Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER II.

FORMING OF THE LANGUAGE.

Words are the sounds of the heart.-Chinese Proverb.
Words are the only things that live forever.-Hazlitt.

Definition.-Speech is the utterance of sounds which usage has made the representatives of ideas. When, in any community, the same sounds are customarily associated with the same ideas, the expression of these sounds by the speaker renders his ideas intelligible to the hearer.

Man possesses in the organs of utterance — though he seldom thinks of it, or forgets the blessing because it is given -a musical instrument which is at once a harp, an organ, and a flute; an instrument on which Nature gives him the mastery of a finished performer. How its notes are struck, so as to express in coördination the many-colored world without and the shadowworld within, is the mystery of language. This, however, is the observed phenomenon: a person having a thought, and wishing to awaken a corresponding thought in the mind of another, emits, at stated intervals, a portion of his breath, modified by certain movements of the vocal organs; these movements are transmitted to the atmosphere, and thence to the ear of the listener, producing there vibrations identical with the original; then, through the agency of instinct, memory, and invention, the two have the same thought. A result reached without any conscious effort, and therefore seemingly simple and commonplace, vet seen, on reflection, to be truly wonderful. Short as is the reach of its pulse, vanishing as are its undulations, by that fluid air, articulated into living words, man graves on the rock or prints in the book the records of his outward history and his inner soul, in symbols more enduring than Babylonian palace or Egyptian pyramid.

Origin.,Whether man was the special creation of God or was developed from inarticulate creatures, it would seem evident

that speech, in its inception, like the bark of a dog, is a natural product, and hence originates in the instinct divinely implanted, directly, or indirectly, in man's nature to communicate thought.' The Providence that provided soil, fuel, minerals, and vegetables, to meet his physical needs, and religion to meet his spiritual demands, would, it is reasonable to expect, furnish at the outset suitable means of communication.

We must suppose, however, that what is known to be true in other directions of his development will be found to be true in this,- an imperfect beginning and a gradual ascent. Clothing began with leaves and bark, with skins of wild animals and the like; shelter was first a hole in the ground, or the hollow of a tree; tools were first of bone, wood, or stone: but in time the sheltering cave became a nest of interwoven branches, this, in many ages, a log hut, and this, by improvement in shape, material, and size, after centuries of toil, a stately palace; in long ages of cultivation, dress-making and tool-making became arts, each giving us forms of elegance and beauty. When first the infant is moved to express itself to others, it does so hy motions or natural cries, then by simple words of one syllable — very few in number, for its ideas are few — progressing slowly in its powers of utterance, yet increasing its vocabulary as intelligence expands.

So, by analogy, was it with man. His beginning was less a song or a poem than a cry or gesture. His first words, like those of the child, were probably monosyllables, and, like those of the child or savage, referred mainly to his bodily wants and to surrounding objects which impressed him strongly.

The origin of speech - so mysterious is the power — excited some speculation even among the rude primeval races. The Esthonians tell that the Aged One, as they call the Deity, placed on the fire a kettle of water, from the hissing and bubbling of which the various nations learned their languages; that is, by imitating these vague sounds, they modulated them into intelligible utterances. The Australians explain the gift of speech by saying that people had eaten an old woman, named Wururi, who

Man is not less divine, nor his speech less God-given, on the supposition that he has been evolved from lower organisms: for still an adequate Cause - Supreme. Intelligence - must have impressed such attributes upon primordial matter as to make such evolution possible.

went about at night quenching fires with a damp stick. Wururi is supposed to mean the damp night-wind, and the languages learned from devouring her are the guttural, or wind-like, reproduction of natural sounds made by the material objects around them. There is the beautiful legend that Wannemunume, the god of song, descended into a sacred wood, and there played and sang. The birds learned the prelude of the song; the listening trees, their rustle; the streams, their ripple and roar; and the winds, their shrill tones and desolate moans: but the fish remained dumb, because, though they protruded their heads, as far as the eyes, out of the water, their ears continued under water, and they could only imitate the motion of the god's mouth. Man alone grasped it all, and so his song pierces down into the depths of the heart and up into the home of the gods.

