Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

and periodical nature of the actions ful diversity of languages in South and events that would require naming, America." would favour the establishment of This and several other curions ! some articulate sign, which might at customs are mentioned in these first be a mere sportive invention of Lectures--customs which show & one of the group. Amongst some readiness in some savages to modify savages we know that it is an amuse- the sounds of their language in à. ment to invent new words by altering manner which to us would be imthe pronunciation of, or otherwise possible, because we should never transforming the old ones. And al- think of uttering a new sound by though in these cases the savage only way of variety of language. Any substitutes one name for another, and sound we use has already some does not name a thing that previously meaning. Suppose we made a rule bail no name at all, yet this facility of that throughout the English language playing with mere sounds enables us some half-dozen syllables, wherever to comprehend how names for things they occar, should be struck out, and yet unnamed might arise to the infan- other syllables arbitrarily substituted, tine intellect of the savage.

what gibberish we should make of Mr. Bates in his delighiful book, many of our words! It is a process the Naturalist on the Amazons,' we could not condescend to. Yet the which, amongst its other charms, has Tahitians have a custom of this that unspeakable charm of truthfulness description. What was gibberish one in it, so that one feels always under moment becomes a word the next. good guidance,-Mr. Bates, writing They arbitrarily choose & mere about the native Brazilians, says:- sound, and substitute it for others.

" But language is not a sure guide “The Tahitians have another and in the filiation of Brazilian tribes, seven more singular mode of displaying their or eight languages being sometimes reverence towards their king, by a spoken on the same river within a dis. custom which they term Te pi. They tance of two or three hundred miles. cease to employ in the common language There are certain peculiarities in Indian those words which form a part, or the habits which lead to a quick corruption whole, of the sovereign's name, or that of language and segregation of dialects. of one of his near relatives, and invent When Indians, men or women, are con- new terms to supply their place. As all versing amongst theinselves, they seem names in Polynesia are significant, and to take pleasure in inventing new modes as a chief usually has several, it will be of pronunciation, or in distorting words. seen that this custom must produce a It is amusing to notice how the whole considerable change in the language. party will laugh when the wit of the It is true that this change is only circle perpetrates a new slang term, and temporary, as at the death of the king these new words are very often retained or chief the new word is dropped, and I have noticed this during long voyages the original term resumed. Vancouver made with Indian crews. When such observes that, at the accession of Otu, alteratious occur amonget a family or which took place between the visit of horde, which often live many years with Cook and his own, no less than forty or out communication with the rest of fifty of the most common words which their tribe, the local corruptions of occur in conversation had been entirely language become perpetuated. Single changed." hordes belonging to the same tribe, and The Kafir women have a custom inhabiting the banks of the same river, of a similar kind. Every word which thus become, in the course of many “bappens to contain a sound similar years' isolation, unintelligible to other hordes, as happens with the Cllénas on

to one in the names of their nearest the Zurúa. I think it, therefore, very

male relatives," must have some subprobable that the disposition to invent

stitute for it. Thas temporary divernew words and new modes of pronun.' sities of the most arbitrary character ciation, added to the small population are introdaced into the language of and habits of isolation of hordes and the women. tribes, are the causes of the wonder. We quote these anecdotes to show :

that there may be a dealing with language such as to us appears too infantine, too irrational, to be possible. Words are with us wedded to sense, and we cannot treat them as mere sounds—as mere sounds to be modified at our pleasure. The first English wag who, from the top of a stage-coach or omnibus, called the driver a brick, was struck by some analogy between the solidity of a brick and the solid qualities of the driver. But the Indian wag whom Mr. Bates encountered was satisfied with distorting the names, the articulate sounds attached to things; and these alterations, if they pleased his simple companions, were repeated, and took the place of the original word, or were added to the vocabulary. The Tahitians and the Kafir women find no difficulty in arbitrarily substituting one syllable for another through a considerable number of words, and adopting for language what at first must have sounded like gibberish. All this makes it easy to comprehend that there was a time when the coinage of new words, as they were really wanted, would sometimes proceed on the simple plan of merely altering or transposing the syllables of words already in use. There is no necessity for us to imagine (as our lecturer seems to think there is) that these early linguists were in the habit of repeating to themselves a list of merely articulate sounds, and then, as occasion required, choosing one of these for the new name that was wanted. “There never was,” he says, “an independent array of determinate conceptions waiting to be matched with an independent array of articulate sound.” No one, we believe, ever made so fanciful a supposition. The mere articulate sound would have no independent prior existence for the savage; he would call it into existence at the time he first made use of it for the purposes of language. Max Müller seems to have reasoned himself into the persuasion that Thought—

which in its simplest form is the memory of objects—that thought, and such articulate sounds as we use as words, could not, from the nature of things, exist separately; that we could neither think without language, nor ever increase our vocabulary merely by some new combination of articulate sounds which till that moment had not been a word at all. Such appears to be the meaning of the following, and of other similar passages we meet with in these Lectures:— “It matters not whether the sound is articulate or not; articulate sound without meaning is even more unreal than in articulate sound. If then, these articulate sounds, or what we may call the body of language, erist nowhere, have no independent reality, what follows? I think it follows that this so-called body of language could never have been taken up anywhere by itself, and added to our conceptions from without; from which it would follow again that our conceptions, which are now always clothed in the garment of languae, could never have existed in a naked state. This would be perfectly correct reasoning if applied to anything else; nor do I see that it ean be objected to as bearing on thought and fo If we never find skins except as the integuments of animals, we may safely conclude that animals cannot exist without skins.”

