Imágenes de páginas

The resemblance is so obvious, that I wonder it has not struck some of those erudite theorists, who are for tracing every word to its simple element : surely, to them the transformations would be comparatively easy,

for to invert two of the legs of an ox, and put them sprawling in the air, would be nothing to what they sometimes do.

The ingenious Warburton says, all the barbarous nations of the earth, before the invention or introduction of letters, made use of hieroglyphics or signs for things to record their meaning ; the more gross by representation ; the more subtile and civilized by analogy and institution.

The most ancient of the Egyptian hieroglyphics appear to have been symbolic of the things represented ; and they were, to a certain extent, ideographic ; the same is true of the Mexican picture-writing, and of many of the original Chinese characters. But by this process of abbreviation the symbols lost all resemblance to the things represented, and would be understood only by those who had a knowledge of the original meaning; and among the Egyptians this knowledge was confined to the priests.

The progress of the art of representation by visible signs, must have been the same as it was hy audible sounds, from the concrete to the abstract. The picture or the image was a physical representative of the object alluded to. But by a very easy transition other signs were introduced, which were not ideographic, but phonetic, that is, represented not immediately the thing itself, but its name.

Then followed the symbolic signs, which, preserving for a while, some analogy to the thing designated, would

[ocr errors]

gradually lose it entirely. Thus the ancient representation of Universal Nature, by the Diana Multimammia, was a simple symbol; but the representation of the same, by a winged globe, with a serpent issuing from it, was an enigmatic symbol. [Is it not a little remarkable that the Egyptians should have represented the sun by a beetle rolling a ball, with his breast towards the ball ?]

In some modern languages symbolic signs are occa-sionally used for conciseness ; as in some German books: We find the sign † for died, the cross being a symbol of death. In representing abstract ideas, it would be natural to adopt some familiar object, as the picture of a lion, to represent strength, &c.

It will be perceived at once, however, that as writing: became more common it would be too tedious to represent these symbols, and that little by little they would be supplanted by purely arbitrary signs.

Warburton hazards the remark, that at this point of progress men “perfected another character, which we may call the running-hand of hieroglyphics, resembling the Chinese writing, which, being at first formed by the outlines of each figure, became at length a kind of marks."

He then adds, “the use of this running-hand would take off the attention from the symbol, and fix it upon the thing signified, by means of which the study of symbolic writing would be much abbreviated, the reader or decypherer having then little to do but to remember the power of the symbolic mark, whereas before the

properties of the thing or animal employed as a symbol were to be learned; in a word, this, together with other marks

[ocr errors]

by institution, to design mental ideas, would reduce the characters to the present state of the Chinese.

Now although more modern researches do not confirm all this learned divine conjectures about the Chinese language, the above remarks are very important, and show what a stride had been made by the human mind.

Another great step was then taken : by an easy transition other signs were introduced, which were not in any sense ideographic, but phonetic, that is, did not represent inmediately the thing, but its name,—the audible sign, by which it was known to men.

Then the genius of the human race hovered at the outset of the boldest flight which it has ever yet made ; then it required but some Newton or Columbus to consider that words are compound sounds,—that the elements of these sounds are few,—that these elementary sounds could be represented by convenient arbitrary characters,—that words could be painted and speak to the eyes:—then the world was ready for the improvement, and the improver appeared ;-some Cadmus, or some Thoth, took the bold step, and gave to the world arbitrary letters, -a gift greater than was ever given by man to his fellows,-a gift for which the ancients did well not to pay the giver the doubtful compliment of placing him in the rabble rout of their deities, since to have done so would have been to place him upon a level with the Argonautic sheep-stealer, and the great scavenger of the Augean stable.

I must necessarily hurry over the interesting science of written signs, or graphology, as it is termed by Duponceau, referring those who would study it, to his learned disquisitions, where they will find, in extenso, what I can only state summarily, that there are three kinds of writing : first; word-writing, or lexigraphic, as the writing of the Chinese, and some of the Egyptian hieroglyphical signs : in this every single or compound character represents a word,-a sound. If we represent the moon by the figure of a crescent, we use an ideographic sign, and any person, of any nation, seeing it, would understand what we meant; but when we cut off the corners, and so change the figure that all resemblance

, is lost; when we write the word moon, it is to a Chinese as incomprehensible as is his sign to us; but were his sign a crescent, it would be ideographic, it would recall the idea of the moon without any reference to the sound.

The Chinese, then, and its kindred languages, are lexigraphic, every sign represents a word ; moon, for instance, is represented thus,– ; light is written thus, -* and “ light of the moon” thus,— ì * each part of the word having a particular signification, as in our word tea-kettle, inkstand, &c. Where a word is taken for a sign of a single thing, of course there must be many homophonous words, or else the language must be multiplied to infinity; the Chinese have many such words, and they distinguish the one from the other by varying the written character in some of its branches; as we distinguish between the homophonous sounds, air of the heaven and heir of a fortune, by writing them differently.

The second kind of writing is the syllabic ; in which


every character represents one of the constituent parts of a word, which we call syllables : as if, in writing the word school-house, we should represent the first syllable by one sign instead of six, and the second syllable by one sign instead of five. Every character in the syllabic languages represents à sound, whether the word be monosyllabic or pollysyllabic. The Tartars, and several other Asiatic nations, use the syllabic writing.

The third kind of writing is the elementary ; as in English, where each character or letter represents an element of the sound. Sometimes syllables which have no meaning, when standing alone, are formed of two or more of these elementary signs, as tion, ing, &c.

In English we have some characters which are lexigraphic, representing entire words ; syllabic, representing

: parts of words; and also elementary; as the character in which may be taken as a word, as a syllable, or as a letter.

It is to be remarked that letters do not represent any absolute sound, but are entirely conventional; the letter a to us represents one sound, while to a Frenchman it represents quite a different one.

Hence appears the futility of the attempt to invent a copious written language which shall be universal; since it is impossible to represent with exactitude, by any sign, a sound made by one individual, which can be understood and imitated by another, because no two individuals are alike in the tone of their voice any more than they are in the lineaments of the countenance. An universal written language must, therefore, be very limited, for there are very few signs which are understood universally ; the arbitrary figures of numbers come nearest to it; the Arabic characters, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, convey to the mind of any European the same

« AnteriorContinuar »