Development.—Two principles have been especially active in the growth of speech:

1. Onomatopeia, or sound-imitation. Thus the cry of a cat to children of different nationalities is e-you, the watch is ticktick. Thus, also, the interjection ah or ach gives the root aka (Sanskrit), acam (Anglo-Saxon), and thence our ache; whence also anxious, anguish, and agony. The root mur in murmur, implying the rush of water-drops, gives myriad. The Australian, imitating the noise it makes, calls the frog kong-kung. The North American Indian, repeating the hooting of the bird, calls the owl kos-kos-k00-00, a verbal sign which immediately suggests to all who have heard it, the thing signified. Several tribes on the coast of New Guinea give names to their children in imitation of the first sound the child utters. Familiar instances of inventing names by imitating natural sounds, are whip-poor-will, peetree, bob-white, buzz, whiz, hiss, snap, snarl, bang, roar. There is the story of the Englishman who, wanting to know the nature of the meat on his plate at a Chinese entertainment, turned to the native servant behind him, and, pointing to the dish, inquired, Quack, quack?' The Chinaman replied, 'Bow-rror.' Thus the two were mutually intelligible, though they understood not a word of each other's language.

2. Metaphor, or the use of words in nero applications. When a strange object is seen, men are not satisfied till they have heard its name. If it has none, as would happen in the

first settlement of a country, they proceed to give it one; and in doing so, the prevailing tendency, as has been observed froin the earliest times, is to use the name of some known object nearly resembling the one to be named. To combine and reapply old names is easier than to invent new ones; and, wherever this is done, the result is a metaphor. Thus the French, on the first introduction of the potato, called it, the apple of the earth.' Captain Erskine relates that in the Fiji Islands, man, dressed and prepared for food, is known as “long pig'; human flesh and pork being the two staple articles of food, and the natural pig being the shorter. The New Zealanders called their first horses large dogs'; and the Highlanders styled their first donkey a large hare.' The Kaffirs called the parasol “a cloud,' transferring to the new object a name belonging to one which resembled it somewhat in figure and effect. Among the Malays, the sun is mata-ari, literally, “the eye of day.'; the ankle is mata-kaki, 'the

eye of the foot ’; and the key is 'child of the lock.' These transfers, it is seen, are made between one material substance and another; but frequently they are made between matter and spirit. Man's earliest words, like the child's, related, not to his soul, but to his body and material objects. As he advanced to consider and explain thinking, feeling, and willing, his own yearnings and passions, he could neither understand them himself nor make them intelligible to others, except by reference to things which he could see, hear, taste, smell, or touch,— that is, by the use of old terms in a new sense. The ideal, the spiritual, the mental, is, of itself, dim, shadowy, and unseen, and is incapable of being known at all but by a material image that shall make it in some sort visible, as a diagram illustrates a truth in geometry. Thus our soul'— German seele is derived from the same root as the word "sea.' The word “reason' is supposed to be connected with the Greek rheo, 'I flow.' 'Consider,' from the Latin considerare, means to fix the eyes on the stars '; deliberate,' from deliberare, 'to weigh.' The Greek for the soul of man means 'wind,' and the Hebrew “breath.'

Some of the metaphors in use among savages are highly picturesque. The Malays signify affront by "charcoal on the face'; malice by rust of the heart '; impudence by 'face of board '; sincerity by "white heart.' Searcely less ingenious are

the metaphors in Chinese. Capricious is expressed by three mornings, four evenings'; cunning speech by "convenient hindteeth' persuasive speech by convenient front-teeth'; disagreement by 'you east, I west.'

Now, when the same word is applied successively to different objects, the effect is similar to adding so many new words to the language, making it more copious and rich. Mark the various ways in which the shining of the sun is here represented:

* And all his splendor floods the towered walls.'
Soved the carth with orient pearl.'
With rosy fingers unbarreıl the gates of light.'
* Each purple peak, cach flinty spire,
Was bathed in foods of living fire.'
'A dazzling deluge reigns.'
"The Western naces of ebbing day

Rolld o'er the glen their level way.'
"The sanguine sunrise, with his meteor eyes,

And his burning plumes outspread.'
Thus language, in its entirety, is not given, but grows with the
growth of thought and experience. New ideas spring up which
require new forms of expression. New inventions in art or new
discoveries in science require new terms. When moral and
spiritual forces are especially active, the language of a people is
required to utter new truths, and so is extended and multiplied,
as the channel of a river is deepened and widened by increasing
the volume of the waters which flow through it.

It is to be observed, further, that while an articulate word, addressed to the ear, is the sign of an idea, a written word, merely exhibiting the same thing to the eye, is but the sign of this sign--an artificial dress. Language, therefore, in its proper nature, consists not of strokes made by the pen, nor of marks made in

any
other

way, but of sounds uttered by the voice and the organs of articulation, being to man somewhat as neighing is to a horse or squealing to a pig. Many languages have existed that never were written, and those that in time have come to be written, first existed in an unwritten state.

Diversities. The following is a specimen of the English tongue, as spoken and written in London, in the

year

1300: Acheo and hibeoth ifuled mid sunnen, and so ich habbe iscid to thilke they are filled

sins,

1 hare said
levedy uche day; answereth, men, nis it nought so?
lady each ander,

not

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »