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Title: An essay on the origin of language, based on modern researches
Author: Farrar, F. W. (Frederic William)
Language: English
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                              AN ESSAY

                               ON THE

                      BASED ON MODERN RESEARCHES,

                      BY FREDERIC W. FARRAR, M.A.


                    JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET.



                       RICHARD GARNETT, ESQ.,

                       OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM,

                     These Pages are Dedicated,




I wish this little book to be in every respect as unpretending
as possible. I do not presume to represent myself as an original
investigator, nor do I aspire to a greater distinction than that
of representing clearly and intelligently the views of those
distinguished writers who have made the study of philology the
chief pursuit of their lives.

While I have quoted my authorities for almost every statement of
importance, I have generally used my own language, and even in
those paragraphs which I have put between inverted commas I have so
frequently abbreviated, expanded, or transposed, that the passages
must not be criticised as though they had been intended for direct

I do not think that I have ever borrowed from any writer, English,
French, or German, without ample acknowledgment. I would not be so
dishonest as to shine in borrowed plumes. If in one or two cases I
have been guilty of apparent plagiarism it is certainly only from
the works of those authors whom I cannot be considered to have
robbed wilfully, because their writings are honourably referred to
on almost every page. I wish this remark to apply especially to the
very clear, learned, and beautiful treatises of M. Ernest Renan, to
which I am largely indebted, and without which I should not have
undertaken this work.

The questions here handled have always been to me full of interest;
and these chapters have been chiefly written because I have
invariably found that they are also full of interest to young
learners. Should it be proved that I have rashly intruded on a
task beyond my powers, no one will more regret this attempt than I
shall myself.

The books of which I have made _chief_ use in the following pages

  Grimm, _Ueber den Ursprung der Sprache_.

  Heyse, _System der Sprachwissenschaft_.

  Lersch, _Die Sprachphilosophie der Alten_.

  Renan, _De l’Origine du Langage_.

  Renan, _Histoire Générale des Langues Sémitiques_.

  Charma, _Essai sur le Langage_.

  Nodier, _Notions de Linguistique_.

  Bunsen, _Philosophy of Universal History_.

  Max Müller, _Survey of Languages_.

  Pictet, _Les Origines Indo-Européennes_.

  Garnett’s _Philological Essays_.

  Dr. Donaldson’s _Cratylus_, and _Varronianus_.

It need scarcely be said, however, that I have read and consulted
very many besides these, and indeed every book that I could obtain
which seemed to bear directly upon the subject.

I will only add with M. Nodier--“J’ai écrit sur la Linguistique,
parce que je ne connois aucun livre qui renferme les notions
principales d’une manière claire, sous une forme accessible aux
esprits simples, qui ne soit pas repoussante pour les esprits

  _Aug., 1860_.



  The faculty of speech.--Definition of language.--Importance of
  philology.--Three main theories on the origin of language--1. That
  language was innate and organic.--Curious errors.--Objections
  to this view.--2. That language was the result of imitation and
  convention.--Objections.--3. That language was revealed.--In what
  sense this may be held to be true.--The phrase obscure, and leads
  to many misconceptions.--Danger of a misapplied literalism.--Five
  objections to the common belief.--The real meaning of Gen. ii.
  19, 20.--Rightly understood it exactly accords with the true
  theory.--Germ of truth in each of these views.                       1



  Germinal development of language.--How came words to be accepted
  as signs?--The inquiry not absurd.--What is a word?--Words only
  express the relations of things.--Connection of thought and
  speech.--Growth of individuality.--Theory of M. Steinthal.--Speech
  depends on the power of abstraction; the transformation of
  intuitions into ideas.--1. Impressions awoke sounds.--2. Sounds,
  by the association of ideas, recalled impressions.--3. Sounds
  became words by connecting the external object and the inward
  impression.--Influence of organism.--Earliest impressions expressed
  by the simplest sounds.--Influence of women.--Influences of
  climate.                                                            34



  Words never _purely_ arbitrary.--They _become_ conventional
  in time.--Corruptions produced by the dislike of mechanical
  words.--Inappropriate corruptions.--Words, significant at first,
  are allowed to become conventional.--Grammar the _life_ of a
  language.--Onomatopœic or _imitative_ words.--_Motive_ of
  words.--Delicacy of the appellative faculty.--The imitation always
  purely artistic.--Instances of the spontaneous tact which gives
  rise to new names.                                                  53



  Sounds naturally used as the signs of sounds; as among infants,
  and savage races.--Wide application of this law overlooked.--The
  imitation modified organically and ideally.--Admirable
  perfection of the organs of sound.--Boundless capabilities of
  language.--Diversity of _relations_ gave rise to different
  imitations.--Roots universally onomatopœic.--Cause of dialectic
  variety.--Interjections and onomatopœia the two natural elements
  of language.--Instances of words derived from exclamations; and
  from imitation.--Supposed vulgarity of onomatopœic words.--Their
  real dignity when well used.--Instances from the poets.--They
  cannot be avoided.--Harmonies of language.                          72



  Roots supposed to be primitive and irreducible.--Words derived
  from sensible images; the personal pronouns; and even the
  numerals.--The verb ‘to be,’ in all languages, from a material
  root.--Permutations and combinations of a few roots.--Instances
  of their diffusiveness.--The root ‘ach.’--The root ‘dhu.’--The
  same root to express opposite meanings.--Roots refracted and
  reflected.--Important applications of these remarks.                97



  We know nothing absolutely.--Language an asymptote.--Necessity
  of analogy to express things.--All words ultimately
  derivable from sensible ideas.--Instances in the Semitic
  languages.--Graphic effects thus produced.--Words involve all
  history.--Catachresis and metaphor.--Defence of both from
  the charge of imperfection.--Necessity, power, and value of
  metaphor.--Comparisons of style.--Rigid accuracy and clumsiness
  of scientific terminology.--Words are but symbols.--The two
  worlds.--Poetry of life to the primal man, and its influence on
  language.--A nation’s language expresses its character.            116



  Inferences drawn from the derivation of all words from
  ‘sensible ideas.’--Gradual degeneracy of the Sensational
  School.--Condillac.--Helvetius.--The Diversions of Purley.--Real
  derivation of the words ‘If’ and ‘Truth.’--What words really
  stand for.--The conclusions of nominalism need not be
  accepted.--Reason.--Words which can only be explained by the
  idea.                                                              147



  These laws psychological.--1. Languages advance from exuberance
  to moderation by eliminating superfluities.--Unity of speech
  the result of civilisation.--Redundancy marks an early stage of
  thought.--Superfluous words dropped or desynonymised.--2. Languages
  advance from indetermination to grammar.--Simplicity succeeds
  complexity.--Instances of agglutination.--3. Languages advance from
  synthesis to analysis.--Tmesis a relic of Polysynthetism.--Analysis
  not inferior to synthesis for the expression of thought.--Instances
  in the Indo-European and Semitic languages.--Grimm on the English
  language.--Some would add a 4th law, viz.: the progress from
  monosyllabism.--Arguments in favour of this law.--It remains very
  questionable; only a convenient hypothesis.                        166



  Stages of Language.--The logical order not the historical.--1. The
  Indo-European and Arian family.--Its unity and importance.--Life
  of the early Arians.--“Linguistic Palæontology.”--2. The Semitic
  family.--Its character and divisions.--3. The Allophylian
  or Turanian (?) family (?).--Can only be called a ‘family’
  hypothetically.--Includes a vast number of languages, which have
  _very little_ connection with each other.                          185



  Immense number of languages dead as well as living.--Three
  irreducible families.--Arguments in favour of an original
  language.--1. All may be derived (not from each other, but) from
  some lost language.--Objections.--2. Supposed affinities
  between different families, i. Non-Sanskritic elements in
  Celtic. ii. Possible reduction of the triliteral Semitic
  roots.--Objections.--3. Languages apparently anomalous.--Egyptian,
  Berber, &c.--How they may possibly be accounted
  for.--Inference.--Apparent successions of races.--1. The inferior
  races.--2. The semi-civilised.--3. The great noble races.          203



  1. Destinies of the Arian race.--The future of the
  English language.--The distinction of nations a design of
  Providence.--2. Advantages which result from diversities of
  language.--Indispensable for the preservation of truth.--Value of
  knowing languages.--3. A universal language could, in the present
  state of the world, only last for a short time.--Conclusion.       220

  A list of books valuable as forming an Introduction to the Study
  of Philology.                                                      229






  “Sprache ist der volle Athem menschlicher Seele.”--GRIMM.

Of all the faculties wherewith God has endowed his noblest
creature, none is more divine and mysterious than the faculty of
speech. It is the gift whereby man is raised above the beasts; the
gift whereby soul speaks to soul; the gift whereby mere pulses
of articulated air become breathing thoughts and burning words;
the gift whereby we understand the affections of men and give
expression to the worship of God; the gift whereby the lip of
divine[1] inspiration uttering things simple and unperfumed and
unadorned, reacheth with its passionate voice through a thousand
generations by the help of God.

Language is the sum total of those articulate sounds which man,
by the aid of this marvellous faculty of speech, has produced and
accepted as the signs of all those inward and outward phenomena
wherewith he is made acquainted by sense and thought. These signs
are “those[2] shadows of the soul, those living sounds which
we call words! and compared with them how poor are all other
monuments of human power, or perseverance, or skill, or genius!
They render the mere clown an artist, nations immortal, writers,
poets, philosophers divine!” Let him who would rightly understand
the grandeur and dignity of speech, meditate on the deep mystery
involved in the revelation of the Lord Jesus as the Word of God.

No study is more rich in grand results than the study of language,
and to no study can we look with greater certainty to elucidate the
earliest history of mankind. For the roots of language[3] spring
in the primitive liberty of human intelligence, and therefore its
records bear on them the traces of human history. We read with deep
interest the works of individual genius, and trace in them the life
and character of the men on whom it has been bestowed; we toilfully
examine the unburied monuments of extinct nations, and are rewarded
for years of labour if we can finally succeed in gaining a feeble
glimpse of their history by deciphering the unknown letters carved
on the crumbling fragments of half-calcined stone; but in language
we have the history not only of individuals but of nations; not
only of nations but of mankind. For unlike music and poetry, which
are the special privilege of the few, language[4] is the property
of all, as necessary and accessible as the air we breathe. Of all
that men have invented and combined; of all that they have produced
or interchanged among themselves; of all that they have drawn
from their peculiar organism, language is the noblest and most
indispensible treasure. An immediate emanation of human nature, and
progressing with it, language is the common blessing, the common
patrimony, of mankind. It is an[5] admirable poem on the history
of all ages; a living monument, on which is written the genesis
of human thought. Thus “the ground[6] on which our civilisation
stands is a sacred one, for it is the deposit of thought. For
language, as it is the mirror, so is it the product of reason, and
as it embodies thought, so is it the child of thought. In it are
deposited the primordial sparks of that celestial fire, which,
from a once bright centre of civilisation, has streamed forth over
the inhabited earth, and which now already, after less than three
myriads of years, forms a galaxy round the globe, a chain of light
from pole to pole.”

Philology, the science which devotes itself to the study of
language, has recently[7] arrived at results almost undreamed of by
preceding centuries. Indeed, it received its most vigorous impulse
from the acquaintance with the languages of India, and, above all,
with Sanskrit, which, like so many other great blessings, directly
resulted from our dominion in India. Already it has thrown new
light on many of the most perplexing problems of religion, history,
and ethnography; and, being yet but an infant science, it is in all
probability destined to achieve triumphs, of which at present we
can but dimly prophesy the consequences.[8]

Since the most ancient monuments of Sanskrit, Zend,[9] Hebrew,
and in fact of all languages, are separated, perhaps by thousands
of years from[9] the appearance of language (_i.e._, from the
creation of the human race), it might seem impossible to throw
any light on that most interesting of all considerations, the
_origin_ of language. And yet so permanent are the creations
of speech, so invariable and ascertainable are the laws of its
mutation, that the geologist is less clearly able to describe the
convulsions of the earth’s strata than the philologist to point
out, by the indications of language, the undoubted traces of a
nation’s previous life. On the stone tablets of the universe,
God’s own finger has written the changes which millions of years
have wrought on the mountain and the plain; in the fluid air,
which he articulates into human utterance, man has preserved for
ever the main facts of his past history, and the main processes
of his inmost soul. The sonorous wave, indeed, which transmits to
our ears the uttered thought, reaches but a little distance, and
then vanishes like the tremulous ripple on the surface of the sea;
but, conscious of his destiny, man invented writing to give it
perpetuity from age to age. Its short reach, its brief continuance,
are the defects of the spoken word, but when graven on the stone or
painted on the vellum it passes from one end of the earth to the
other for all time; it conquers at once eternity and space.[10]

From the earliest ages the origin of language has been a topic of
discussion and speculation, and a vast number of treatises have
been written upon it. But it is only in modern times that we have
collected sufficient data to admit of any consistent or exhaustive
theory, and the earlier[11] writers contented themselves for the
most part with building systems before they had collected facts.

There have been three main theories to account for the appearance
of language, and it will be both interesting and instructive to
pass them in brief review. They are:--1. That language was innate
and organic. 2. That language was the result partly of imitation,
and partly of convention. 3. That language was revealed. It will be
seen from our consideration of them, that none of these theories
is in itself wholly true or adequate, yet that each of them has a
partial value, and that they are not so irreconcilably opposed to
each other as might at first sight be imagined.

1. It was believed by the ancients generally, and perhaps by the
majority of moderns, that language was _innate and organic_;
_i.e._, a distinct _creation_ synchronising with the creation of
man. The inferences drawn from this supposition led men to regard
words as “types of objective reality, the shadow of the body and
the image reflected in the mirror.”[12] The words were supposed
to be not only a sign of the thing intended by them, but in
some way to partake of its nature, and to express and symbolise
something of its idea. Hence the very notion of arbitrariness was
well-nigh expelled from language, and there was supposed to be a
deep harmony[13] between the physiological quality of the sound
and its significance--between the combination and connection of
sounds with the connection and combined relations of the things
they represented. Whoever, therefore, knew the names, knew also
the things which the names implied.[14] However strange and even
ridiculous these views may appear to our somewhat superficial
and unphilosophical age, it is far more difficult to understand
them truly than to speak of them contemptuously, and they led to
a reverence for the use of speech which reacted beneficially in
producing careful writing and accurate thought.

The belief that language was innate led to the strange
hallucination that if a child were entirely secluded from human
contact, he would speak instinctively the primitive language of
mankind. According to Herodotus, the experiment was actually made
by Psammetichus, King of Egypt, who entrusted two new-born infants
to a shepherd, with the injunction to let them suck a goat’s
milk, and to speak no words in their presence, but to observe
what word they would first utter. After two years the shepherd
visited them, and they approached him, stretching[15] out their
hands, and uttering the word βεκός. It was found that this vocable
existed in the Phrygian language, and meant “bread;” whence it was
sagely inferred that the Phrygians spoke the original language,
and were the most ancient of people. There is in this story such
a delicious naïveté, that one could hardly expect that it would
have happened in any except very early ages. It can, however,
be paralleled by the popular opinion which attributed the same
experiment to James IV. and Frederic II.[16] in the Middle Ages. In
the latter case the little unfortunates died for want of lullabies!
Similarly, almost every nation has regarded its own language as the
primitive one. One of the historians of St. Louis says that a deaf
mute, miraculously healed at the king’s tomb, spoke, not in the
language of Burgundy, where he was born, but in the language[17]
of the capital. A similar belief seems to underlie the extreme
anxiety and curiosity of savages to learn the name of any article
hitherto unknown to them, as though the name had some absolute
significance. This is not the place to enter into a discussion of
that deep germ of truth which such fancies involve; but hints of it
may be found in Holy[18] Scripture.

No doubt at first sight it appears that much might be said
in favour of the innate and organic nature of language. Its
beauty,[19] its diversity, its power, its diffusion over the whole
surface of the globe, give it the supernatural air of a gift which
man, so far from originating, can only ruin and destroy. We see
that in favourable situations language, like vegetation, flourishes
and blossoms, while elsewhere it fades and dies away as a plant
loses its foliage when deprived of nourishment and light. It seems,
too, to participate in that healing power of nature, which effaces
rapidly all trace of wounds received. Like nature, it produces
mighty results out of feeble resources--it is economical without
avarice, and liberal without prodigality.

Again; do we not see that almost every living thing is endowed in
infinite variety with the faculty of uttering sounds, and even of
intercommunicating feelings?[20] The air is thrilled with the voice
of birds, and some of them even possess a power of articulation,
which among many nations is the distinctive[21] definition of man.
Nay, fancy has attributed to animals a power of language in the age
of gold--a power which under certain[22] circumstances they are
supposed to be still allowed to exercise.

But this leads us to the true point of difference. The dog barks,
as it barked[23] at the creation, and the crow of the cock is the
same now as when it reached the ear of repentant Peter. The song
of the nightingale, and the howl of the leopard, have continued
as unchangeable as the concentric circles of the spider, and
the waxen hexagon of the bee. The one as much as the other are
the result of a blind though often perfect instinct. They are
unalterable because they are innate, and the utterances of mankind
would have been as unchangeable as those of animals, had they been
in the same way the result not of liberty but of necessity. To the
cries of animals we must compare, not man’s ever-varying language,
but those instinctive sounds of weeping, sobbing, moaning--the
changeless scream, sigh, or laughter--by which, since the creation,
he has given relief or expression to his physical[24] sensations.

In point of fact--as a thousand experiments might have proved to
Psammetichus--a new-born infant possesses the faculty of language,
not actually, but only potentially. It is obvious that an Italian
infant, picked up on the field of Solferino and carried to Paris,
would not have spokenδυναμις Italian but French, and an English
babe, carried off by the Caffirs, would find no difficulty in
learning the rich language of Caffraria, with its five-and-twenty
moods. For language is clearly learned by _imitation_. This is
the intermediate link between the δύναμις and the ἔργον. When
poor Kaspar Hauser tottered into the streets of Nuremberg, the
only words he could say were, “I will be a soldier as my father
was,” because those were the only words which he had heard in his
miserable confinement. Doubtless, the Egyptian children pronounced
the word βεκός, because it approached as nearly as possible to the
bleating[25] of the goat by which they had been suckled.

Had there ever been an innate organic language, it is quite certain
that it must have left some traces; for, as Dr. Latham observes,
“language (as an instrument of criticism in ethnology) is _the
most permanent_ of the criteria of human relationships derivable
from our moral constitution.” Talleyrand’s wicked witticism, that
“language was given us to conceal our thoughts,” arose from the
fact that it is used for that purpose on a thousand occasions.
But although a man may “coin his face into smiles,” and utter
a thousand honeyed words, his real sentiments _will_ flash out
sometimes in passionate gesture and rapid glance; and just in the
same way, had there even been a language which was the organic
expression of emotion, it is absolutely impossible that it should
have wholly disappeared. That which is really implanted is for the
most part unalterable.

2. Seeing, then, that positive experiment, as well as other
considerations, disprove the inneity of language, other
philosophers believed that it was simply conventional, and grew
up gradually after a period of mutism. The Epicurean philosophy,
deeply tainted with the error of man’s slow and toilsome
development from a savage and almost bestial[26] condition,
gave the problem the hardest of all material solutions. This
school found in Lucretius its most splendid exponent, and the
poet accounts for the appearance of speech as the gradual and
instinctive endeavour to supply a want.[27] In short, words came
because they were required, much in the same way that, according
to the theory of Lamarck, organic peculiarities are the result of
habit and instinct, so that the crane acquired a long neck and
long legs by persevering attempts to fish. Lucretius compares
language to the widely diverse sounds which animals emit to express
different sensations, and, scornfully rejecting the theory of one
Name-giver, asserts repeatedly that--

      “Utilitas[27] expressit nomina rerum.”

It was generally believed by this school that man originally
acquired the faculty of speech by an observation of the sounds of
nature. The cries of animals, “the hollow murmuring wind and silver
rain,” the sighing of the woods,

      “The tongue of forests green and flowery wilds,”

these, it seems, were man’s[28] teachers in the power of

        “The joyous birds shrouded in cheerful shade,
          Their notes unto the voice attempted sweet;
        Th’ angelical soft trembling voices made
          To th’ instruments divine respondence meet,
        With the base murmurs of the water’s fall;
          The water’s fall with difference discreet,
        Now soft, now loud, unto the wind did call;
      The gentle warbling wind low answerëd to all.”[29]

Man, too, would endeavour to take his part in the divine harmony;
he would translate into living and intelligent utterances the dim
and sublime music of this unconscious hymn.

Like most theories that have met with any amount of acceptance,
this belief contains a germ of truth. It originated from the
onomatopœic character of a large part of all languages. But we
reject the conclusion drawn from this fact. That man produced a
large or very large part of his vocabulary by an imitation of
natural sounds is entirely true, but that the idea of speech was
created in him by the hearing of those sounds we believe to be
eminently false. This theory, however, found especial favour among
the philosophers of the eighteenth century, except that with them
a mysterious convention seemed not even to require this natural
basis. Maupertuis, Condillac, Rousseau, Volney, Nodier, Herder,
Monboddo, and Dr. Smith,[30] all seem to believe in an original
time when a few intonations, joined to gesture and expression of
the face, sufficed for the wants of nascent humanity, and formed,
in fact, a natural language; but in course of time this was found
inadequate, and so “on convint,[31] on s’arrangea à l’aimable, et
ainsi fut établi le _langage artificiel_ ou articulé.” According
to Monboddo the steps of the process were briefly as follows:--1,
Inarticulate cries; 2, Gestures; 3, Imitative sounds; 4, An
artificial language, formed by convention, and resulting from
the necessities of the race. This language was originally poor
and defective, but developed into richness, just as (to quote
the simile of Adelung) the canoe of the savage has grown into
the floating city of modern nations. All other conjectures are,
however, eclipsed by Dr. Murray’s derivation of all the languages
of Europe from nine onomatopœic syllables. These wondrous
vocables[32] were:--1, Ag; 2, Bag; 3, Dwag; 4, Cwag; 5, Lag; 6,
Mag; 7, Nag; 8, Rag; 9, Swag!!! M. Renan (who believes that _all_
the parts of speech existed implicitly in the primitive language)
may well remark that of all theories this is “the most false, or
rather the least rich in truth;” and it may be known by its fruits,
for the natural inference from it is either “that[33] thought is
merely an affection of perishable matter (_materialism_), or that
both are indiscriminately accidents of the one divine substance
of the universe (_pantheism_).” It is true that language, though
not the result of convention, tends to _become_[34] conventional
in the process of time, but this very tendency is often a mark of
decay and ruin, and a language is a noble and powerful instrument
of thought in proportion as it keeps in view the motives and
principles which originated the words of which it is composed.

3. The third main theory, which has found numberless supporters,
is, that _language is due to direct revelation_. The tenacity
of this belief was mainly due to the violent reaction of the
spiritualist school in the nineteenth century against the
systematising scepticism of their predecessors. It was warmly
adopted by MM. de Bonald, de Maistre, De Lammenais, and others,
and was in one sense a step forwards, for it recognised at least
that “divine[35] spark which glows in all idioms even the most
imperfect and uncultivated.” But this theory must likewise be
rejected. It raises[36] men to the level of gods, as much as
the former theory had degraded them to the rank of beasts.
“Spiritualism contradicts nature, as materialism contradicts mind.
It has reality and history against it as much as its opposite.”

This view opens considerations of such importance that we must
subject it to a still more careful discussion.

We object, in the first place, to the difficulty and obscurity
of the phrase. In one sense,[37] indeed--if we take it
metaphorically,--it is perhaps the most exact expression to
describe the wonderful apparition of human speech, which it
rightly withdraws from the sphere of vulgar inventions. Language,
as an immediate product of human powers, might perhaps, with
more safety, be attributed to the Universal Cause, than to the
particular action of human liberty. If by revelation be intended
_the spontaneous play of the human faculties_, in this sense, God,
having endowed man with all things requisite for the discovery of
language, may, with near approximation to truth, be called its
Author; but then, why make use of an expression so indirect and
liable to be misunderstood, when others more natural and more
philosophical might have been found to indicate the same[38] fact?

But, unhappily, M. de Bonald and others who urged this view
took the expression literally, and made it not scientific but
theological; not a disinterested[39] and independent conclusion
drawn from induction, but a mere dogma of faith to be forced (like
so many other false excrescences of theological tradition) upon the
conscience of all Christians. In general, those who maintain the
literal revelation of language, and reject its human origin, are
the direct successors of those theologians who have so long opposed
every discovery in science, and rejected the plainest deductions
of geometry and logic. They intrude into a sphere in which they
have no knowledge and no place; their arguments are neither
scientific nor reasonable; they are not reasons but assertions; not
conclusions but idle and groundless prejudices. It has been well
said that they pertain to an order of ideas and interests which
science repudiates, and with which she has nothing to do. Ignorance
has no claim to a hearing even when she speaks _ex cathedrâ_.

Now what is meant by such an expression as the revelation of
language rigorously understood? If, for instance, we take it
materially, if we understand it to mean that a voice from heaven
dictated to men the names of things--such a conception is so
grossly[40] anthropomorphic, it is so utterly at variance with all
scientific explanation, it is so irreconcileably opposed to all our
ideas of the laws of nature, that it needs no refutation for one
who is in the least degree initiated into the methods of modern
criticism. Besides, as M. Cousin[41] has remarked, “it only removes
the difficulty a step backwards without resolving it. For signs
divinely invented would for us not be _signs_ but _things_, which
we should have been subsequently obliged to elevate into signs by
attaching to them certain significations.” The revealed “term”
would be a useless encumbrance unless it corresponded with some
well understood conception; and therefore if words were revealed,
conceptions must also have been implanted; and we are thus driven
to the absurdity of supposing that anterior to all experience,
we knew that which experience (_i.e._ an[42] actual relation of
intelligence with that which is the object of intelligence) alone
could teach us.

We have already said that these modern spiritualists considered
the revelation of language to be a truth involved by the narrative
of Genesis. In this they were the slaves of a false and narrow
exegesis, which had not even the poor excuse of being literal. What
is the true meaning of the sacred writer we shall endeavour to
show further on; but we cannot here abstain from again uttering a
strong protest against the barrier placed in the way of all honest
scientific inquiry by the timid prejudices of that class which
tyrannises over public opinion. When shall we learn to acquiesce
practically in the belief which theoretically the most orthodox
have long expressed, that it is a needless incongruity to look
in the Bible for scientific truths which it does not profess to
reveal? “Such[43] an attempt,” it has been well said, “has been _a
perversion of the purpose of a divine revelation, and cannot lead
to any physical truth_.”

Honesty all the more imperiously demands this remark, because here,
as in a thousand other places, perverted by system and ignorance,
we believe that the Bible rightly understood contains (not precise
dogmas, but) the general indications of a sublime truth; and
because it may be shown that in this particular instance _its
records accurately agree with the results of careful and laborious
inquiry_. Here, as often, the Bible does not clash with the
conclusions of science, if taken _to imply no more than what it
categorically asserts_. But the Bible is not the _only_ source of
information open to us, and if we are ever in any way to fill up
“the vast lacunas which characterise that gigantic and mysterious
epitaph of humanity engraved in the first chapters of Genesis,” we
must do so not by ignorant and dogmatic assertions, but by humble
sincerity and patient research.

If, then, language were revealed, the Bible is not only silent on
such a revelation, but distinctly implies the reverse. We shall
examine the narrative of Genesis (ii. 19, 20) farther on; but we
must here stop to observe that where the Deity is represented as
talking to Adam and other patriarchs, such passages must not be
supposed to have any bearing on the question, as it is quite clear
that they are only intended for an expressive anthropomorphism.[44]
Even Luther, in his Commentary on Genesis, goes out of his way to
prove that nothing material is intended in such phrases as God’s
“speaking to” Adam, and that it would be as strange to suppose
that they imply any[45] revelation of language, as it would be
to infer the revelation of writing from the mention of the stone
tables “written by the finger of God.” Writing also has been
attributed directly to God’s external gift, although, as in the
case of language, there is the clearest proof of its human origin
and gradual perfectionment.

But we must not omit one or two positive arguments against this

1. Had language been revealed, mankind at first would have been
better situated than any of their posterity; and such a disposition
is unlike the ordinary course of God’s just dealings.

2. So far from being “a pale image and feeble echo of splendours
which have passed away from the scene of earth,” each human
language bears in itself the most distinct traces of growth and
progress--the marks of a regular development in accordance with
definite laws--the successive traces of infancy, youth, maturity,
and manhood. Though many existing languages, and even those of some
savage nations are but “degraded and decaying fragments of nobler
formations,” yet there are proofs as decisive that they rose to
gradual perfection, as that they subsequently fell from perfection
to decay.

3. If the spiritualist theory were true, it would be a most natural
inference that the spiritual and abstract signification of roots is
also the original one. But such an assumption (although it is made
by Frederic Schlegel), “is contradicted by the history of every
language of the world.”

4. It is equally improbable that God who revealed the primitive
language, or man who received it, should have suffered it (divine,
as on this supposition it must have been) to degenerate into
barbarous and feeble jargons.

5. “The human faculties _are competent_ to the formation
of[46]language.” It is therefore totally unlike God’s methods,
as observed in His works, to give _directly_ what can be evolved
_mediately_. For there is clearly no waste in the economy of
Nature, no prodigality in the display of miracles. In the words
of Grimm, “it seems contrary to the wisdom of God to impose the
restraint of a created form on that which was destined to a free
historic development.” At any rate, as a fact we _can_ historically
trace the development of language from a very small nucleus, and
this being the case the supposition of any previous revealed
language is a groundless and improbable hypothesis.[47]

Further arguments will appear as we proceed; but we must now point
out the true meaning of the statement in Genesis, that “God brought
all living creatures to Adam _to see what he would call them_; and
whatsoever Adam called every living creature that was the name
thereof.”[48] Now, merely remarking (by way of limitation) that the
writer clearly supposed his own language to be that of Paradise,
and that there is here no attempt to account for all[49] language,
because he is speaking of a certain class of words only--we find
in this narrative a profound verity clothed in a most beautiful
and appropriate symbol: ‘We see man as the true nomenclator--man
acting by his own peculiar faculties under the guide of the Deity.
Philosophy[50] could find no more perfect figure to express her
conclusions than this--God teaching man to speak as a father would
a son.’ But to give this simple narrative a material explanation
is to falsify at once both its letter and its spirit. On the
other hand, “to say with the theologians that God had created
language[51] as he had created man, and that language is not the
act and work of man,” is to contradict not only reason but the
Bible too. For be it observed, that the Bible distinctly confirms
our arguments by saying, not that _God_ named the animals, but that
_Adam_ named them, and that whatsoever _he_ named every living
creature _that_ was the name thereof.

In short, language is “only divine in proportion to the divinity
of our nature and our soul;” it is only a gift of God because the
faculty naturally resulted from the physical and spiritual organism
which God had created. This seems a more natural and philosophic
supposition than the belief that even the _embryonic germ_ of
language was revealed. The exercise of the faculty in the original
utterance of primitive words has ceased to be called into play
because it has ceased to be required. We cannot now invent original
words because there is no longer any necessity for doing so. In the
same way--as is well known--a deaf mute when once instructed in an
artificial language loses the quick instinctive power of creating
intelligible natural signs.

We conclude, then, that language is neither innate and organic; nor
a mechanical invention; nor an external gift of revelation;--but
a natural faculty swiftly developed by a powerful instinct, the
result of intelligence[52] and human freedom which have no place
in purely organic[53] functions. It was “the living product of the
whole[54] inner man.” It was “not[55] a gift bestowed ready formed
to man, but something coming from himself.” It is “essentially[56]
human; it owes to our full liberty both its origin and its
progress; it is our history, our heritage.” Objectively considered,
it was the result of organism: subjectively, the product of
intelligence. It was “a primitive intuition, impersonal and yet
influenced by individual genius;” in a word, its character is “at
once[57] objective and subjective, at once individual and general,
at once free and necessary, at once human and divine.”

That such a conclusion,[58] however much it may seem to savour
of a weak eclecticism by combining all former theories, is yet in
profound accordance with all the ascertained facts of language we
shall hope to prove in the following chapter.



      “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

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

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



  “Nommer par la mimologie, s’enrichir par la comparaison, les
  langues n’ont pas d’autre moyen: elles ne sortent pas de
  là.”--Nodier, p. 39.

From the general question as to the manner in which sounds acquired
significance as _words_, we proceed to the longer and wider inquiry
as to the causes which led to the choice of special sounds in
special significations; or, in other words, we shall consider the
origin of roots.[85]

When in the first chapter we proved that language was neither
innate nor revealed, we proved implicitly that no words could be
_purely_ arbitrary.[86] The historic character of language,--the
fact that in innumerable cases we can distinctly trace the laws
which presided at the genesis of any particular word,--strongly
confirms our _à priori_ conclusion. The inference to be deduced
from the labours of all the best philologists, is that of Ihre,
“Non ut fungi nascuntur Vocabula.” We have no reason to believe
that any elements of language were deduced from roots which of
themselves had no significance; and the more rigorous and extensive
the analysis to which even inflections are subjected, the more
clear is the proof that they arise from the agglutination of
separate and significant words. “We believe,” says one of the
ablest of modern[87] inquirers, “that in language _ex nihilo nihil
fit_; and we are at a loss to conceive how elements originally
destitute of signification can determine the sense of anything
with precision. To assume that they have _no_ meaning, because we
cannot always satisfactorily explain it, is only an _argumentum ad

Nor must it be forgotten, that in endeavouring to prove that in
language _nothing is arbitrary_, we are under a great disadvantage,
because no existing language has come to us in its primitive form.
Every language, even those which are most ancient, and have long
since ceased to be spoken, bears in its records the traces of a
more primitive condition. Words, of which the composition was
originally clear, are worn and rubbed by the use of ages, like the
pebbles which are fretted and rounded into shape and smoothness by
the sea waves on a shingly beach; or to use the more appropriate
image suggested by Goethe, their meaning is often worn away
like the image and superscription of a coin. This process is so
continuous, that it is quite hopeless to recover the original form
of many words, or even to make a probable[88] guess at their origin.

Language always tends to become mechanical (_i.e._ unmeaning of
_itself_) by corruption;[89] and to such an extent is this the
case, that it is rather a matter of astonishment when, after the
lapse of centuries, a word still retains the _obvious_ traces of
its original form. And yet in spite of this we can by induction
discover from words themselves the _main_ laws which influenced the
formation of primitive speech.

The violent dislike which we instinctively feel to the use of a
word entirely new to us, and of which we do not understand the
source, is a matter of daily experience; and the tendency to _give_
a meaning to adopted words by so changing them as to remove their
seemingly _arbitrary_ character has exercised a permanent and
appreciable influence on every language. An instance or two will
perhaps pave the way for a more ready acceptance of our subsequent

When we go into a ship or factory, and inquire the technical name
of various parts of the machinery, we are either unable to use the
names from not catching the pronunciation, or, in attempting to
pronounce them we substitute for them other words of similar sound
and more significance.

It often happens that gardeners become acquainted with new
plants, or new species of old plants, that are brought to them
under a foreign name; not understanding this name, they corrupt
it into some word which sounds like it, and with which they are
already familiar. To this source of corruption we owe such words
as dandylion[90] (_dent de lion_), rosemary (_ros marinus_),
gilly-flower (_girofle_), quarter sessions rose (_des quatre
saisons_), Jerusalem artichoke (_giresol_) &c. For the same reason
(the dislike of terms with which they are unacquainted) sailors
corrupt Bellerophon into Billy Ruffian: and we have heard of a
groom, who, having the charge of two horses called Othello and
Desdemona, christened them respectively Old Fellow and Thursday
Morning. Lamprocles, the name of a horse of Lord Eglintoun’s, was
converted by the ring into “Lamb and Pickles.” The same principle
may be seen at work among servants; we have heard a servant
systematically use the word “cravat” for “carafe,” and astonish a
gentleman by calmly asking him at luncheon, “If she should fill
his _cravat_ with water?”

The working of this tendency is all the more curious from the
fact that very often the corrupted form of the word is wholly
_inappropriate_, although significant. There is no doubt that,
in most cases, we prefer a corruption, which is appropriate _as
well as_ significant, and we find instances[91] of this in such
words as worm-_wood_ (_wermuth_), cray-_fish_ (_écrévisse_),
lant_horn_ (_laterna_), _bel_fry (_beffroi_), rake_hell_
(_racaille_), _beef_eater (_buffetier_), verdi_grease_ (_verd de
gris_), sparrow-_grass_ (asparagus), &c. Where, however, this is
unattainable, we are well content with some significant corruption,
for which we can invent or imagine a meaning even if we are unaware
of the real explanation; as, for instance, in Charter House
(_Chartreuse_), “to a cow’s thumb” = exactly (_à la coutume_),
wiseacre (_weissager_), saltpetre (_salpetra_), &c. It is curious
to find that in the desire to understand, at any rate in _some_
degree, the words we use, the corrupted form often gives birth to
a totally false explanation. Thus Dr. Latham mentions[92] that the
corruption of _Château Vert_ into Shotover has led to the legend
that Little John _shot over_ the hill of that name near Oxford.
Similar instances are supplied by the legends of Veronica, and of
St. Ursula with her _eleven thousand_ virgins.

It may seem that we have, in the course of this chapter, made
statements somewhat contradictory; viz., that it is the tendency of
language to become mechanical (_i.e._, arbitrary and conventional)
by corruption, and yet that there is an instinctive dislike to the
use of new words which convey no intrinsic meaning to the mind of
the speaker. If we argued from the instances adduced in the last
pages, we _might_ infer that language was originally arbitrary,
and had been twisted into meaning by subsequent use. We must,
however, draw attention to the fact that this latter phenomenon
is only observable on the naturalisation of a word. A new word,
however bright and perfect in itself, is like a strange coin upon
which we look with suspicion, because we are unaccustomed to its
appearance. But when a word is accepted and generally understood,
when, in fact, it has _become current_, we are then indifferent
to the amount of wear on the surface or even to the complete
obliteration of its original significance; just in the same way as
we do not trouble ourselves to observe a coin which is in common
use, and pay no regard to the fact that its image is confused, and
its superscription undecipherable. We might, for instance, find
words which have passed through both processes. Let us suppose[93]
that, in course of time, the word _sherbet_ had become corrupted
first into _syrup_, then into _shrub_; in this case we should
have an exemplification of a word first appropriately corrupted
into a familiar form in the course of naturalisation, and then
re-corrupted into a purely mechanical[94] word, by the ordinary
progress of language. We are therefore fairly entitled to infer
from the dislike to the introduction of any sound as a word,
when the sound is to the speaker an arbitrary one, that the same
feeling must have operated at the dawning exercise of the faculty
of speech; while from the indifference which we exhibit to the
corruption of a word when it has once been currently received; we
may give a reason for our inability to explain the origin of _all_
primitive roots, even while we assume with confidence that every
root was originally significative.

Language may be regarded as the union of words and grammar, of
which words are analogous to matter, and grammar to form;[95]
regarded in its _form_ it was the expression of pure reason; in its
_matter_ it was only the reflex of sensuous life. The absence of
any definite grammar constitutes an _inorganic_ language like the
Chinese. Those who have derived language exclusively from sensation
are as much mistaken as those who have assigned to ideas a purely
material origin. Sensation furnished the variable and accidental
element, which might have been quite other than it is, (_i.e._,
the words); but the grammar of a language, (the rational form,
without which words could not have been a language), is its pure
and transcendental element which gives to the result its truly
human character. Words can no more form a language than sensations
can produce a man. That which originates language, like that
which originates thought, is the logical relation which the soul
establishes between external things.

We may now state our belief that _almost all_ primitive roots were
obtained by _Onomatopœia_, _i.e._, by an imitation with the human
voice of the sounds of inanimate nature. Onomatopœia sufficed
to represent the vast majority of physical facts and external
phenomena; and nearly all the words requisite for the expression
of metaphysical and moral convictions were derived from these[96]
onomatopœic roots by _analogy_ and _metaphor_.

We have purposely modified our statement of these conclusions,
because there is too great a tendency to general assertions,
against which, as W. von Humboldt well remarked, science should be
always on its guard. It is a saying of Schlegel’s, that, so great
is the variety of procedure in different languages, that there is
scarcely one language which might not be chosen to illustrate some
particular hypothesis. For instance, the _sole_ similarity between
Chinese and Sanskrit rests in the fact that both aim at the same
end, viz., the expression of thought. Thus onomatopœia is far from
being found in all languages in the same degree, and it is much
more observable in the Semitic than in the Indo-European family, in
which, however ancient the word may be proved to be, it constantly
bears witness to those poetic and philosophic instincts of our race
which clearly prove that reason was not a slow and painful growth.

“Caprice has no influence in the formation of language.” Without
believing in any universal, necessary, intrinsic connection
between word and thing, we are forced to believe that there was,
in every case, a _subjective_ connection. The appropriateness of
the word resided, not in the object named, for in this case there
would have been a striking similarity in all the languages of the
human race, but in the mind of the name-giver, who, of necessity,
stamped the word with the impress of his own individuality. In
direct proportion to the delicacy of his perceptions, was the
fitness of the words he used; for those words expressed relations
capable of being viewed in widely different aspects, so that the
finer and more keen was the man’s power of perceiving analogies,
the greater was his capacity for the expression of facts. The true
formula is that “the connection between a word and its meaning is
never _necessary_, and never arbitrary, but always results from a
reasonable motive.”

But what the motives were, which in many cases led to the choice
of particular sounds, it is beyond our power to conjecture or
ascertain. The richness and delicacy of the appellative faculty
in the savage and the infant must necessarily have existed in the
primitive man, and, as it decayed with the decay of all necessity
for its exercise, we are unable to point out, with any certainty,
the tendencies by which it was actuated. There is no waste in the
economy of nature; a faculty ceases when it is no longer required,
just as the outer leaves which ensheathe the nascent germ wither
and drop off when the germ has acquired sufficient vitality for its
own preservation.

“Tecum habita” was not the motto of the early inhabitants of the
earth. They lived with the external world. The cataract “haunted
them like a passion,” and they heard voices in the dawning of the
sun and the murmur of the wind. The heavens declared the glory of
God, and the firmament showed his handiwork; day unto day uttered
speech, and night showed knowledge unto night. The soul of the
first man, to use the beautiful expression of Leibnitz, was a
concentric mirror of nature, in the midst of whose works he lived.
Language was the echo of nature in his individual consciousness.
The action of the mind produced language by a spontaneous
repercussion of the perceptions received.[97] It is the mind which
creates and forms; but this power of the mind is one reacting only
upon impressions received from the world without. The imitative
power of language consists in an artistic imitation, not of things,
but of the rational impression which an object produces by its

The fact, therefore, that the imitation is _artistic_, and
is influenced by subjective considerations, would prevent us
from being surprised or disappointed, if we do not always see
the working of this principle, in cases where we should have
expected it. In such words as the Hebrew _Khâtzatz_ (קָצַץ),
and _Schephifoun_ (שְׁפִיפוֹן) we seem to hear the shearing off
of the cut material, and the lithe rustle of the horned snake
through the withered leaves. But words so remarkably suggestive
are comparatively rare, and in most cases the imitation is more
concealed. Nothing, however, more powerfully proves the tendency
of language, in this respect, than the fact that words of a
harsh meaning usually assume a rough, harsh form, and words that
imply something sweet and tender seem to breathe the sensation
they describe. The German word (entsetzen) “terror,” means,
etymologically, a mere “displacement,” yet who does not see that it
has caught an instinctive echo from the thing which it describes,
which, in no degree, depends on association;--that, independently
of imagination it betrays something harsh by its mere form. That
there is a consonance between external sounds and the processes
of the mind, is decisively shown by the fact that whole languages
have thus caught the impress of the associations by which they
have been evolved. In the soft and vowelled undersong of modern
Italian, who does not recognise the result of climate and natural
character? The Doric seems to recall to us the sound of martial
flutes, while the Hebrew, in its stern and solemn pomp, tells like
one vast onomatopœia, of the mighty mission which it was destined
to accomplish; every single word of it seems to shine with that
mysterious light which lent strange lustre to the letters of it on
the gems of the sacerdotal robe. “When,” says M. Vinet, “you hear
the vast word haschâmaïm, which names the heavens, unfold itself
like a vast pavilion, your intelligence--before knowing what the
word signifies--expects something magnificent; no mean object could
have been named thus; it is better than an onomatopœia, although it
is not one.”[98]

The exuberance and uncontrolled variety which characterises the
primitive languages is a proof of the extraordinarily developed
resources of the power of interpretation, or the faculty of
converting sounds into signs, so long as the exercise of that
faculty continued to be necessary. The richest idioms are always
the most spontaneous and unconscious. It is obviously impossible
for us, with our intellectual refinements and blunted senses, to
rediscover the ancient harmony which existed between thought and
sensation, between nature and man. As we are no longer obliged to
create language, we have entirely lost a crowd of processes which
tended to its elaboration. But among the early races there was a
delicate tact, enabling them to seize on those attributes which
were capable of supplying them with appellatives, the exquisite
subtlety of which we are unable any longer to conceive.[99] They
saw a thousand things at once, and indeed their language-creating
faculty mainly consisted in a power of seizing upon relations.
Our very civilisation has robbed us of this happy and audacious
power. Nature spoke more to them than to us, or rather they found
in themselves a secret echo which answered to all external voices,
and returned them in articulations--in _words_. Hence those
swift interchanges of meaning which we, with our less flashing
intelligence, are almost unable to follow.[100] ‘Who can seize
again those fugitive impressions of the naïfs creators of language
in words which have undergone so many changes, and which are so far
from their original acceptation? Who can rediscover the capricious
paths which the imagination followed, and the associations of ideas
which guided it, in that spontaneous work, wherein sometimes man,
sometimes nature, reunited the broken thread of analogies, and wove
their reciprocal actions into an indissoluble unity?’

Wherever the faculty of creating appellations is still required,
we still find a capacity for its exercise. For instance, it has
been asserted that “the day after an army has encamped in an
unknown country all the important or characteristic places have
their names without any convention having intervened.” We find an
analogous case in the fact that the French and English, by common
consent, called the Turks Bono Johnny; the exact reasons for such a
nomenclature would be perhaps difficult to determine, and who shall
say who first used or invented the term? yet it became current in a
day or two. It is equally difficult to trace the history and origin
of various popular phrases which every now and then have a brief
run in ordinary phraseology.

A still more remarkable exemplification that the faculty of the
original name-giver is not wholly lost to mankind may be seen in
the secret, subtle, almost imperceptible, and sometimes quite
unconscious analogies which give currency to a common nickname. At
schools I have often known boys whose sobriquet was a vocable, in
itself apparently meaningless and incapable of any circumstantial
explanation, which was yet universally adopted, and was adopted
_because_ it presented some unintelligible appropriateness.[101]
A modern prince is called Plomb-plomb, and known quite commonly
by that designation: yet there is no such word as Plomb-plomb in
the French language, and the very origin of the term is unknown to
the majority of the Prince’s contemporaries. We may be quite sure,
however, that the name involves either a lively onomatopœia or a
striking allusion.[102]



      “The sound must seem an echo to the sense.”--POPE.

Since the human voice is at once a _sound_ and a _sign_, it was
of course natural to take the sound of the voice as a sign of the
sounds of nature.[104] In short, to recall a sound by its echo
in the voice is as obviously natural a proceeding as to recall
an object to the memory by drawing the picture of its form. In
both cases we act upon the senses by means of imitation; and if
the human race had not been endued with the organs of hearing
doubtless a language for the eye would have been invented, just as
Philomela, when deprived of her tongue, made known, by embroidery,
her miserable tale. A word formed on the principle of imitation,
is said to be formed by onomatopœia, and although the traces of
such an origin are rapidly lost, yet amid the almost infinite
modifications of which a few roots are capable, it is astonishing
how vast a number of words may be ultimately deduced from a single
onomatopœic sound.

How universal and instinctive the procedure is, may be observed
among infants and savages.

In the nursery the onomatopœan sounds moo, baa, bow-wow, &c., are
the steps by which the child passes gradually to the conception
of cow, lamb, and dog. So in Swiss[105] bààgen is to bleat, and
báágeli (in nursery language), a sheep. The very name _cow_, Germ.
_kuh_, Sansks. _gao_, has a similar origin, as βοῦς, bos, ox,
Sansks. _uxan_, probably has also. There is little doubt that the
word, cat (Germ. _katze_), is an imitation of the sound made by a
cat spitting, which is one of the most peculiar characteristics of
the feline race. It must, however, be admitted that there is no
sibilant in “kater.” We have all heard the story of the Englishman
in China, who, wishing to know the contents of a dish which was
lying before him, said inquiringly, “Quack, quack?” and received in
answer, the word, “bow-wow!” These two imitations served all the
purposes of a more lengthened conversation. It was probably, by a
strictly analogous process, that an immense multitude of such roots
was primitively formed.

Again, it is impossible to look over any list of words collected
from the language of a savage community without recognising the
extensive use of the same method.[106] The repetition of syllables
is an almost certain sign of its working. Thus, Ai-ai is an
imitation of the cry of the sloth, and tuco-tuco is the name of a
small rodent in Buenos Ayres. Mr. Longfellow has supplied us with
many such words from the languages of North America, in his poem of
“Hiawatha,”--as Kahgahgee, the raven; Minnehaha laughing-water, &c.
“In uncivilised languages,[106] the consciousness of the imitative
character of certain words is sometimes demonstrated by their
composition with verbs,[107] like say or do, to signify making
a noise like that represented by the word in question. Thus, in
Galla, from _djeda_, to say, or _goda_, to make or do, are formed
_cacak-djeda_, to crack; _trrr-djeda_, to chirp; _dadada-djeda_, to
beat; _djamdjam-goda_, to champ.”

We do not think that the extent to which onomatopœia may be proved
to be an instrument of language has been sufficiently admitted.
It was the most natural starting-point for the intelligence on
its path towards expression. A nascent language enriches itself
by ceaseless imitations of elementary sounds, animal cries, and
the noises produced by mechanical contrivances, and we shall trace
hereafter the innumerable applications in which such terms can be
at once employed. Some writers even go so far as to assert that
this is the _only_ original principle of language, and that we
even learned our first consonant from the bleating of the sheep,
for which reason, according to Pierius Valerianus, a lamb was the
hieroglyphical emblem of the verb! We have already rejected this
extension of the theory; but, at the same time, we can readily
believe the assertion, that the _peculiarities_ of articulation in
certain countries may be not only modified, but even originated by
the existence of remarkable natural sounds in the countries where
these peculiarities occur. It has been said, for instance, “that
in some of the American languages, there are strident consonants
evidently formed from the hiss of certain serpents unknown in our
temperate regions, and that the click of the Hottentot dialects
recalls a species of cry peculiar to the tigers which _ranque_.”
The latter word is an onomatopœian, probably borrowed by Buffon
from the Philomela of Albus Ovidius Juventinus, in which occurs the

      “Tigrides indomitæ _rancant_[108] rugiuntque leones.”

What this peculiar sound may be, we do not know, but can hardly
reconcile this suggestion of Nodier with the statement, that the
name,[109] Hott-en-tot is itself onomatopœian, having been given
by the first Dutch settlers, because this click would sound to a
stranger like a perpetual repetition of the syllables _hot_ and
_tot_. It is a curious fact that Palamedes is said to have learnt,
from the noise of cranes, the four letters which he added to
the Greek alphabet; and it is certainly a confirmation of these
remarks, that although no language possesses in its alphabet a
power of expressing every possible articulation, yet no nation’s
language is quite deficient in the power of expressing, by
imitation, the cries of its indigenous animals.

It is wonderful that the knowledge and observation of facts like
these did not lead the philologists of antiquity to a solution
of their disputes about the natural or conventional origin of
languages. The age of Psammetichus evinced its interest in the
question, and if it had been content to observe its own experiment,
instead of making it the prop to a “foregone conclusion,”
philosophers might have agreed, long ago, in believing, that man
was assisted by nature in the development of his implanted powers,
and that, like every infant of his race, he framed into living
speech the sounds by which his senses were first impressed.[110]
When the first man gave names to the animals, which, as we have
already seen, he was enabled to do by the reasonable use of his
own faculties, and not at the dictation of a voice from heaven, he
could not have been guided by _any_ principle so obvious, so easy,
or so appropriate as an artistic reproduction of the sounds which
they uttered.

But how, it may be asked, is the voice capable of rendering even
the feeblest echo of all the myriad utterances of the earth and
air, the voices of the desert and mountain,--

      “The echoes of illimitable forests,
      The murmur of unfathomable seas”?

We answer that the imitation is not, and does not profess
to be a dull, dead, passive echo of the _sound_, but of the
impression produced by it upon the sentient being; it is not a
_mere_ spontaneous repercussion of the perception received; but
a repercussion modified _organically_ by the configurations of
the mouth, and _ideally_ by the nature of the analogy perceived
between the sound and the object it expressed. “The organs of
that wonderful musical instrument, the mouth, are the throat, the
palate, the tongue, the teeth, the lips.[111] This then is the
subjective organon of language, the physiological vehicle for that
proto-plastic art, speech, which combines architecture and music,
the plastic and the picturesque. Johannes Müller has developed this
physiologically, Sir John Herschell acoustically.” The mere power
of imitation would not have helped mankind a single step towards
language any more than it has helped the parrot or the jay,[112]
had it not been for the infinitely nobler faculty which enabled
us to perceive the meaning of the sounds we uttered, and to use
them as the signs of our inward conceptions,--a faculty which has
implanted in language its principle of development, and which
constitutes the distinction between the chatterings of a jackdaw
and the eloquence of a man.

This alone is a clear proof, if proof were wanted, that language is
the result of intelligence, as well as of instinct; and that the
human reason was not a gradual acquisition of a once brutish race.

But though the power of imitation by the voice of the sounds of
the unintelligent creation be small in comparison with those other
powers which constitute our pre-eminence, yet how perfect is that
gift in itself,--how wondrous the organism by which it is effected!
The mouth is admirably framed for intelligent and harmonious
utterance; it is at once an organ, and a flute,--a trumpet and a
harp. Its sublime construction will make it the eternal despair of
mechanicians, and the songs which it can modulate, are superior
to all the melodies of artificial music. The intelligence of man
enables him alone to use this glorious instrument, as God intended
it to be used. “Il avait,” says M. Nodier, “dans ses poumons un
soufflet intelligent et sensible, dans ses lèvres un limbe épanoui,
mobile, extensible, rétractile, qui jette le son, qui le modifie,
qui le renforce, qui l’assouplit, qui le contraint, qui le voile,
qui l’éteint; dans sa langue un marteau souple, flexible, onduleux,
qui se replit, qui s’accourcit, qui s’étend; qui se meut, et qui
s’enterpose entre ses valves, selon qu’il convient retenir ou
d’épancher la voix, qui attache ses touches avec âpreté ou qui les
effleure avec mollesse; dans ses dents un clavier ferme, aigu,
strident; à son palais un tympan grave et sonore: luxe inutile
pourtant, s’il n’avait pas eu la pensée; et celui qui a fait ce
qui est n’a jamais rien fait d’inutile.--L’homme parla parce qu’il

The plain elementary sounds of which the human voice is capable are
about twenty; and yet it has been calculated by the mathematician
Tacquet, that one thousand million writers, in one thousand million
years, could not write out all the combinations of the twenty-four
letters of the alphabet, if each of them were daily to write out
forty pages of them, of which each page should contain different
orders of the twenty-four letters. Of course, a very small number
only of these permutations are at all required for every purpose of
life. “And thus it is,” says the ingenious author of[113]Hermes,
“that to principles apparently so trivial as about twenty plain
elementary sounds, we owe that variety of articulate voices, which
have been sufficient to explain the sentiments of so innumerable a
multitude, as all the present and past generations of men.”

But it may be objected that if we admit such latitude to the use
of onomatopœia in the formation of language, we should find among
all languages a much greater identity than actually exists in the
terms expressive of physical facts. This by no means follows. We
have already seen that words express the _relations_ of things, and
the relations of things are almost infinite, and especially must
they have been so to the delicate senses of the youthful world.
Let us take the instance of the thunder: the impression produced
by it is by no means single and distinct. To one man it may appear
like a dull rumble, to another like a sudden crackling explosion,
and to a third as a breaking forth of flashing light. Hence come
a multitude of names. Adelung professed to have collected 353
imitative appellations from the European languages alone; and it
is not difficult to see that a similar[114] principle was at work
in the Chinese _ley_ (pronounced _r_ey), the Greenland _kallak_,
and the Mexican _tlatlatnitzel_. Similarly, “the explosion of a
gun which an English boy imitates by the exclamation _Bang-fire_,
is represented in French by _Pouf_! The neighing of a horse is
expressed by the French _hennir_; Italian, _nitrire_; Spanish,
_rinchar_, _relinchar_; German, _wiehern_; Swedish, _wrena_,
_wrenska_; Dutch, _runniken_, _ginniken_, _brieschen_, words in
which it is difficult to see a glimpse of resemblance, although we
can hardly doubt that they all take their rise in the attempt at
direct[115] representation of the same sound.” In the same way, no
one will deny that “ding-dong,” and the word “bilbil,” to ring, in
the Galla language, are onomatopœians to represent the sound of a
bell, and yet the two have hardly an element in common.

It has been noticed that birds are often named on this principle;
as night-jar, whip-poor-will, cock, cuckoo, crow, crane, crake,
quail, curlew, jay, chough, owl, turtle, &c.; and where the bird
has one very marked cry we find a great similarity in the names
by which it is known. Take for instance the _peetwit_,[116]
Scandinavian _pee-weip_, _tee-whoap_; French, _dishuit_; Dutch,
_kiewit_; German, _kiebitz_; Swedish, _kowipa_. But we should not
expect this to be the case when a bird has a great variety of
different sounds. The nightingale, according to Bechstein, has
twenty distinct articulations, and it is therefore not surprising
that even in the European languages it is known under widely
different names. And besides names which are derived from its song
(_e.g._ bulbul), it might be called from some other attribute
entirely distinct from this, as perhaps in the Latin name
_luscinia_; although, if this be the case, it is interesting to
see how imitation asserts its prerogative in the modern names[117]
_usignuolo_ (Italian), _ruyseñol_ (Spanish), _rossignol_ (French),
_rousinol_ (Portuguese), which are probably corruptions of the
diminutive _lusciniola_, used by Plautus.

In some cases an onomatopœian root is so natural as to run through
all families of languages; _e.g._ the root lh or lk to imitate
the sound and action of licking, as Hebrew לָחַךְ; Arabic,
_lahika_; Syriac, _lah_; λείχω, _lingo_, _ligurio_, _lingua_,
_leccare_, _lechen_, _lécher_; it is the same with the roots grf
to express gripping, kr to express crying, and many others. The
practice is, however (as we have already remarked), far more
prominent in the Semitic than in the Indo-European family, and this
is the cause of the extraordinary richness of synonyms in Hebrew
and Arabic for the expression of natural objects. It is said that
in Arabic there are 500 names for the lion, 200 for the serpent,
more than eighty for honey, 400 for sorrow, and (what is quite
incredible unless every periphrasis be counted a name) no less
than 1,000 for a sword. M. de Hammer, an unimpeachable authority,
has, in a little treatise on the subject, counted also 5,744
words relating to the camel. The ancient Saxon is said to have
had fifteen words for the sea; and if we allowed merely poetical
expressions like “the blue,” we might say the same of modern

Wide dialectic variety naturally results from a nomadic life; and
it is easy to see how this extraordinary exuberance of primitive
language, and the uncontrolled rapidity with which it exercised its
powers of nomenclature, would tend, while writing and literature
were as yet unknown, to make mutually unintelligible the language
of different tribes.[118] This confusion of speech would, of
course, be the most powerful impediment in the course of ambition,
and would tend to defeat the attempts to construct and perpetuate a
universal empire. It may have been the providential agent to assert
for the human race, “a nobler destiny than to become the footstool
of a few families.” This is strikingly shadowed forth in the
Scripture narrative of the builders of Babel, which many competent
authorities have considered as applicable to only a single family
of nations, and have regarded in the light rather of “a sublime
emblem, than of a material verity.”

The confusion of tongues is not represented in Scripture as a
punishment,[119] but as the providential prevention of an arrogant
attempt to establish among mankind a spurious centre of unity.
It seems to have frustrated the lawless thirst for power which
actuated the tribe of Nimrod.[120] But even if regarded as a
punishment, God’s punishments are but blessings in disguise. The
dispersion of nations has acted as a stimulant to the powers of
humanity, and has been the direct cause of a beneficial variety in
thought and action; and in the same way the diversity of languages
has proved to be (as we shall see hereafter) an indisputable
advantage, by adding fresh lustre continually to those conceptions
which by long habit become pale and dim. Yet this dispersion
and diversity is but the accident of a fallen state, and in the
renovated earth--(though it can never be while nations are in
their present condition)--all men will perhaps speak the same
perfect[121] universal speech.

There are two totally distinct points from which an imitative root
can take its origin. The first is from an artistic reproduction of
the sounds of the outer world; the second is from the expressions
of fear or anger, of disgust or joy, which the impression of any
event or spectacle may call forth in the human being. The first of
these elements is the onomatopœic; the second, the interjectional.
These two sources have not been kept sufficiently clear and
distinct, and the latter especially has been by many philologists
entirely overlooked. We will proceed to make some remarks on both.
The instances which we shall select might be almost indefinitely
extended, and even were they less numerous we might perhaps be
allowed to use the words of President de Brosses, “La preuve connue
d’un grand nombre de mots d’une espèce doit établir une précepte
générale sur les autres mots de même espèce, à l’origine desquels
on ne peut plus remonter.”

As instances of the words which have arisen from the interjectional
element, _i.e._ from the sounds whereby we express natural
emotions, we may mention the large group of words that spring from
the root “ach,” ah! oh! as utterances of pain, as ἄχος, ἀχέω,
_achen_, ache; or from the sound of groaning, as _væ_, _wehe_,
woe, wail; or from an expression of disgust, as _putere_ (Fr.
puer), foul, fulsome; or from smacking the lips with pleasure,
as γλύκυς, _dulcis_, _geschmack_, &c. This latter class is very
widely extended, even in the Semitic languages, as we have already
shown in the case of the root _lk_ (see p. 84). From the expression
of disgust and fear, we get awe, ugly, ἀγάομαι, ἀγάζομαι and
their cognates; from shuddering, the roots of φρίσσω, bristle,
_hérisser_, &c.; from the first sounds of infancy, we get babe,
_bambino_, babble, and many more; from sounds of anger, “huff,”
and others; lastly, from “prut,” a sound of arrogance, we get the
word “proud,” “pride,” as in German, “_trotzig_,” haughty, from
“_trotz_,”[122] an interjection of defiance and contempt.

The other class of onomatopœias is far more extensive, and embraces
the widest possible range of inanimate sounds. They may be ranged
under the following heads; and although the examples are all taken
from the[123]English language, they might be paralleled in almost
any other.

1. Animal sounds, as quack, cackle, roar, neigh, whinny, bellow,
mew, pur, croak, caw, chatter, bark, yelp, &c.

2. Inarticulate human sounds, as laugh, cough, sob, sigh, moan,
shriek, yawn, whoop, weep, &c.

3. Collision of hard bodies, represented by p, t, k; as clap, rap,
tap, flap, slap, rat-tat, &c.

4. Collision of softer bodies, represented by b, d, g; as dab, dub,
bob, thud, dub-a-dub, &c.

5. Motion through the air, represented by z, &c.; as whizz, buzz,
sough, &c.

6. Resonance, represented by m, n, &c.; as clang, knell, ring,
twang, clang, din, &c.

7. Motion of liquids, &c., represented by sibilants, as clash,
splash, plash, dash, swash, &c.

These are but specimens of the wide extent of these words in a
language by no means the most remarkable for its adoption of
onomatopœia. There are even broad general laws by which the various
degrees of intensity in sound are expressed by the modification of
vowels. Thus, high notes are represented by i, low broad sounds by
a, and the change of a or o to i has the effect of diminution, as
we see by comparing the words clap, clip, clank, clink, pock, peck,
cat, kitten, foal, filly, tramp, trip, nob, nipple, &c. Another way
of diminishing intensity is to soften a final letter, as in tug,
tow, drag, draw, swagger, sway, stagger, stay, &c. Reduplication of
syllables is a mode of expressing continuance, as in murmur, &c.,
and this effect is also produced by the addition of r and l, as in
grab, grapple, wrest, wrestle, crack, crackle, dab, dabble, &c.

It is easy to see from the above examples that the onomatopœia and
the interjection are the points from which language has developed
itself, and from which “two separate lines of concurrent and[124]
simultaneous evolution have proceeded.” The manner in which the
various parts of speech grew out of these elements, and which of
them may be supposed to be logically or actually anterior to the
rest, is a wide and difficult subject of inquiry on which much
uncertainty must necessarily prevail, and with which we are here

There is no doubt that, for some reason or other, many of our
English onomatopœians are regarded as in some degree beneath the
dignity of words, and are supposed to partake of the nature of
vulgarity.[125] Yet with great inconsistency the places in which
poets have been most successful in producing “an echo of the
sound to the sense” are generally regarded with especial favour.
The classic poets used this ornament with the most fastidious
good taste. Even the ancients had learned to admire the rhyming
termination by which Homer faintly recalls the humming of the
summer swarms, in the lines--

      Ἠύτε ἔθνεα πολλὰ μελισσάων ἀδινάων
      πέτρης ἐκ γλαφύρης ἀεὶ νεὸν ἐρχομενάων:

and yet they do not surpass the exquisite verses of a living poet:--

      Myriads of rivulets hurrying through the lawn;
      The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
      And murmur of innumerable bees.

Again, what can be more vivid than the marvellous way in which
Homer recalls the snapping of a shattered sword, in--

      Τριχθί τε καὶ τετραχθὶ διατρύφεν:

which is incomparably superior to the much-admired hemistich of
Racine, “L’essieu crie et se rompt.” Both Homer and Virgil have
imitated the rapid clatter of horses’ hoofs with equal felicity:--

      Πολλὰ δ’ ἄναντα, κάταντα, πάραντά τε δόχμιά τ’ ἦλθον:
      Quadrupedante putrem sonitu quatit ungula campum:

and the verse[126] in which Dubartas endeavours to recall the
manner in which the lark “shoots up and shrills in flickering
gyres,” has met with numberless admirers.

The greatest of our modern poets, Mr. Tennyson, has perhaps been
more unsparing and more successful in his use of this figure
than any of his predecessors, and a few passages will show that
onomatopœia judiciously used is capable of the noblest application.
Take, for instance, the leap of a cataract, in--

                Where the river sloped
      To plunge in cataract, shattering on black blocks
      Its breadth of thunder;

or the shock of a _mélée_, in--

                                    The storm
      Of galloping hoofs bare on the ridge of spears
      And riders front to front, until they closed
      In conflict with the crash of shivering points
      And thunder....
      And all the plain--brand, mace, and shaft, and shield
      Shock’d, like an iron-clanging anvil banged
      With hammers;

or the booming of the sea, in--

      Roar rock-thwarted under bellowing caves;

or, finally, what can be more perfect than the graphic power in
which the picture of a fleet of glass wrecked on a reef of gold is
called before us by the perfect adaptation of sound to sense, in
the lines--

                  For the fleet drew near,
      _Touched_, _clinked_, and _clashed_, and vanished.

Yet in all these cases we believe that it is to the language and
not to the poet that the main credit is due. The language is
the perfect instrument, and in the poet’s hands it is used with
perfect power; but were it not for the original perfection of his
instrument he would be unable to produce such rich and varied
results; he would be unable to place the picture before the eye by
bringing into play that swift and subtle law of association whereby
a reproduction of the sounds at once recalls to the inner eye the
images or circumstances with which they are connected. In every
case the consummate art and skill of the writer consists simply
in choosing the proper words for the thought which he wishes to
express, which words are always the simplest. Appropriate[127]
language is and always must be the most effective, and when a
writer _clearly goes out of his way_ to produce an effect he
generally loses his effectiveness by abandoning simplicity. How
much onomatopœia degenerates in a less skilful and artistic hand
we might see in many instances, were not the selection of them an
invidious task.

In short, an exquisite and instinctive taste can only decide on the
extent to which this figure may be _consciously_ used. We feel that
Virgil was right in rejecting Ennius’s

      At tuba terribili sonitu _taratantara_ dicit,

as the imitation of a trumpet-blast; and none but a comic poet
(like Swift) would use rub-a-dub, dub-a-dub in English to express
the beating of a drum: and yet who was ever otherwise than
delighted with the word τήνελλα, in which Archilochus imitated
the twang of a harp-string, and which the Greeks used ever
afterwards as an expression of joyous triumph? Again, none but a
comedian could have ventured on so direct an imitation of sounds
as βρεκεκεκέξ κοάξ κοάξ, and yet no one could object to the pretty
line in which Ovid tries to produce the same impression:--

      Quamquam sunt _sub aquâ, sub aquâ_ maledicere tentant.

The misuse of language fails to produce the echo which its simple
and natural use would not have failed to awake. In short, it is
in many cases impossible to use language which shall be at once
specific and appropriate without being forced to adopt imitative
words. There is no style required in order to speak of the booming
of the cannon, the twang of the bowstring, the hurtling of the
arrow, the tolling or pealing of the bell, the rolling or throbbing
of the drum, the sough or whisper of the breeze, because in each
case the proper word is ready for us at once in the language which
we speak, and if we are to speak naturally we can use no other. The
harmonies of language arise mainly from this power of imitation,
and a sensuous language is always energetic, poetic, passionate.



  Language is like the minim immortal among the infusoria, which
  keeps splitting itself into halves.--COLERIDGE.

The most brilliant of modern philosophers, M. Victor Cousin, in
endeavouring to refute the conclusion of Locke that all words draw
their first origin from sensible ideas, adduces the pronoun “I” and
the verb “to be” as words which are primitive, indecomposible, and
irreducible in every language with which he is acquainted--as words
which are pure signs, representing nothing whatever except the
meaning conventionally attached to them, and having no connection
with sensible ideas.

Whatever may become of M. Cousin’s general proposition, the
instances which he has chosen to support it are very unfortunate,
for it may be clearly proved that these words, abstract as they
may appear, are yet derived from sensible images. An examination
of them will therefore help us to gain a little insight into the
origin of language, and perhaps strengthen our suspicion that
even the most subjective words, which merely intimate intellectual
relations, even the words which express the essential categories,
may be ultimately proved to have a metaphorical and not a
psychological origin. Such a conviction will by no means impair
the dignity of language, or cast a slur on the majesty of thought;
for if the entire lexicon of every language be capable of being
reduced to a number of sensational roots, the no less important
element of Grammar always remains as the indisputable result of the
pure reason. And not only so, but even the possibility of accepting
imitative roots as _signs_ of the thing imitated, supposes (as
M. Maine[128] de Biran acutely observes) the pre-existence of an
activity superior to sensation, whereby the thinking being places
himself outside the circle of impressions and images in order to
signify and note them.

It might be supposed that the word by which a man characterises
himself in relation to his own consciousness would be of a very
mysterious and abstract character, because it must express the
notion of individuality, which might be regarded as a very primary
intuition. This, however, is far from being the case. Man regarded
himself as an object before he learnt to regard himself as a
subject, and hence “the objective cases of the personal as well as
of the other pronouns are always older than the subjective,” and
the Sanskrit _mâm_, _ma_ (Greek με, Latin _me_) is earlier than
_aham_ (ἐγών, and _ego_). We might have conjectured this from the
fact already noticed, that children learn to speak of themselves in
the third person, _i.e._ regard themselves as objects long before
they acquire the power of representing their material selves as
the instrument of an abstract entity. A child[129] does not attain
to the free use of the pronoun “I” until the acquisition of formal
grammar outstrips the psychological growth. And the same takes
place with other personal pronouns. Man’s primary consciousness
of his own existence is nearly simultaneous with the belief that
he is something separate from the not-me, the external world. But
at first he would only regard this external world as an immense
inseparable phenomenon, and it would be some time before he could
“invest the[130] not-me with the powers of agency and will which we
experience in ourselves.”

But whether the conception of individuality be regarded as coming
early or late, so far is the pronoun “I” from involving any
sublime intrinsic meaning, that it was originally a demonstrative
monosyllable, indicative of a particular position. “In fact,” says
Dr. Donaldson, “the primitive pronouns must have been very simple
words, for the first and easiest articulations would naturally be
adopted to express the primary intuition of space. These little
vocables denote only the immediate relations of locality. It
is reasonable to suppose that the primitive pronouns would be
designations of _here_ and _there_, of the subject and object as
contrasted and opposed to one another. As soon as language becomes
a medium of communication between two speaking persons, a threefold
distinction at once arises between the _here_ or subject, the
_there_ or object, and the person spoken to or considered as a
subject in himself, though an object in regard to the speaker.”
In other words, there are “three[131] primitive relations of
position: here, near to here, and there, or juxtaposition,
proximity, and distance. The three primitive articulations which
are used (in Greek) to express these three relations of position,
are the three primitive _tenues_, Π, Ϙ, Τ, pronounced pa, qua,
ta, which we shall call the first, second, and third pronominal
elements. The first pronominal element denoting juxtaposition, or
_here_, is used to express (a) the first personal pronoun; (b) the
first numeral; (c) the point of departure in motion. The second
pronominal element denoting proximity, or _near to the here_, is
used to express (a) the second personal pronoun; (b) the relative
pronoun; (c) the reflexive pronoun. The third pronominal element,
denoting distance, is used to express (a) the third personal
pronoun; (b) negation; (c) separation.”[132] Thus, then, we find
that even so metaphysical a conception as that of individuality is
only expressed by an elementary word implying locality.

We see, therefore, that M. Cousin is mistaken in supposing that
the pronouns at any rate were non-sensational in their origin,
arising as they do from the very earliest and simplest of all
sensations. And it is, perhaps, still more surprising to find that
a similar origin can be traced even in the numerals, which involved
the very triumph of abstraction; for, in using a numeral, “we
strip things of all their sensible properties,[133] and consider
them as merely relations of number, as members of a series, as
perfectly general relations of place.” And yet abstract as they
are, and, absolutely as we might suppose them to be removed from
concrete objects of sense, it is a matter of certainty that their
genesis can be traced. About the general result few philologists
have any doubt, however much they may differ in their details. “I
do[134] not think,” says M. Bopp, “_that any language whatever has
produced special original words for the particular designation
of such compacted and peculiar ideas as three, four, five_, &c.”
Accordingly it has been proved that the three first numerals in
Sanskrit and Greek are connected with the three personal pronouns,
and originally implied _here_,[135] _near to the here_, and
_there_; that the _fourth_[136] implies 1 + 3; that the fifth, as
might have been expected, is connected with the same root as the
word “hand;” that the tenth numeral means two hands, and so forth.

Still it might be supposed that the verb “to be,” predicating as
it does the quality of existence, a conception so abstract that
the profoundest metaphysicians and physiologists have been as yet
wholly unable to find for it any tolerable definition, would resist
all attempts at a reduction to any sensational root. If we are to
look to a definition of “life” as being either undiscoverable,
or else a discovery which can only be expected from the ultimate
triumphs of science, surely we might suppose that here at least it
is impossible to find a sensible idea as the root of the sublime
verbs which are the means of representing life as an attribute.
But we are all liable to the error of forming far too[137] high an
estimate of the intrinsic vitality (the supposed _occulta vis_) of
verbs in general. They contain no inherent powers which separate
them from nouns, and their supposed distinctive character arises
entirely out of their combination with a subject. The fancy (for
instance) that “the root _can_ ‘sing’ differs from _can_ ‘song’
in the same degree that a magnetised steel bar differs from an
ordinary one, or a charged Leyden jar from a discharged one,”
is proved by minute analysis to be totally groundless. And the
importance of the verb “to be” in particular has been greatly
exaggerated, as though it were a necessary ingredient of every
logical proposition. For in many languages the verb is wanting
altogether, and its mere _implication_ is quite sufficient for all
logical purposes. “The verb-substantive,” observes Mr. Garnett
(from whose most valuable Essay on the nature and analysis of
the verb we have borrowed these suggestions), “if considered as
necessary to vivify all connected speech and bind together the
terms of every logical proposition, is much upon a footing with the
phlogiston of the chemists of the last generation, regarded as a
necessary pabulum of combustion--that is to say, _Vox et præterea

Whatever our _à priori_ estimate of the power of the
verb-substantive may be, its origin is traced by philology to
very humble and material sources. The Hebrew verbs הָוָה (houa),
or הָיָה (haia), may very probably be derived from an onomatopœia
of respiration. The verb _kama_, which has the same sense, means
primitively “to stand out,” and the verb _koum_,[138] to stand,
passes into the sense of “being.” In Sanskrit, _as-mi_ (from
which all the verbs-substantive in the Indo-European languages
are derived, as εἰμὶ, _sum_, am; Zend, _ahmi_; Lithuanic, _esmi_;
Icelandic, _em_, &c.), is, properly speaking, no verbal root, but
“a formation on the demonstrative pronoun _sa_, the idea meant to
be conveyed being simply that of local presence.” And of the two
other roots used for the same purpose, viz. _bhu_ (φύω, _fui_,
&c.), and _sthâ_ (_stare_, &c.),[139] the first is probably an
imitation of breathing, and the second notoriously a physical verb,
meaning “to stand up.” May we not, then, ask with Bunsen, “What is
‘_to be_’ in all languages but the spiritualisation of _walking_ or
_standing_ or _eating_?”

Perhaps if we were to try to think of any _positive_ word which it
would be _impossible_ to derive from a root imitative of sound, it
would be the word _silence_. And yet we believe that the root of
even this word is a simple onomatopœia, and that it is connected
with the sibilants (hush! whish! &c.), by which we endeavour to
call attention to the fact that we desire to listen intently.
It may help us to accept this etymology if we observe that the
colloquialism “to be _mum_” undoubtedly arises[140] from an
imitation of the sound by which we express the closing of the lips.

If we fully allow that a considerable number of roots _have_ (and
_must_ have) sprung from the instinctive principle which we have
been endeavouring to illustrate, we have gone very far to show what
was the origin of language. For the permutations and combinations
of which a very few roots[141] are capable, and the rich variety
of applications of which each separate root admits, are almost
inconceivable to any who have not, by a study of the subject,
rendered themselves familiar with the processes of the human mind.
Indeed, a superfluity of roots argues a feebleness of conception,
and a superabundant vocabulary is an impediment to thought. In the
Society Isles they have one word for the tail of a dog, another for
the tail of a bird, and a third for the tail of a sheep, and yet
for “tail” itself,[142]--“tail” in the abstract, they have no word
whatever. Again, the Mohicans have words for wood-cutting, cutting
the head, the arm, &c., and yet no verb meaning simply to cut. But
all the specific words are comparatively of very little use; in
point of fact they are encumbrances, rather than treasures. It is
the sign of an advancing language to modify or throw away these
superfluities of special terms. Thus the number of roots decreases
continually; in Sanskrit, there are[143] 2,000; in Gothic, not more
than 600; while 250 are said to be sufficient to supply the modern
German with its 80,000 words.