[blocks in formation]

most elementary sounds, in which our labials are absent, or exist in a very obscure rudimentary state. “We are so accustomed to look upon Pa and ma as the most natural articulations that we can hardly imagine a language without them. We have been told over and over again that the names for father and mother in all languages are derived from the first cry of recognition which an infant can articulate, and that it could at that early age articulate none but those formed by the mere opening and closing of the lips. It is a fact, nevertheless, that the Mohawks, of whom I knew an interesting specimen at Oxford, never, either as infants or grown-up people, articulate with their lips. They have no p, b, m, f v, w—no labials of any kind; and although their own name Mohawk would seem to bear witness against this, that name is not a word of their own language, but was given to them by their neighbours. Nor are they the only people who always keep their mouths open, and abstain from articulating labials. They share this peculiarity with the five other tribes who together form the so-called Six Nations. The Hurons likewise have no labials, and there are other languages in America with a similar deficiency.” The gutturals are seldom altogether absent; yet they are so in the Society Islands, and the first English name their inhabitants had to pronounce, Captain Cook, could not be approached nearer than Tute. The d is never used by the Chinese; neither is the r. They say Eulope for Europe; Ya-me li-ka for Ame. rica, and the name of Christ is distorted into Ki-li-yse-tu. If we in England are rich in our alphabet, we make the very wildest and most extravagant use of it in our written language. Our orthography is the most anomalous, we believe, on the face of the earth. Those who have at heart its reformation, will rejoice to be able to quote the authority of Max Müller in their favour. Assuredly, if we could once get over the grotesque effect that novelty has in this instance, we should all become reformers here,

we should all be advocates for a truly phonetic system of spelling. But this first impression of the grotesque is too strong to be overcome. Our reformers must proceed gradually. They have a good cause. All the world admits that it is of infinite importance that every boy should be taught to read, and to read so as to make a pleasant occupation of it. But poor b ys, especially in agricultural districts, can give but scant time to their schooling. Now if a retorm in our spelling would abridge the labour of learning to read by one-half—which we think is a moderate statement—there could be no better expe.ient for promoting the education of the people. The argument most gravely insisted on against such a reform comes from the etymologists, and the lovers of historical association; it is precisely this argument which Max Mülor, a philologist par ercellence, would teach us to disregard. Speaking on the subject of phonetics, he says:

“I ought not to omit to mention here the valuable services rendered by those who for nearly twenty years have been labouring in England to turn the results of scientific research to practical use, in devising and propagating a new system of ‘Brief Writing and True Spelling,' best known under the name of the Phonetic Reform. I am far from underrating the difficulties that stand in the way of such a reform, and I am not so sanguine as to indulge in any hopes of seeing it carried for the next three or four generations. But I feel convinced of the truth and reasonableness of the principles on which that reform rests; and as the innate regard for truth and reason, however dormant or timid at times, has always proved irresistible in the end, enabling men to part with all they hold most dear and sacred, whether corn-laws or Stuart dynasties, or Papal legates or heathen idols, I doubt not but that the effete and corrupt orthography will follow in their train. Nations have before now changed their numerical figures, their let’ers, their chronology, their weights and measures; and though Mr. Pitman (or Mr. Ellis") may not live to see the results of his

* We insert this gentleman's name because, without disparaging the claim of any one else, we believe that no one has wrought with greater zeal in this matter,

or with more self-sacrifice.

persevering and disinterested exertions, figures. Such men shall discourse it requires no prophetic power to per. well and ingeniously of the origin ceive that what at present is pooh-pooh- and development of the British coned by the many will make its way in the stitution, and all their lives long end, unless met by arguments stronger they shall not be master of a single than those hitherto levelled at the Po date in English history. If they netic Nuz' One argument which might know it to-day, they will have forbe supposed to weigh with the student of language--viz, the obscuration of gotten it to-morrow. We have heard the etymological structure of words-1 it said-we cannot ourselves touch cannot consider very formidable. The for its truth--that more than one pronunciation of langages changes ae- literary man of eminence has felt eording to fixed laws; the spelling has himself plagued all bis days by the changed in the most arbitrary manner; anomalies in our spelling. Many a so that if our spelling followed the pro. faithful servant of the public spells nunciation of words, it would in reality well enough, but he requires the be a greater help to the critical student moral aid of a Johnson's Dictionary of language than the present uncertain within reach: it is seldom that he and unseientific mode of writing.” consults it, but he would immedi

