For the further advancement of linguistic research work it is of vital importance that detailed linguistic characterology of single languages at different stages of their development should be worked up on a purely synchronic basis.
For living languages the investigation should begin with the contemporary stage as the only one that offers full and clear linguistic materials
The only aim of linguistic characterology is a better scientific analysis of the given language. All attempts at a systematic linguistic typology are, at the present stage of our knowledge, premature and lead therefore to unnecessary complications of problems only.
The distinguishing feature of linguistic characterology is the introduction into linguistic analysis of the conception of value and of synchronic interrelations. If it is the task of the descriptive grammar to give a complete inventory of all formal and functional elements existing in a given language at a given stage of its development, linguistic characterology deals only with the important and fundamental features of a given language at a given point of time, analyses them on the basis of general linguistics, and tries to ascertain relations between them.
Comparison of languages of different types without any regard to their genetic relations is of the greatest value for any work in concrete linguistic characterology, for it considerably furthers the right understanding of the real nature and meaning of the analysed linguistic facts.
Such a comparison is made possible chiefly by adopting for the basis of the investigation common grammatical functions
In languages with a traceable development the function of linguistic characterology is not confined to the working up of the characteristics of their linguistic structure at different points of their known history. The greatest importance of linguistic characterology in such cases lies in its ability to discover new problems for historical investigation or to show new ways for the solution of problems already under discussion.
II. To the problems of linguistic characterology there have been several ways of approach in the history of linguistic research work. One of them, coinciding with that great current of linguistic thought and work which leads from Wilhelm von Humboldt through Steinthal and Misteli to Finck, has been purely linguistic. Its representatives have not succeeded in elaborating a detailed and working method of research, for they wished to include too many languages in their investigation and repeatedly encumbered their work with superfluous difficulties. One of them lay in their attempts at a systematic typology of languages, another in the endeavours to bring characteristic features of languages into a direct and uncomplicated relation to the spirit of the nations by which they are spoken. On the whole, however, they clearly saw the real importance of the conceptions of value and of synchronic interrelations for linguistic analysis, gave an important preference to the synchronic methods in their work, used often with success purely analytical comparison of languages belonging to different genetic groups, and did not neglect the functional point of view.
As a fact, detailed works of recent origin on the problems of concrete linguistic characterology do not belong, with the exception of Finck’s brochure Der deutsche Sprachbau als Ausdruck der deutschen Weltanschauung and his Haupttypen des Sprachbaus, to that school of linguistic thought. Their titles themselves, e. g., Stil der franzosischen Sprache (Strohmeyer) and Englische Stilistik (Aronstein), point to the fact that they are products of another line of development. Beginning with the Antibarbari of the Renaissance time, the idea has been followed how to bring people to use the correct style, and with the growing tendency to deal with that practiced problem in a thorough and systematic way, not only a detailed description of the classical style in Latin and Greek had been given, but unawares systematic characteristics of the most important languages of the civilized world evolved. The concentration on one, or as a maximum, on two languages orily, and the practical aim, which was originally followed, have had their good results on the work done by men like Strohmeyer and Aronstein. A much more detailed analysis of the respective languages has been given than was true with the first group of linguists and the encumbrance with outlying or even fictitious problems has been much less. If Finck and his predecessors may contribute to the further development of linguistic char acte rology by their wide outlook and their fine understanding of the problems of general linguistics, scholars like Strohmeyer and Aronstein have laid the methodical foundations of this branch of linguistic investigation. In the present renaissance of linguistic studies, even other currents in linguistic research work besides the two mentioned ones, converge to give the linguistic characterology a prominent place (for English I cannot leave the work done by Prof. Jespersen and Prof. Deutschbein without a mention in this connection), and it is not exaggerated to say that the prospects are altogether hopeful for that kind of research. What is left to be done now first, is to show the right place of linguistic characterology amidst other kinds of linguistic research work, to define its real function and to prove its importance. The first two tasks I tried to perform in my propositions, the third is the main object of the following chapter on the function of the grammatical subject in Modern English.
