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Grammer


There are no early treatises on the structure and composition of the Gaelic language, such as the ancient MS writings which still exist on Irish Grammar. Still, so early as the middle of last century, the subject had excited notice, and demands began to exist for a grammatical treatise on the Gaelic language. The first attempt to meet this demand was made by the Rev. William Shaw, at one time minister of Ardclach, in Nairnshire, and afterwards a resident in England; the author of a Gaelic dictionary, and an associate of Johnson’s in opposing M’Pherson and his Ossian, as it was called by adversaries. Shaw’s Grammar is made of no account by Dr Stewart, in the reference which he makes to it in his excellent grammar; but the work is interesting as the first attempt made to reduce Gaelic grammar to shape at all, and as showing several indications of a fair, if not a profound scholarship. That the volume, however, is to be held in any way as a correct analysis of the Gaelic language, is out of the question. Mr. Shaw presents his readers, at the end of his volume, with specimens of Gaelic writing, which he intends to settle the orthography of the language. Anything mire imperfect than the orthography of these specimens can hardly be conceived - at least it is of a kind that makes the language in many of the words unintelligible to any ordinary reader. Mr Shaw’s Grammar reached a second edition, showing the interest that was taken in the subject at the time.

An abler scholar, in the person of the Rev. Dr Stewart, of Moulin, Dingwall, and the Canongate, Edinburgh, successively, took up the subject of Gaelic grammar after Mr. Shaw. Mr Stewart was an eminent minister of the Scottish Church. Few ministers stood higher than he did as a preacher, and few laboured more assiduously in their pastoral work; still he found time for literary studies, and to none did he direct more of his care than to that of his native Gaelic. A native of Perthshire himself, he made himself acquainted with all the dialects of the tongue, and gives an admirable analysis of the language as it appears in the Gaelic Bible. Few works of the kind are more truly philosophical. The modesty which is ever characteristic of genius distinguishes every portion of it, while the work is of a kind that does not admit of much emendation. If it be defective in any part, it is in the part that treats of syntax. There the rules laid down comprehend but few of those principles which govern the structure of the language, and it is necessary to have recourse to other sources for information regarding many of the most important of these.

A third grammar was published about thirty years ago by Mr James Munro, at the time parish schoolmaster of Kilmonivaig. This volume is highly creditable to Mr Munro’s scholarship, and in many respects supplied a want that was felt by learners of the language. The numerous exercises with which the work abounds are of very great value, and must aid the student much in its acquisition.

A double grammar, in both Gaelic and English, by the Rev. Mr Forbes, latterly minister of Sleat, presents a very fair view of the structure of the Gaelic language, while grammars appear attached to several of the existing dictionaries. There is a grammar prefixed to the dictionary of the Highland Society, another to that of Mr Armstrong, and a third to that of Mr M’Alpine. All these are creditable performances, and worthy of perusal. In fact, if the grammar of the Gaelic language be not understood, it is not for want of grammatical treatises. There are seven or eight of them in existence.

Mr Shaw, in the introduction to his grammar, says :- "It was not the mercenary consideration of interest, nor, perhaps, the expectation of fame among my countrymen, in whose esteem its beauties are too much faded, but a taste for the beauties of the original speech of a now learned nation, that induced me either to begin, or encouraged me to persevere in reducing to grammatical principles a language spoken only by imitation; while, perhaps, I might be more profitably employed in tasting the various productions of men, ornaments of human nature, afforded in a language now teeming with books. I beheld with astonishment the learned in Scotland, since the revival of letters, neglect the Gaelic as if it was not worthy of any pen to give a rational account of a speech used upwards of 2000 years by the inhabitants or more than one kingdom. I saw with regret, a language once famous in the world, ready to perish, without any memorial; a language by the use of which Galgacus having assembled his chiefs, rendered the Grampian hills impassable to legions that had conquered the world, and by means of which Fingal inspired his warriors with the desire of immortal fame."

That the Gaelic language is worthy of being studied, the researches of modern philologers have amply proved. For comparative philology it is of the highest value, being manifestly one of the great links in the chain of the Aryan languages. Its close relation to the classical languages gives it a place almost peculiar to itself. In like manner its study throws light on national history. Old words appear in charters and similar documents which a knowledge of Gaelic can alone interpret, while for the study of Scottish topography the knowledge of it is essential. From the Tweed to the Pentland Firth words appear in every part of the country which can only be analysed by the Gaelic scholar. In this view the study of the language is important, and good grammars are of essential value for its prosecution.

 

 


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