“Speech is morning to the mind;
It spreads the beauteous images abroad,
Which else lie dark and buried in the soul.”

From abstract and à priori considerations, we have arrived at the conclusion that language was achieved or created by the human race, by the unconscious or spontaneous exercise of divinely implanted powers; that it was a faculty analogous to and closely implicated with that of thought, and, like thought, developing itself with[59] the aid of time. The idea of speech was innate, and the evolution of that idea may be traced in the growth and history of language. It is most important to have a clear conception of the fact that this development did not result from an atomistic[60] reunion of parts, but from the vitality derived from an inward principle. Language was formed by a process not of crystalline accretion but of germinal development. Every essential part of language existed as completely (although only implicitly) in the primitive germ, as the petals of a flower exist in the bud before the mingled influences of the sun and the air have caused it to unfold.

Our belief thus arrived at—viz., that language was an achievement of the human genius which God implanted in the primeval man, a development of the faculty with which he endowed our race—does not at all necessitate the belief in a period when man was unable to communicate with man. The exercise of the faculty may have been rapid in that young and noble nature to a degree which now we cannot even conceive. A few imitative roots, uttered under the guidance of a divine instinct, and aided by the play of intelligence in movement and feature, would with wonderful ease grow into a language sufficient for the needs of a nascent humanity, and the living germ would soon bud and bourgeon by the very law of its production. Even if we were compelled to believe that this language was at first of the scantiest character, we see in this supposition nothing more absurd than in the certainty that knowledge and science, philosophy and art, are the slow, gradual, and toilsome conquests of an ever progressive race. It is now well understood that even the use of the senses has to be learnt,—that it is only by practice that we are able to discriminate distances in the variously-coloured surface which is all that we really see. Why should it then be unnatural to suppose that speech also was at first only implicitly bestowed on us, and that it required time and experience to develop fully the implanted capacity?

How far the growth of language was affected by external circumstances,—as, for instance, by the impress of individual minds, by the aristocracy or even autocracy of philosophic bodies, by the influence of sex, by the variations of climate, by the convulsions of history, by the slow change of religious or political convictions, and even by the laws of euphony and organisation, we may consider hereafter; but we must first of all enter on two very interesting preliminary inquiries, viz., 1, How did words first come to be accepted as signs at all? and, 2, By what processes did men hit upon the words themselves? Or, to put the questions differently: 1, How did various modulations of the human voice acquire any significance by being connected with outward or inward phenomena? and, 2, What special causes led in special cases to the choice of some particular modulations rather than of any other?

I am well aware that these questions may appear ridiculous to any one who is entirely unaccustomed to these branches of inquiry; and they may possibly be inclined to set the whole matter at rest by a dogmatism or a jeer. They will say perhaps:

“Here babbling Insight shouts in Nature’s ears

His last conundrum of the orbs and spheres;

There Self-inspection sucks his little thumb,

With ‘Whence am I?’ and ‘Wherefore did I come?’”[61]

With readers of such a temperament it is idle to reason, nor do we expect that, while the world lasts, ignorance will cease to take itself for knowledge, and denounce what it cannot understand. To others we will merely say that these inquiries have occupied, and are still occupying in an increasing degree, some of the most profound and sober intellects in Europe, and that (in the words of Plato) ‘wise men do not usually talk nonsense.’

With this remark, let us proceed to our first question: How came sounds—mere vibrations of the atmosphere—to be accepted as signs, i.e. to be used as words?

But (as one inquiry leads us back, perpetually, to another, even until “all things end in a mystery”), we must here again pause for a moment to ask what is a word? So vast an amount has been written in answer to this inquiry, that it is obviously impossible to do more than state the conclusion[62] we adopt, with a mere hint as to the ground on which we adopt it.

Horne Tooke maintained that words are “the names of things,” a definition most obviously inadequate; others have called them “the pictures of ideas,”[63] and although this definition is not without its value, yet the systematic perversion of the word “idea,” renders it insufficient. Harris devotes a chapter to establishing the definition that “Words are the symbols of ideas, both general and particular; yet, of the general, primarily, essentially, and immediately; of the particular only secondly, accidentally, and mediately.” But this is very questionable and cumbrous; and, on the whole, we believe that no better definition can be given than that of the late Mr. Garnett,[64] that words represent “conceptions founded on perceptions,” or “that words express the relations of things.” They do not and cannot express “an intrinsic meaning, constituting them the counterparts and equivalents of thought. They are nothing more, and can be nothing more, than signs of relations, and it is a contradiction in terms to affirm that a relation can be inherent.” “Our knowledge of beings,” says M. Peisse,[65] “is purely indirect, limited, relative; it does not reach to the beings themselves in their absolute reality and essences, but only to their accidents, their modes, their relations, their limitations, their differences, their qualities; all which are manners of conceiving and knowing, which not only do not impart to knowledge the absolute character which some persons attribute to it, but even positively exclude it. Matter (or existence, the object of sensible perception), only falls within the sphere of our knowledge through its qualities; mind only by its modifications; and these qualities and modifications are all that can be comprehended and expressed in the object. The object itself, considered absolutely, remains out of the reach of all perception.” It is an obvious inference that, as we can only talk of what we know, and as we can only know the relations of things, words are the medium of expressing (not the nature of things, which is incognisable), but the observed relations between things. They are revelations not of the outward, but of the inward,—not of the universe, but of the thoughts of man.

