of the passion which it is the nature and tendency of it to excite.
4. and 5. Simplicity and compressedness,—lower still is the level on which these two qualities present themselves.
Of their utility, that part which is original and intrinsic, and which consists of the saving in time and labour, is comparatively inconsiderable.
The principal part consists of that secondary and derivative utility which is composed of, and increased by, their subserviency to the two qualities of primary and intrinsic utility, viz. clearness and impressiveness.
6. and 7. Lowest of all stand the two kindred qualities so nearly allied to purely physical ones, viz. melodiousness and facility of utterance.
Melodiousness,—still more the absence of the opposite quality, may, in some measure, be considered as subservient to impressiveness, but for this connexion it might perhaps be regarded in no higher character than that of a foreign and accidental ornament, not connected with any of the important ends and uses of language, and not having application to it, but in two portions of its field, viz. oratory and poetry.
Even as between these two, viz. melodiousness and facility of utterance,—facility of utterance presents itself as standing on one account, in so far as it has place, in an uncombined state, manifestly and considerably below melodiousness. By excellence in respect of melodiousness, other persons besides the speaker or writer,—other persons to the number of which, in the case of the writer, there are not any limits, and in the case of the speaker none but such as are not narrow ones, are gratified,—by deficiency in that same respect, proportionably more or less displeased;—by facility of utterance, in so far as it is separable, and exists separate from melodiousness, one individual alone, viz. the author, is affected, and he only in so far as the discourse being composed of signs of the audible kind, it comes accordingly to be made audible.
Of the Qualities desirable in Style, i. e. in Language, considered as employed by this or that Individual.
1. Simplicity. 2. Compressedness. 3. Clearness. 4. Impressiveness; and 5. Harmoniousness.—Among the several distinguishable qualities which presented themselves as desirable in language in general, in the whole structure of every language, by whatsoever hands employed, these five presented themselves; to the case of this or that individual, considered as taking in hand this or that language in particular, and applying it to his own purpose, whatsoever be that purpose, these same five qualities will, it is believed, be found alike applicable, and with equal propriety and advantage.
Of the several qualities desirable in the case of language in general, considered without reference to an individual employer of the instrument, there are two others, viz. copiousness, and facility of utterance or say pronunciability, which are not thus applicable.
1. Of these, copiousness seems scarcely to have any application to the case of an individual speaker or writer. In his case copiousness bears reference to the occasion and the subject. Occasions are not wanting with reference to which a sufficient degree of copiousness may be exhibited in the compass of a single word.* In so far as the language which he employs fails of being adapted, adequately adapted, to the subject, the most consummate writer or speaker will not be able to give to his style the quality of copiousness. In the native language of New South Wales, the most consummate master of the language of that country would not be able to deliver an intelligible argument in the English court of Common Pleas, in an action of Replevin, or on what is called a point of Practice.
2. Pronunciability, or Facility of Utterance.—In this we have seen another quality, the applicability of which will be found to be confined to the case of a whole language, in contradistinction to that of an individual considered as making use of it.
In so far as the language in which he expresses himself affords a choice, it will naturally be, especially in this experienced and polished age, among the cares of every well educated man, especially of the poet and the public speaker, to put aside rather than look out for any of those difficultly pronounceable sounds, which the usage of early times happens to have introduced into the language, and that of intervening times to have left in it.
But if, throughout its whole texture, the language abound in sounds of difficult utterance, the utmost possible skill on the part of him by whom it is employed, may be insufficient to give utterance to a discourse of considerable length without suffering uneasiness, and, in his intonation and deportment, exhibiting sensible marks of such his sufferance.
Without much toil to himself, a statesman of the Hottentot country might perhaps, for a considerable time, continue to display his eloquence; but to an European hearer, the idea of continual difficulty, and considerable uneasiness, would all the while present itself.*
One quality there is which will be seen to depend on the individual alone:—on the use made by him of the language, whatsoever it may be. For the designation of this quality no appellative more apt has been found than the word dignity.
By the word dignity, no such meaning is here intended to be expressed as that which is conveyed by the word pomposity.
With or without dignity, pomposity is a quality that may be given to a man’s style by inappropriate choice of words taken singly,—by words selected for the purpose of impressing on the imagination the ideas of grandeur, sublimity, and importance, commonly at the expense of clearness,—words calculated to gratify the ear, with pleasure produced by appropriate melody and harmony.
The quality for the expression of which the word dignity is here employed, will be found to depend,—not upon the choice of terms taken singly, but principally or exclusively upon collocation,—and that not so much upon the collocation of words taken singly, as upon the collocation of whole sentences, and their component clauses or members.
[* ] In the word harmoniousness may be seen a source of ambiguity, from which the word melodiousness is free; applied to the aggregates of musical sounds, harmony has, in contradistinction to melody, been in these modern times applied to the case in which sounds more than one are purposely produced simultaneously; and this for the express purpose of distinguishing the case from that of melody, in which the like sounds are not considered otherwise than exhibiting themselves in succession.
On the other hand, the word melodiousness, if employed on the occasion here in question, viz. sounds considered as the vehicles of thought and as the instruments of converse, seems exposed to an objection from which the word harmoniousness when applied to the same subject is free; by the word melody, the case where the sounds employed are standing with reference to each other in the relation that belongs to the sounds called musical, is brought to view; a sort of relation, in which, except with reference to each other in the particular case of their being, as the phrase is, set to music, the sounds employed as instruments of discourse do not stand to each other.
Moreover, in this case, in further justification of the use of the word harmony, an observation that may be made, is, that in its original acceptation ἁϱμονια, the Greek word, of which the English word harmony is a copy, means neither more nor less than adaptation, and whether on the occasion of the pleasure derived from a number of sounds, the pleasure derived from simultaneity be or be not added to the pleasure produced by succession, adaptation has equal place,—it is upon adaptation that the production of the agreeable effect depends.
[* ] Essay on Shakspeare.
[* ] See chap. v. sect. viii.
[* ] Viz., If the discourse do not embrace the idea which is made the standard of reference?—Ed.
[* ] In the MS. there is here the following N. B.—Add examples.—1. Terms without use, in many instances technical professional terms,—diversity of names for the same kind of act. 2. Superfluous inflections; example in Greek names and verbs. Cases, moods, and tenses, expressed by different terminations in different dialects. The dual a useless number. 3. Quere as to useless combinations of words.
In the English, by the separate auxiliary words by which the modifications included in the aggregate of connected words, called by grammarians the verb, are expressed, are, with great advantage, performed those functions, in the performance of which, terminations in prodigious number and variety are employed in the more inflected languages, viz. the Greek and Latin, and their modern derivatives.
By means of these same instruments a much higher degree of force or impressiveness is possessed by this same modern and northernly derived language.
Witness the words shall and will; and the most imperiously imperative mood expressible by the word shall.
Indeed, such is the quantity of verbal matter saved by the employing the word shall in its imperative sense, that besides giving to the English, pro tanto, a degree of simplicity and force not possessed by any of those southernly derived languages, dead or living, it may almost be said to give to it a degree of copiousness equally peculiar. Why? Because in the expressing by means of the necessary circumlocution the import of the imperative shall, so many words would be necessary that the mind has not patience to draw them out, and so they remain unexhibited.
[a ] The same modifications which, in the least inflected languages are mostly expressed by separate words termed auxiliaries, are in the most inflected languages expressed by inseparable affixes, viz. prefixes or suffixes; mostly by suffixes, more commonly styled terminations.
[* ] The word away, for instance.
[* ] The language of that country is said to contain in it sounds unexemplified in any European language, and without a course of labour such as hath never yet been submitted to, not utterable by any European organs.