Monday, April 09, 2018



Benjamin Ide Wheeler (1854-1927), "Language as Interpreter of Life," Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 84, No. 504 (October, 1899) 459-466 (at 462):
Words are not words without context, motive, and life. Synonyms galore printed in Italics cannot compass a description of their life values. The clumsy devices of letters cannot yield a vision of even their bodily form. To know them really one must know them warm, — warm with the life blood of actual living speech; one must have met them under every variety of life conditions; one must have "summered and wintered" with them.

We arrange them in paradigms, and think we have compassed and measured them; but these paradigm pigeonholes only betray the limitations of our own petty logic. We try to cram words into compartments under our so-called rules of syntax, and the splendid failure which results offers the finest demonstration of the narrow range of reason as compared with the great background of soul life, the vast reaches of the divine indefinite.

Grammar is to the average healthy human being the driest and deathliest of all the disciplines. Except as it serves a temporary practical purpose of offering a first approach to the acquisition of a language, or of presenting to maturer study a convenient tentative and artificial classification of certain facts, it brings spiritual atrophy and death to him who gives and him who takes. Treated as an end unto itself, it desiccates teacher and pupil alike.

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