A long essay by the editor and an autobiographical sketch from the Williams College Record of the class of 1845 precede Whitney's own studies. Dr. Silverstein has made no attempt to analyze selections but has chosen representative essays that show the range of Whitney's linguistic interests and accomplishments, and which present the linguistic thought of his time. All of the essays appear in their original form except for the first and longest extract, which has been condensed from Language and the Study of Language. Purely descriptive studies of Sanskrit or of Hindu literature and astronomy have been excluded, although Whitney's narrowest professional interest is represented by the beautiful studies of accent in Sanskrit and the statistical treatment of imperfect and perfect tense formations.
The twelve essays are arranged by area of interest. The first group takes up general topics such as the "institutional" nature of language, psychology and the origin of language, and the difficult question of linguistic mixture. It is followed by an enigmatic piece of syntactic analysis of grammatical categories, several phonetics studies, the unified theory of vowel and consonant, the universal transcriptional system and articulatory phonetics, and the notion of phonetic economy. The book concludes with the Sanskrit studies and a trenchant criticism of the grammarians of the period.