The processes by which this retrenchment is carried on are the
derivation, and composition of necessary and existing uses to
supersede the continual invention of new ones. The laws by which
these processes are effected are for the most part regular and
universal, and the discovery of them constitutes the great reward
of modern philology. But as our present inquiries are only of the
most general and preliminary nature, we must confine ourselves here
to giving one or two short and comparatively easy specimens of what
we may term the elasticity or diffusiveness of roots.

We have already alluded to the root “ach,” as having been in all
probability an onomatopœian which gives rise to a large number
of cognate words in the Indo-European languages. It is at any
rate interesting to observe how this root, however originated,
suffices to express alike material sharpness, bodily sensations,
and mental emotions. M. Garnett[144] gives the following brief list
of examples:--“Ἄκω, ἄκανθα, ἀχὶς, αἰχμὴ, _acuo_, _acus_, _acies_;
Teutonic, _ekke_ (edge), _ackes_ (axe); Icelandic, _eggia_,
to sharpen, to exhort, to _egg_ on; German, _ecke_, a corner;
Bavarian, _igeln_, _prurire_ (German, _jucken_; Scotch, _yeuk_;
English, _itch_)--_acken_ (to ache), ἄχος (grief); Anglo-Saxon,
_ege_, fear--_egeslich_, horrible; Icelandic, _ecki_, sorrow;
German, _ekel_, disgust; with very many more. It is possible that
Anglo-Saxon _ege_, an eye, may be of the same family. Compare the
Latin phrase, _acies oculorum_.”

Or, again, let us take the Sanskrit root _dhu_, to move about,
to agitate. A list of the derivatives from this root in various
Indo-European languages would fill several pages, but we will only
supply one or two. First, then, we get the verbs θύω and θύνω,
to rush, or move violently, with their derivatives, as θύελλα, a
storm; θύννος, a thunny-fish (from its rapid, darting motion);
θύσανος, a waving, fluttering tassel; θυιὰς, a bacchanal; θύρσος,
the shaken thyrsus, or ivy-wreathed wand, the symbol of Bacchic
frenzy; θορεῖν, to leap; θοῦρος, impetuous; ἀθύρω, to play; and
among many others, θυμὸς, the mind, from the same property which
struck the poet, in saying--

      How swift is the glance of the mind!
        Compared with the speed of its flight
      E’en the tempest itself lags behind,
        And the swift-speeding arrows of light!

From the same root we get θύω, to sacrifice, from the striking
aspect of the rising and curling fumes, when the victim lay burning
on the altar; θύμος, thyme, from the use made of that herb in
fumigations; _fumus_, smoke; θυμέλη, the altar in the centre of the
orchestra; and many more. Lastly, we may mention the curious word
θοάζειν, which is used in the apparently contradictory senses of
“to move hastily,” and “to sit.”[145]

The curious phenomenon presented by the latter word, of the same
root serving for two directly opposite meanings, is one worthy
of the greatest attention; and we believe that it has first
been definitely noticed by modern philologists. “Contrast,” says
Archdeacon Hare, “is a kind of relation;” and the suggestion
of contrarieties may even be regarded as a primary law of the
association of ideas. It is this principle which accounts for the
apparently strange fact that opposite conditions are expressed
by the same root slightly modified. Thus, to select some of the
instances collected by Dr. Donaldson,[146] our own word “dear” has
the two meanings of “prized,” because you have it, and “expensive,”
because you want it; and “fast” has the opposite senses of “fixed”
and “rapid.” Similarly, χρεία in Greek means both “use” and “need”;
and λάω means both “to wish” and “to take;” while _aio_, αὐδάω, and
καλέω, “I speak,” or “call,” are singularly like ἀΐω, _audio_, and
κλύω, “I hear.”[147]

Another instance of the same peculiarity arises from the different
objective or subjective relations which any phenomenon may present,
some of which relations may be strongly contrasted; _e.g._, a “key”
might derive its name either from opening or shutting. Thus, to
adopt some of the cases mentioned by Mr. Garnett,[148] the numeral
_one_ gives rise to compounds of apparently opposite signification.
From the Irish _aon_, “one,” we have _aonach_, “a waste,” and also
“an assembly;” _aontugadh_, celibacy, and _aontumadh_, marriage.
The Latin _unicus_ implies singularity, but _unitas_ implies
association. “The concord of this discord is easily found, if
we consider that the term _one_ may either refer to _one_ as an
_individual_, or in the sense of an _aggregate_.” Similarly, it
is not difficult to explain the apparent anomaly that σχόλη means
both “school” and “leisure,” and that “lee” has very different
acceptations in lee-_side_ and lee-_shore_. Other examples might
easily be found, all tending to prove that “as rays of light may
be reflected and refracted in all possible ways from their primary
direction, so the meaning of a word may be deflected from its
original bearing in a variety of manners; and consequently we
cannot well reach the primitive force of the term unless we know
the precise gradations through which it has gone.”

It has been proved, then, in this chapter, that a few onomatopœic
roots would give a sufficient basis on which to rear the largest
superstructure of language, and we have shown how in some cases an
imitative origin may be discovered even in words which might have
been expected to defy analysis. Into the methods adopted in this
rich variety of applications we must inquire more closely in the
following chapter, but we must here remark that, as it was by the
association of ideas that even the most heterogeneous and contrary
relations were expressed by the same root, so the words themselves
tend powerfully to establish new points of association, and to
facilitate the astonishing rapidity of thought. By the aid of
verbal signs we exercise an enormous power over all our faculties,
for in repeating the sign we are enabled by the personal activity
of our will to recall the image which it represents, and submit
that image to our control.[149] Our sensations, transformed into
thought, come and go at our bidding, and we extend and multiply
them without limit.

      Awake but one, and lo, what myriads rise!

By virtue of an active imagination the fathers of the human
race produced the mighty heritage of speech, and made the
utterance of their lips a means of recalling their sensations and
expressing their thoughts; in _consequence_ of the activity of
the imagination, our words become the tyrants of our convictions,
and our phrases “often repeated, ossify the very organs of

Hence the blood of nations has often ere now been shed from an
inability to see the synthesis of various truths in some single
threadbare shibboleth of party; and a mistaken theory embalmed
in a[150] widely-received word has retarded for centuries the
progress of knowledge. For, as Bacon wisely says, “Men believe
that their reason is lord over their words, but it happens, too,
that words exercise a reciprocal and reactionary power over the
intellect,” and that “words, as a Tartar’s bow, do shoot back upon
the understanding of the wisest, and mightily entangle and pervert
the judgment.”

There is one moral application of the truths we have been
considering, which we should do well not to omit; it is the
far-reaching danger of idle[151] or careless words; it is the
solemn admonition--

      _Guard well thy thoughts, for thoughts are heard in Heaven!_



  “Die Sinnlichkeit erzeugt, auf der ersten stufe der
  Wortschöpfung, ein _Abbild_; die Einbildungskraft, auf
  der zweiten, ein _Symbol_; der Verstand, endlich, auf der
  dritten, ein _Zeichen_ für das object.”--HEYSE, _System der
  Sprachwissenschaft_, s. 95.

  “Every language is a dictionary of faded metaphors.”--RICHTER.

If it be impossible for us to _know_ any single particle of matter
in itself; if we are unable to do more than express the _relations_
of any single external phenomenon; how can we hope to give an
accurate nomenclature to the _noumena_, the inward emotions, the
immaterial conceptions, the abstract entities which we cannot touch
or handle, and which have an existence only for the intellect
and the heart? How can we make the modulations of the voice the
symbols[152] for the passions of the soul?

In mathematics there is a line, known as the _asymptote_, which
continually approaches to a curve, but, being produced for ever,
does not cut it, though the distance between the asymptote and
the curve becomes, in the course of this approach, less than any
assignable quantity. Language, in relation to thought, must ever be
regarded as an _asymptote_. They can no more _perfectly_ coincide
than any two particles of matter can be made absolutely to touch
each other. No power of language enables man to reveal the features
of the mystic Isis, on whose statue was inscribed: “I am all which
hath been, which is, and shall be, and no mortal hath ever lifted
my veil.” Now, as ever, a curtain of shadow must hang between--

      That hidden life, and what we see and hear.

No single virtue, no single faculty, no single spiritual truth, no
single metaphysical conception, can be expressed without the aid
of analogy or metaphor. Metaphor--the transference of a word from
its usual meaning to an analogous one--is the intellectual agent
of language, just as onomatopœia is the mechanical agent. Metaphor
and catachresis (_i.e._, the use of the same word to express two
different things which are supposed to present some analogy to each
other, as when “sweet” is applied to sounds) have been called the
two channels of expression which irrigate the wide field of human
intelligence. By their means language, though poor in vocables,
was rich in thought, and resembled in its power the one coin[153]
of the Wandering Jew, which always sufficed for all his needs, and
always took the impress of the sovereign regnant in the countries
through which he passed.

We might have easily conjectured that such would be the case. “Man,
by the action of all his faculties, is carried out of himself and
towards the exterior world; the phenomena of the exterior world are
those which strike him first, and those, therefore, are the ones
which receive the first names, which names are, so to speak, tinted
with the colours of the objects they express. But, afterwards,
when man turns his attention inwards, he sees distinctly those
intellectual phenomena, of which he had previously had only a
confused perception, and when he wishes to express those new
phenomena of the soul and of thought, analogy leads him to apply
the signs which he is looking for to the signs which he already
possesses; for analogy is the law of every nascent or developed
language; hence come the metaphors into which analysis resolves the
majority of the signs for the most abstract moral ideas.”[154]

To call things which we have never seen before by the name of that
which appears to us most nearly to resemble them, is a practice of
every-day life. That children at first call all men “father,” and
all women “mother,” is an observation as old as Aristotle.[155]
The Romans gave the name of Lucanian _ox_ to the elephant, and
_camelopardus_ to the giraffe, just as the New Zealanders are
stated to have called “horses” large _dogs_. The astonished Caffirs
gave the name of _cloud_ to the first parasol which they had seen;
and similar instances might be adduced almost indefinitely. They
prove that it is an instinct, if it be not a necessity to borrow
for the unknown the names already used for things known.

But although we can absolutely trace this process in so many
cases, that we are entitled to _infer_, with Locke, that _every_
word expressing facts which do not fall under the senses, is yet
ultimately derived from sensible ideas, we cannot expect to
_prove_ this in every particular instance. When a standard of value
is once introduced among nations, it is almost always a coinage of
the precious metals; but when public credit is firmly established,
a paper currency is allowed freely to circulate. And so in language
many terms have become purely arbitrary, and in themselves
valueless, which now pass unquestioned in their conventional
meaning, but have lost all traces of the process to which they owed
their origin, and retain no longer the impress of the thought which
they originally conveyed.

Illustrations are not far to seek; indeed, we can hardly utter
a sentence which will not supply them, of which the very word
“illustration” is itself an instance. Thus, in Hebrew, the words
for “anger” and “the nose” are identical,[156] and even in
Greek, πρᾷος τὴν ῥίνα, “gentle in nose,” is used for “of gentle
disposition.” Every reader of the Bible will recognise that “a
melting of the heart” is the metaphor for despair; a “loosening
of the reins” for fear; a “high carriage of the head” for pride;
“stiffness of neck” for obstinacy; “thirst” or “pallor” for fear;
a “turning of the face” for favour. It is this word-painting, this
eagerness[157] for graphic touches, that gives to Hebrew its vivid,
picturesque, impetuous character. It is interesting to observe how
necessary to them it became. Even when they have by long usage
learnt to accept a special word as the sign of some moral sentiment
or mental emotion, they love to add to it _also_ a picture of the
physical circumstance. This is the explanation of such apparent
pleonasms, as “he opened his mouth and said,” “he answered and
said,” “he was angry and his visage fell,” “he was angry and
his visage was enflamed.” It is the result of that vital energy
which enkindled the soul of prophets and poets; which exalted
the intellect of a nation, fully conscious that it had a mighty
mission to perform. Spontaneous imagery is the characteristic of
all passionate thought.