ately begin to feel alarmed if he It is not the poor man only, or knew that bis oracle was removed. the country lad, who would receive Set such a man down to a dictation, a benefit from this phonetic reform. and his fear of blundering would The competitive examinations have inevitably produce a large crop revealed—if the revelation was of Blunders. We ean only hope wanted—what a plague to all classes that the examiners are not so given is the present mode of spelling. It over to pedantry as to prevent & is a case of sheer arbitrary me- shrewd, honest young fellow from mory. How often does one hear it obtaining his promised clerkship said, “I can spell the word if you nerely because he doubled his p or do not ask me; I shall spell it right his t'at the wrong place, or substiif I do not think about it.” And, tuted e for å by the way, is it quite so equitable In one of these Lectures we have as it is supposed to be, to make bad an interesting account of Bishop spelling a fatal blot in these exa- Wilkina's scheme for a universal minations? When, in the House of language. In 1668 the Bishop Commons, some remarks were made published his 'E-say towards & on the unnecessary severity of those Real Character and a Philosophical examinations which the candidate Language. By a real character be for the civil service has to pass means (what the Chinese are said to througl, it was thought sufficient possess) a character which should answer to reply that a large portion stand for things, and not for the of the rejected were rejected on ac- words of things, so that all people count of their spelling. If this were throughout the world, without the sole cause of their failure, the knowing any language but their answer is not to us at all satisfactory. oun, might communicate togetber It is a mistake to suppose that im- through this written character. maculate spelling is a sure test of This part of the Bishop's project general education, or the want of it does not appear impracticable. To a sure sign of general ignorance. what extent such a written characWith such an orthography as we ter would be useful is another have, it is mere habit and a mechani- question ; there must be some cal memory that insure good pelle manifest utility to prompt the ing. Many minds are so constitut. natives of different countries to ed that while they can remember a make themselves acquainted with train of thought, or a fact of inter- it. Jones, Brown, and Robinson, esting knowledge, they cannot re- would have found it usefal on their tain & mere sequence of words or Continental tour; but we doubt if

they would have given themselves nounced by living lips. In this the trouble to learn it. Shy men, undertaking Max Müller gives him and men who are accustonied to credit for great ingenuity, and intispeak their own language with mate acquaintance with the nature accuracy, and who are annoyed at of language itself; but he also the consciousness that in a foreign points out wbat indeed is a fatal language they are making them. defect in the scheme wbich the selves ridiculous by vile pronuncia- Bishop has elaborated. His philotion, if not by false grammar, sophical language makes no proviwould be delighted with sach á sion for any advance in human mode of communication. Many a knowledge. He surveys and clasman would travel, and, sojourn in sifies all human knowledge as it foreign cities, who now sulks at existed in 1668; and having arranghome, if wherever he went he could ed it into genera and species, and so take out his pencil and his pocket- forth, he gives to each thing a new book, and express himself clearly by and philosophic name based on a written character, and not be re- this classification. Thus our adduced to stammer something which vances in science, as in chemistry will make bim look like a fool or and zoology, which lead to new an idiot. But this class is not so classifications, would utterly dislocate numerous in the various countries and destroy the language. of the world that a new written Amongst the most instructive of character would be generally learnt these Lectures is the one "On the for their accommodation; and if it Root Mar.” It is an admirable were not generally known, it would, illustration of the modern science of course, be useless. The idea bas of etymology, as contrasted with been lately taken up by Don Sini- that hap-bazard etymology which baldo de Mas in his 'Idéographie;' allowed itself to be guided simply "a memoir on the possibility of by the sound and the meaning of forming a written character in words. What Voltaire intended as which people of all pations, with a sarcasm-"L'étymologie est une ont understanding each other's science où les voyelles ne font rien, language, can communicate." Why et les consonnes fort peu de chose” not adopt at once for this purpose -is boldly accepted by the modern the Chinese characters, or so many etymologist

. Similarity of sound of them as would be necessary? or meaning is but of secondary Thus we should be at once at home importance. “We know words, in China, and the difficulty would says our lecturer, “to be of the be obviated of obtaining the general same origin which have not a single concorrence to any arbitrary system letter in common, and which differ of signs. Let all educated people in meaning as much as black and in Europe forthwith set about white." The rules by which letters learning so much of the Chinese are changed one for the other are character as to be able to hold deduced from a wide examination written communication therein. of the languages in question; and This might be the germ of a the application of tbese rules enwritten language common to all ables the etymologist to detect the the civilised world. Perhaps Don same roots under various forms. Sinibaldo de Mas, as he went on These forms, again, by the babit some dip'omatic mission to China, we have of thinking in metaphors, has fully considered this. We have come to represent most opposite not bad an opportunity of learning ideas. A word, for instance, which the details of his schenie.

signified soft, might become in one But Bishop Wilkins bad project- form to mean something lovable, in ed not only his real character, but another something foolish-ideas a philosophical language to be pro- altogether antagonistic. We will

« AnteriorContinuar »