Leaving to metaphysicians all further discussion of this question, we again recur to our inquiry, How came words to be accepted as significant of these relations? Thought[66] and speech are inseparably connected; the very root of the word Man[67] implies, in Sanskrit, “a thinking being,” and it is well known that there is a close connection between “ratio” and “oratio,” and that ἄλογα ζῶα means animals, not only “without speech,” but “without reason.” Eloquence, in fact, is genius, and the greatest poet or orator is he who has most command over his native tongue.

It has even been a question with some philosophers whether thought is possible without speech,—whether, for instance, blind-deaf-mutes (like the American girl, Laura Bridgman), are capable[68] of exercising the faculty of reason until they have been taught an artificial method of expression?

Certain it is that the child begins to speak when it begins to think, and that its first intelligent perception of relations is followed by its first articulate utterances. We may illustrate this remark in an interesting manner. We find it stated in the Jadschurveda, that the first words uttered by the first man were, “I am myself,” and that, when called, he answered, “I am he.” With all due deference to the ancient philosopher who held this belief, we may safely assert that such a thing was impossible without some special interposition; for the growth of a sense of individuality is extremely slow, and comes to children long after their main perceptions. A poet—in whom nothing is more remarkable than his profound learning and metaphysical accuracy—truly says:

“The baby new to earth and sky,

What time his tender palm is prest

Against the circle of the breast,

Hath never thought that ‘This is I:’

But as he grows he gathers much,

And learns the use of ‘I’ and ‘me,’

And finds ‘I am not what I see,

And other than the things I touch.’”[69]

And this gives us at once the true explanation of the fact, that it is some time before a child learns to regard itself as a subject, and therefore, that it[70] objectises itself in all its language. It would say, not “I want an apple,” but “Charlie wants an apple;” not even “give me,”—so frequently as “give Charlie.” When Hamlet signs himself as ‘The machine that is to me Hamlet,’ he only shows, by an extreme instance, the remarkable difficulty that a man always has in mastering this very conception of individuality, which the Hindoo philosophy would seem to regard as a primitive intuition.

By these remarks we have greatly cleared the way for our explanation of the manner in which words originated;—an explanation[71] which is purely psychological, and which was first promulgated in this shape by M. Steinthal.

Man has the faculty of interpretation, or of using words for signs, as completely as he has the faculties of sight and hearing; and words are the means he employs for the exercise of the former faculty, just as the eye and the ear are employed as the organs of the latter.

The power of speech depends on the power of abstraction, i.e., of transforming intuitions into ideas.[72] Let us explain. At the sight of a horse galloping, or of a plain white with snow, the primitive man formed, at first, one undivided image; the motion and the horse, the field and the snow, were unseparated. But, by language, the act of running was distinguished from the creature that ran, and the colour separated from the thing coloured. Each of these two elements became fixed in an isolated word, and so the word dismembered the complete perception. But, from another point of view, the word is more extended than the presentation; e.g., the word “white” expresses not only an attribute of snow, but of all white objects; its meaning, then, is more abstract and indeterminate than that of “white snow.” Instead of only embracing an existence, or an object in an accidental state, a word represents the thing without its accidental characters, which are removed by abstraction, and indicates it under all the circumstances in which it may be placed.

The transformation, then, of intuitions into ideas, by the freedom and activity of the human intelligence, constitutes the essence of a word, although the speaker may be as unconscious of the process as he is of the organic mechanisms which give utterance to his thoughts.

I. ‘As for the conditions under which articulate language first appeared, M. Steinthal represents them as follows. At the origin of humanity the soul and the body were in such mutual dependence that all the emotions[73] of the soul had their echo in the body, principally in the organs of the respiration and the voice. This sympathy of soul and body, still found in the infant and the savage, was intimate and fruitful in the primitive man; each intuition awoke in him an accent or a sound.’ This was the first step; and in this fact lies the germ of truth contained in the doctrines of the analogists;[74] since there must have been some reason in the nature of things, why certain impressions or feelings were connected with certain sounds rather than with certain others. We may be totally unable to point out this connection in many cases, and even while recognising a natural relation between certain sounds of the human voice and certain material phenomena, we may deny the very possibility of such a relation between a spiritual phenomenon and its physical sign. And yet we feel a strong repugnance at allowing caprice or chance to have any considerable share in the origin of language. It can, at least, be fairly argued that there is nothing purely arbitrary in the work of the divine Demiurgus.