III. In languages with developed verbal systems there very often appears a vacillation between two different conceptions of the grammatical subject, that of the doer of the action expressed by the predicative verb and that of the theme of the enunciation contained in the predicate.1 Compared with Modern German or with any of the Modern Slavonic languages, e. g. Modern Czech, Modern English shows a characteristic tendency for the thematical conception of the subject. In English sentences, accordingly, the theme of the enunciation is expressed as a rule by the grammatical subject and the central part of the enunciation actually made by the grammatical predicate. A definite, especially personal, subject is preferred to an indefinite one, and where there are two conceptions at hand which may be regarded as themes of the prospective enunciation, that one is chosen for the grammatical subject which possesses more actuality. In direct discourse the person of the speaker is the theme which is most obvious, and consequently, the pronoun “I” is very frequently made the subject of English sentences, in direct opposition to the social tendency of the English to make one’s own person as little obtrusive as possible. Compare, e. g., the following English sentence with its idiomatic German translation: I haven’t been allowed even to meet any of the company. Modern German: Man gestattete mir nicht mit irgend jemandem der Gesellschaft auch nur zusammenzukommen. In a consecutive series of sentences the theme very often remains the same for a long while, and that leads in English to the characteristic fact that in such a series of sentences even the grammatical subject usually remains unchanged much longer and with much more regularity than e. g. in Modern German or Modern Czech. A comparison of the following English sentence with its German translation may illustrate the case: You may take your oath there are a hundred thousand people in London that’ll like it if they can only be got to know about it. Modern German: Sie können Gift darauf nehmen, es gibt ein Hundert Tausend Leute in London, dene e s gefallen wird, wenn man sie nur dazu bringen kann, es kennen zu lernen.
The nature of the grammatical subject in Modern English offers very good opportunity for showing the importance of synchronic interdependences for linguistic analysis. Indeed, the discussed tendency of Modern English to convert the expression of the actual theme of an enunciation into the grammatical subject does not stand alone. If we regard the construction of sentences in Modern English from the point of view of the grammatical subject, we soon discover that the conception of the subject is in a direct connection with other characteristic features of the language.
The first of them is a rich development of passive constructions in Modern English and their frequent use in the grammatical predicate resulting from the fact that the thematical conception of the grammatical subject makes it very often impossible to use a really active construction in that function. From the syntactical point of view and on the basis of Modern English, it may even be said that as passive are to be regarded predicative expressions of an action or of a process in which the doer of the action or the originator of a process does not compel the attention of the speaker so much, or in such a way, as to be taken for the grammatical subject.
The relatively high frequency of passive predicative constructions in Modern English is easily made clear by a comparison of Modern English with languages in which the thematical conception of the grammatical subject is not so prominent. Any of the above cited examples proves the fact. The following sentence may be put here as another illustration thereof: And now because this young whelp begins to cry out before he is hurt, you treat me as if I were a brute and a savage. Modern German: Und nun we il dieser junge Brut aufschreit, bevor ihm noch etwas geschehen ist, so behandeln Sie mich, als ob ich ein brutaler Mensch oder ein Wilder ware.
The abundance of passive constructions in Modern English is sufficiently shown by the development of the passive in which the grammatical subject is only indirectly affected by the action. That kind of passive is not limited to the usually cited participle construction of the type I have been told, Modern German Man hat mir gesagt, but embraces many other interesting constructions. The most important of them are the possessive constructions in which the verb to have or to get is followed by an object plus a predicative participle. If the predicative participle is a present participle, the object denotes the doer of the action expressed by the participle and the relation of the action to the grammatical subject is made clear by an adverbial complement, e. g. had one Colossus bulging over my shoulders. If the predicative participle is a past participle with the passive meaning, the object denotes a person or thing directly affected by the action expressed by the participle and the relation of the action to the grammatical subject is made clear by a possessive attribute qualifying the object or by an adverbial complement accompanying the participle. The first type, e. g. : Even great lords and ladies sometimes have their mouths stopped. The second type, e.g.: The squire insisted upon having a full account of the money rendered to him. I will not have it cast in my teeth. In addition to these varieties of the passive predicative constructions of the possessive type which alone may be regarded as real grammatical patterns there are others of less significance, but of the same character, e.g., She shall have a sharp talking to.
