12 FYFIELD ROAD
20 November 1951
Dear Mr. de la Mare,
Many years ago you suggested this book, but I dare not hope that this is the book you asked for.
Our problem then was to find some way of commending as reasonable to small boys two languages constructed on systems so very unlike those of their own--and in their view, uniquely sensible--mother-tongue. A better linguist than I has expressed a hope of 'an elementary grammar for children, free from the usual taint of abstraction and unreality which those hardest and sanest of critics are so quick to detect and condemn'. His thought was of English, but perhaps he came up against the same difficulty that we did, namely, that the very young get on very well with an arbitrary discipline, but are perplexed by general principles which we elders fondly believe will simplify their labours. Simplification is not simplicity; simplicity is as often as not arbitrary and, on analysis, puzzling and inconsistent.
You left your barb in my mind, which has itched ever since. Something, I have felt, should be done for somebody, if not for the irreflexive young. The same notion has been in the minds of many persons since the war, and one of the problems of this book has been to keep pace more or less with the endless flow of new literature by linguists and philosophers on the topic of language. Perhaps the undertaking would have been impossible if it had not been that no two ventures agree in principles or presentation. The topic is far greater, far more interesting, than the efforts to exhaust it, and one more attempt in yet one more direction may even be welcome. There are dogmatists among language experts, but I do not hesitate to describe the present moment as one in which no dogma is imperative, but the whole matter is up for open discussion among men of good will. Language is more wonderful than linguistics; perhaps it is the greatest wonder within the reach of man.
The motion of this book is then discursive and undogmatic. It is unphilosophic, though recognizing that philosophers may have their own legitimate interest in language. It is not based on a hypothesis of the unity of the human understanding, nor yet on the assumption that there is much diversity. The savage and civilized minds are differently endowed, but they have means of entering into each other to some extent.