The Science Of Etymology -- By: Benjamin W. Dwight

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 015:58 (Apr 1858)
Article: The Science Of Etymology
Author: Benjamin W. Dwight


The Science Of Etymology

Benjamin W. Dwight

The very caption of this Article will astonish some and amuse others, who have been in the habit of regarding etymology as a mere mass of vagaries. That it has any such scope as to deserve the dignified name of a science, or any such interior frame-work of principles as to possess its essential nature, is quite beyond the general estimate of its character. In this country, indeed, and in England, as also in France and everywhere but in Germany, both vernacular and classical etymology are in the same rude, unmethodized state of first and partial discovery, in which chemistry and geology existed half a century ago. What facts are seen and appreciated appear to most, even of their admirers, but as isolated novelties and wonders, and have none of the charm or power of a splendid combination, of comprehensive and complicated affinities and relations.

Our modern languages are all derived from those of elder ages; and these are found, when subjected to thorough analysis, to have been derived, in their turn, from those anterior to them; while, on a wide and critical survey, all the tongues of the civilized world appear full of multitudinous correspondencies and connections.

The object of this Article will be realized, if the following topics, connected with the science of etymology, are presented in sufficient outline, viz.:

I. The general proportions and relations of the subject.

II. The history of classical and vernacular etymology.

III. The constituent elements of etymology as a science.

IV. Its determinative principles and tests.

V. Some of the advantages of the study of this science. I. The general proportions and relations of the subject.

It has been often said, and truly, that the study of the Latin has a value in it, in its mere relations to our language, sufficient to authorize for this reason, without reference to many others also, the most zealous attention to its claims. But how can any deep scholarly insight into its relations to the English be gained, except in the light of a broad and complete classical etymology, which shall present the Latin truly, in all its manifold connections, not only with succeeding languages, but also with those which were antecedent and contemporary? This ancient language must be seen, in order to be seen rightly, while clothed in its own armor and bearing its own banners, not only leading other languages majestically in its train, but also moving in solemn and sublime march along the highway of ages, with the great people and languages that anticipated and accompanied its glory and its doom. ...

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