Of a quite analogous structure are the perceptive passive constructions to which a verb denoting perception, e. g., to find, to feel, to see, to catch, is followed by an object plus predicative participle. The following sentences may serve as illustrations of the type: Upon examination of these I found a certain boldness growing in me. - His grandfather, a city merchant, had seen his wealth engulfed in the South Sea abyss. The constructions of the latter type with object plus past participle are sometimes passive constructions in which the subject is directly affected by the action, e. g.: He then found himself menaced with two prosecutions for libel and absconded to France. - This question was not entirely answered in Hucle’s slow mind before he found himself pushed, along with Tony, into Mrs. Douglas’s drawingroom. If such constructions are being preferred to those of the common type (He was menaced, He was pushed), it is, I think, because they give the grammatical subject a greater prominence without weakening in the least the passive character of the whole.
All the passive constructions in which the subject is indirectly affected by the action are but one part of a larger complex of phenomena highly characteristic of Modern English. The one feature common to all of them is the tendency to make a notion, especially fit to fill the thematical function, the gram- matical subject of the sentence. That tendency lay at the bottom of the changes by which in Middle English nearly all impersonal constructions were converted into personal ones and it continues to be an active influence even now. We find at least new personal constructions of the same type multiplying in Modern English. In the first place I wish to call attention to constructions denot- ing feelings or emotional situations. In languages with less developed thematical conception of the grammatical subject, the respective sentences are construed either as impersonal sentences or so that the source of the feeling or the emotional situation is taken for the grammatical subject and the person who experiences the feeling or the emotional situation is in both cases expressed by a nominal or a pronominal complement of the predicate. In Modern English, on the contrary, with its characteristic predilection for personal subject as the most obvious theme of a sentence enunciation, the person experiencing the feeling or the emotional situation is made the grammati- cal subject, and the source of the feeling or the emotional situation is construed as a complement of the predicate. This is the basis not only of the well-known personal constructions of the type: I am sorry to hear. Modern German: Es tut mir leid zu hören. I am warm enough. Modern German: Es ist mir genug warm, but also of the much more modern constructions of the perceptive type, as for instance: Still he found it very pleasant to talk to Lisbeth. Modern German: Doch was es ihm ein Vergnugen mit Lisbeth zu sprechen. - She found it extremely difficult to say exactly what it was. Modern German: Es fiel ihr âusserst schwer genau zu sagen, was es war. Judging by the copiousness of instances the construction of the latter type may be regarded as a real grammatical form. In addition to the perceptive type, isolated instances of the possessive type appear in the same function, e. g.: She had a curious sinking of the heart. Modern German: Es wurde ihr ganz eigentumlich zu Mut.
Another interesting illustration of new personal construc- tions replacing older impersonal ones in Modern English is offered by the curious use of the adjective sure in a passive meaning as in the following sentence: He is sure to come. Modern German: Es ist kein Zweifel, dass er kommt. Taken from another point of view the transition from: He is sure of coming to: He is sure to come may be regarded as a transition from subjective meaning to the objective one. Transition in the opposite direction from the objective to the subjective meaning leads to personal constructions of the adjective long of the type: He is long in coming. Modern German: Es dauert lange bis er kommt, e.g.: The effect of the coal stoppage is perhaps longer in making itself felt on industry in the West-Riding of Yorkshire than in other places. Modern German: Es dauert langer bevor sich die Wirkungen des Kohlenstreikes in der Industrie von West-Riding in Yorkshire geltend machen als an anderen Orten.