II. ‘Another law, which played a no less essential part in the creation of language, was the association [75] of ideas. In virtue of this law, the sound which accompanied an intuition, associated itself in the soul with the intuition itself, so closely that the sound and the intuition presented themselves to the consciousness as inseparable, and were equally inseparable in the recollection.’ This was the second step.

III. Finally, the word became a middle term of reminiscence, a tach between the external object and the inward impression. “The sound[76] became a word by forming a bond between the image obtained by the vision, and the image preserved in the memory; in other words, it acquired significance, and became an element of language. The image of the remembrance, and the image of the vision, are not wholly identical; e.g., I see a horse; no other horse that I have ever seen resembles it absolutely in colour, size, &c.: the general conception recalled by the word ‘horse’ involves only the abstracted[77] attributes common to all the animals of the same genus. It is this collection of common attributes that constitutes the significance of the sound.”

Thus M. Steinthal attributes the appearance of language to the unconscious action of psychological laws; and as these laws acted spontaneously in the first human beings, it is quite clear that these speculations involve no approval of the untenable Epicurean belief in a long period of mutism and savageness. We cannot but think that the beauty, ingenuity, and simplicity of these views will commend them to general acceptance.

We may here give one or two passing hints of the way in which these laws were influenced by organism.

One very simple fact is, that of course the impressions, &c., which come earliest would naturally be connected with the sounds that come earliest. For instance, the words for father and mother, which are alike half the world over, are, as we should have expected, formed of easy and simple[78] syllables; being indeed the first labial sounds of the infant lisping: had we found in any of them the letters which represent late-coming and difficult sounds,[79] we should have been justly surprised.

Again, Grimm[80] has remarked that the more ancient a language is, the more clearly do we find in it the distinction between masculine and feminine inflections. “Nothing,” adds M. Renan, “proves it more strongly than the to-us-inexplicable tendency which led the primitive nations to suppose a sex in all beings, even inanimate ones. A language, formed in our days, would suppress the gender[81] in all cases, except perhaps, those where men and women are concerned.” This peculiarity is doubtless due to the influence of women. In ancient times, the life of woman was far more widely separated than now from that of men; and even in later days, when they were dwarfed in the isolation of the gynæceum, we can easily understand how the peculiarities of their life would have influenced the language they employed. The difference between their idioms and those of men is still very incisive in some African dialects; and the fact that men in speaking to women are obliged to employ particular inflections, proves that those inflections must have been used by the women themselves. It is this which causes the strange difference between Sanskrit and Prâkrit; in the Hindoo dramas, Sanskrit is used by the men, Prâkrit by the women.

But the difference is due to the difference of organisation. If “a” and “i” are in all languages the vowels characteristic of the feminine, it is without doubt because those vowels are better suited to the feminine organ than the masculine sounds “o” and “ou.” A Hindoo commentator, explaining the 10th verse of the Third book of Manou,[82] where it is commanded to give to women sweet and agreeable names, recommends that in these names the letter “a” should predominate.

It is observable, too, that the influence of climate on language is in point of fact another result of the influence of organism. The idiom of Sybaris is not that of Sparta. The languages of the South are limpid, euphonic, and harmonious, as though they had received an impress from the transparency of their heaven, and the soft, sweet sounds of the winds that sigh among their woods. On the other hand, in the hirrients and gutturals, the burr and roughness of the Northern tongues, we catch an echo of the breaker bursting on their crags, and the crashing of the pine-branch over the cataract. Rousseau[83] has pointed to the fact that the languages of the rich and prodigal South, being the daughters of passion, are poetic and musical, while those of the North, the gloomy daughters of necessity, bear a trace of their hard origin, and express by rude sounds rude sensations. It is an additional argument against the existence of a language primitive, revealed, or innate, that every known language bears on itself the deep traces of predominant local influences. “It is for this reason that the confusion of tongues and the dispersion of nations are represented by Scripture as synchronous events in the magnificent history of Babel, which, perhaps, we may be permitted to regard as one of those sublime parables so frequent in the sacred books. This was the opinion of the great Leibnitz.”

These are but easy illustrations of a wide and difficult subject; but the influence of organism on language has not yet been very fully analysed, and many of the laws which philologists have advanced remain to some degree uncertain. Those who desire to follow the subject may find some very amusing illustrations in the pages of M. Nodier, one of which we have[84] relegated into the note.

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