An analysis of the constructions with sure and long leads to the discovery of other interdependences connected with the special function of the grammatical subject in Modern English. The discussed personal use of the two adjectives has been made possible by a shift within their spheres of meaning. The same may be said of the analogous change of the predicative constructions denoting feelings or emotional situations. Thus we come to the conclusion that there is a close interdependence between the preponderant thematical conception of the grammatical subject in Modern English and the easiness with which, as is generally known, categorical changes take place in Modern English within the spheres of single parts of speech.
In the case of the personal constructions of the so-called indirect passive, Modern Czech shows the possibility of another interesting interdependence. In that language, personal constructions of the indirect passive, altogether very rare, are possible only when a state of existence is to be denoted, whereas for the expression of a process an active construction must be used. In my opinion this difference shows that the use of a personal construction of the indirect passive is made possible by the weakening of the idea of action inherent in any verb. If it is so, we may see a connection between the rich development of indirect passive constructions in Modern English and the undeniable change in the nature of the English verb. The easy transition in Modern English of nouns into the category of verbs and vice versa as well as the evident tendency in Modern Eng- lish to decompose the idea expressed by a concrete verb into a formal verb plus substantive (e. g. to have a smoke, to be in love, to do the cooking, to give a laugh, to take leave, to fetch a sigh, to put an end to it, to get into habit of it, to fall in love etc. ), point at least, if put side by side with the tenacity with which Modern Slavonic languages still cling to the sharp division between noun and verb, to the weakened conception of action in the Modern English verb.
Yet another characteristic feature of Modern English may be brought into connection with the thematical function of the grammatical subject. The division of the contents of a sentence into the theme and the proper enunciation, which is the basis of the present investigation, may be brought about in actual speech either so that the theme precedes and the enunciation follows (objective order), or so that the enunciation is made at first and the theme subjoined (subjective order). If in Modern English the word-order has become stabilized, so that the subject, as a rule, procédés the predicate, and if, on the other hand, the grammatical subject in Modern English has come to have a clearly thematic al function, it is evident that the two changes combined tend towards the stabilization of the objective order subject - theme : predicate - enunciation in Modern English.
In this way the series of synchronic interdependences grouped around the function of the grammatical subject in Modern English is closed, and in accordance with what was said above of the relation of the synchronic and diachronic problems, the question arises as to what is the meaning of the discussed facts for the historical investigation. To anyone with a trained feeling for the delicate intricacies of linguistic development it must be evident that many new departures are offered to those who would follow the sketched interdependences backward into the past and try to see the chronological succession of single facts. Let us take for instance the problem of the origin of personal constructions which in Middle English successively replaced the older impersonal ones. In his well-known treatise dealing with that question, Van der Gaaf tried to show that it was confusion of endings arising from the weakening of unstressed syllables that gave rise to that characteristic phenomenon. In my opinion Van der Gaaf’s careful marshalling of facts has brought to light the evidence that the mentioned phonetic decay of endings made the development of personal constructions easier by removing formal difficulties from its way, but it has failed to show which was the positive influence that determined in which direction the development was to proceed. If in a given case an original dative or accusative may have been regarded, in consequence of the decay of endings, as a nominative, why was it usually taken for a nominative, in opposition to its old function? Some change must have taken place in the whole perspective of the English sentence, affecting especially the character of the predicative verb and of the grammatical subject, if the difficulty of an uncertain formal situation was to be solved in one direction only and that entirely opposed to all traditional conceptions. Modern English with the interdependences discussed in this paper may, and I am sure will, help to clear up the problem and so contribute to prove that characterological analysis on a strictly synchronic basis gives new impulses even to the historical study of languages.
1. By the terms “theme” and “enunciation” I mean what is usually called the psychological subject and psychological predicate, respectively.
*From Actes du Premier Congr'es International Linguistes 3, La Have (1928), pp.56–63