The Hebrews were not the only nation which sought for open and
confessed metaphors in their style, when the bright colours of
the original picture-word had grown too dim to recall the image
which they once presented. We feel instinctively that certain
states of mind can only be described by a comparison with the
natural appearance which offers the nearest analogy to them. “A
lamb is innocence; a snake is subtle spite. Flowers express to
us the delicate affections. Light and darkness are our familiar
expressions for knowledge and ignorance. Visible distance behind
and before us is respectively our image of memory and of hope.”[158]

Again, to take the first group of English words which present
themselves, what is “imagination” or “reflection” but the summoning
up of a picture before the inward eye? What is “comprehension” but
a grasping; “disgust” but an unpleasant taste; “insinuation” but
a getting into the bosom of anything? Courage is “good heart;”
“rectitude” a perpendicular position; “austerity” is dryness;
“superciliousness” a raising of the eyebrow; “humility” is
something cognate to the ground; “fortune” is the falling of a
lot; “_virtue_” is that which becomes a _man_; “humanity” is the
proper characteristic of our race; “courtesy” is borrowed from
palaces; “calamity” is the hurrying of the wind among the reeds.
What are “aversion”[159] and “inclination” but a turning away
from, and a bending towards? “Error” is a wandering out of the way;
“envy” is looking upon another with an evil eye; an “emotion” is a
movement of the soul; “influence” recalls the ripple circling on
the surface of a stream; “heaven” is the canopy _heaved_ over our
heads; “hell” is the _hollow_ space beneath our feet; “religion” is
a solemn study, or a binding, or a new[160] choice; an “angel” is
a messenger; the “spirit” is but a breath of air.

The last etymology reminds us that we can carry our proofs of
what we assert into still higher regions, even the transcendental
regions of human faith and worship. “Mystery” is derived from “mu,”
the imitation of closing the lips; “priest” from “presbuteros,”
elder; “sacrament” is deduced from the meaning “oath;” “baptism” is
dipping; “propitiation” is bringing near; “wisdom” is that which
we have seen; even the word for God himself, in Sanskrit as in
Chinese, means but the bright ether[161] or starry sky.

To illustrate this necessity of metaphor any farther would be
superfluous, since the materials for doing so are sufficiently
abundant for any student who wishes to pursue the subject. The
philosophical examination of the thoughts which are thus involved
in concrete images is a most valuable inquiry, and one which
opens a field of inexhaustible interest. The metaphors which
we are thus forced to adopt are a living memorial[162] of the
quick perceptions, the poetic intuitions, the deep insight of
our ancestors: or are else a perpetuation of their unaccountable
caprices of feeling or fancy, their vulgar errors and groundless
suppositions. It sometimes happens that in all languages, the same
analogy has been thus seized upon for a transitive “application,”
as in the words רוּחַ, πνεῦμα, _anima, spirit_, which all mean
‘wind;’ but, more frequently, different aspects of the same
phenomenon have led to a different nomenclature; thus, “to think”
is in Hebrew “to _speak_;” and among the savages of the Pacific it
is “to speak in the stomach;” while in French it means “to weigh,”
and in Greek it is often described by a word borrowed from the deep
purpling[163] of an agitated sea.

We call an expression metaphoric when it is applied in such a way
that we glide lightly over its primary and obvious meaning to
attach to it one which is secondary and more indirect. We call
an expression a _catachresis_ when it is used inappropriately,
although custom may have sanctioned the use of it in the
inappropriate sense; _e.g._, when we speak of “an arm of the sea,”
the word “arm” is a catachresis; and when Shakspeare uses the
phrase “To take up arms against a sea of troubles,” it is only the
use of this figure twice in the same line that forces on us a sense
of incongruity.

Catachresis, as well as metaphor, has given rise to a large set of
terms, phrases, and expressions; and it is in one sense bolder
than metaphor, because it takes words without any modification to
apply them to fresh emergencies. Thus, very often words applicable
to one sense are adopted to express the sensations of another.
That there is[164] an analogy between the manners in which they
are affected no one will deny. The plant “heliotrope” recalls by
its smell the taste which has given it its vulgar name; the king
of Hanover knew from the overture to a piece of music, that the
scene of it was supposed to be a wood; Saunderson, who was born
blind, compared the colour _red_ to the blowing of a trumpet, or
the crowing of a cock. There is, therefore, no inherent absurdity,
though there is much affectation, in such lines as Ford’s--

      What’s that I _saw_? a sound?

and Donne’s--

      A loud perfume;

and Herbert’s--

      His beams shall help my song, and both so twine,
      Till e’en his beams sing and my music shine.

It is against catachresis rather than against metaphor that
philosophers should have inveighed. “There is,” says Seneca, “a
vast number of things without names, which we call, not by proper
designations, but by borrowed and adapted ones. We apply the word
‘foot,’ both to our own foot and that of a couch, and of a sail,
and of a page, though these things are naturally distinct. But
this results from the poverty of language.” “It is a ridiculous
sterility,” says Voltaire, “to have been ignorant how to express
otherwise an _arm_ of the sea, an _arm_ of a balance, an _arm_ of a
chair; it is a poverty of intellect which leads us to speak equally
of the _head_ of a nail, and the _head_ of an army.” It is this
very frequent use of homonyms which leads to such great uncertainty
about the meaning of many Hebrew words. Catachresis ought to be
sparingly applied, and it possesses none of the advantages which
arise from metaphor.

When the Megarians wanted assistance from the Spartans, they threw
down an empty meal-bag before the assembly, and declared that
“it lacked meal.” The Laconic criticism “that the mention of the
sack was superfluous,” cannot be considered a fair one, because
the action gave far more point to the request. When the Scythian
ambassadors wished to prove to Darius the hopelessness of invading
their country, instead of making a long harangue, they argued
with infinitely more force by merely bringing him a bird, a mouse,
a frog, and two arrows, to imply, that unless he could soar like
a bird, burrow like a mouse, and hide in the marshes like a frog,
he would never be able to escape their shafts. The tall poppyheads
that Tarquinius lopped off with his stick in the presence of the
messenger of Sextus, conveyed more vividly the intended lesson
than any amount of diabolical advice; and turning[165] to Jewish
history, we shall find that the prophets found it necessary to
illustrate even _their_ language (metaphorical as it was) by living
pictures--the rending of a garment, the hiding of a girdle, the
pushing with iron horns--in order to bring home a vivid sense of
conviction to the gross hearts of the people whom they taught.

But when such outward illustrations are impossible, we adopt
a shadow of them by painting with words. When we speak of the
cornfields standing so thick with corn, that they laugh and sing;
when we speak of the harvests thirsting, or of the green fields
sleeping in the quiet sunshine; when we speak of the thunderbolts
of eloquence, or the dewy close of tender music, our language is
understood perhaps with more rapidity, and our meaning expressed
with greater clearness, than if we were to translate the same
phrases into more prosaic and less imaginative expression.

Even the unimaginative[166]Aristotle observed the fact. Mere
names, he says, carry to the mind of the hearer their specific
meaning, and there they end; but metaphors do more than this, for
they awaken new thoughts. Let us take Aristotle’s own example of
the word “age,” and instead of Solomon’s fine expression, “when
the almond-tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper be a burden,”
substitute “when the hair is white, and the body decrepit;” who
does not see that the force and poetry of the passage is evaporated
at once?

And, in point of fact, we do not go at all nearer to truth by a
substitution of terms that imply no direct figure. Eloquence,
for instance, has in all ages been compared to thunder[167] and
lightning, because the effect of it upon the mind is closely
analogous to that produced by the bursting of a storm; and when,
out of dislike to such expressions, we talk of eloquence as having
been passionate, or forcible, or effective, the impressions we
convey are not nearly so powerful, or nearly so descriptive. And in
many cases we must rest content to leave our emotions unexpressed,
if we will not condescend to use the assistance of figurative
terms. “Language,” says Mr. Carlyle, “is the flesh-garment of
Thought. I said that Imagination wove this flesh-garment; and does
she not? Metaphors are her stuff. Examine Language. What, if you
except some few primitive elements (of natural sound), what is it
all but metaphors recognised as such, or no longer recognised;
still fluid and florid, or now solid-grown and colourless? If
those same primitive elements are the osseous fixtures in the
flesh-garment, Language--then are metaphors its muscles, and
tissues, and living integuments. An unmetaphorical style you
shall in vain seek for: is not your very _attention_[168] a

Our minds are simply not adapted to deal familiarly with the
abstract; we yearn for the concrete, and the successful adoption of
it often constitutes the power and beauty of rhetoric and poetry.
For the attributes of poetry cannot better be summed up than by
saying with Milton, that it is “simple, _sensuous_, passionate.”
It has been said, that “good writing and brilliant discourse are
perpetual allegories.” The Bible more than any other book abounds
in this energy of style, this matchless vivacity of description;
and hence of all books it is the most fresh and living, the one
which speaks most musically to the ear, most thrillingly to the
heart,--the one whose rich bloom of eloquence is least dimmed by
being transfused into other tongues, and the rapid wings of its
words the least broken and injured by the process of many hundred
years. The idioms of all language approach each other most nearly
in passages of the greatest eloquence and power: here the syllogism
of emotion transcends the syllogism of logic, and grammatical
formulæ are fused and calcined in the flame of passion.

This concreteness of style, and liberal use of simple metaphor, is
nowhere so beautifully conspicuous as in the teaching of our Lord,
and he doubtless adopted it for the express purpose that--

      They might learn who bind the sheaf,
        Or crush the grape, or dig the grave,
        And those wild eyes that watch the wave
      In roarings round the coral reef.

“Consider the[169]lilies how they grow; they toil not, they spin
not; and yet I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory was not
arrayed like one of these. If, then, God so clothe the grass, which
to-day is in the field, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, how
much more will he clothe you, oh ye of little faith!”

“Let us here adopt,” says Dr. Campbell, “a little of the tasteless
manner of modern paraphrasts, by the substitution of more general
terms, one of their many processes of infrigidating, and let us
observe the effect produced by this change. ‘Consider the flowers
how they gradually increase in their size; they do no manner of
work, and yet I declare unto you, that no king whatever, in his
most splendid habit, is dressed up like them. If, then, God in his
providence doth so adorn the vegetable productions which continue
but a little time on the land, and are afterwards devoted to the
meanest uses, how much more will he provide clothing for you!’
How spiritless[170] is the same sentiment rendered by these small
variations! The very particularising of to-day and to-morrow is
infinitely more expressive of transitoriness than any description
wherein the terms are general, that can be substituted in its room.”

Philosophers, then, have been mistaken in complaining of metaphors
as a proof[171] of poverty. Tropes, it has been said, would
disappear, if we had in every case a direct and independent
expression, and metaphor is a coin struck only for the earth. How
this may be we know not; although, if there be mysteries even for
the angels, then for them also will the gracious analogies of a
sublime symbolism be no less necessary. For us at any rate, since
it is impossible to find a direct word for every phenomenon,
metaphor is our only resource; the figure is necessitated by
the non-existence of the proper term. Because poetry abounds in
figures, it does not follow that it is “the dark murmur of a lie,
instead of the clear cry of truth,” but that it deals for the most
part with thoughts which transcend the exigencies of ordinary
expression. We must not complain of the lunar beam of genius,
because it has not the brightness of the sun. Our choice lies
between an enchanting and beautiful twilight, or a darkness which
may be felt.

If any one wishes to compare the difference between metaphorical
language and the phraseology which studiously avoids the use of
metaphor, and clings as far as possible to bare fact, let him
contrast the nomenclature of science with the parallel nomenclature
of the people.

The terminology of science is of necessity “conventional,[172]
precise, constant; copious in words and minute in distinctions,
according to the needs of the science;” but this very necessity
kills the imagination, and leaves an uninviting argot in the place
of warm and glowing human speech. It is absurd to quarrel with
and ridicule the language of science, since in its researches
an inaccurate or ill-defined name--a name that _connotes_ many
other things, or in itself involves an unproven theory--may be
productive of the most disastrous consequences. But, at the same
time, the mere nomenclature, in becoming steady and determinate,
is too often uncouth and inharmonious,[173] and we see that
if the language of common life were equally invariable, and
unelastic, imagination would be cancelled, and genius crushed.
Metaphor is no longer possible in a language which has the power
of expressing everything. Such “lexical superfetations” as
“chrysanthemum leukanthemum,” and “platykeros,” may be necessary
to science, but who would exchange them for the popular names
of “Reine Marguerite,” and “Stagbeetle” (_cerf volant_)? And is
there not something almost repulsive in such a term as “Myosotis
scorpioeides” (scorpion-shaped mouse’s ear!) when compared with the
sweet vulgar names “Forget-me-not,” “Yeux de la Sainte Vierge,” and
“Plus je vous vois, plus je vous aime?” The language of science is
only picturesque, when, as in the case of astronomy, it borrows
from shepherd philosophers such names as the “chariot,” “the
serpent,” “the bear,” and “the milky way.”

Language, then, is a plummet[174] which can never fathom the
abysses of existence; and yet by its means we can learn more of the
world of spirit than the senses can ever tell us about the visible
and the material. When we speak of any sensible object, we only
adopt a convenient name for a certain synthesis of properties, and
we do not thereby advance a single step towards the knowledge of
the thing in its abstract essence. The very existence of substance
as an absolute entity, an _ens per se existens_, the postulated
residuum after the abstraction of all[175] separate qualities which
are cognisable by the senses, is entirely denied by idealists,
who would reduce all outward things to a mere relation, or a
modification of the sentient subject. Nature itself is with them
nothing more than “an apocalypse of the mind.” We speak of “gold,”
and we mean thereby an object of which perhaps our first and main
conceptions are that it is heavy, yellow, and valuable as a medium
of exchange; yet the property which we call “heavy” is one which
we can easily conceive capable of modification; the property of
yellowness ceases when light no longer falls upon the metal; and
the property of value is one purely conventional and continually
varying. What, then, have we left except a philosophical figment--a
something with the properties of nothing? We cannot assert the
existence of any substance corresponding to the name “gold”
apart from these and other properties, which, as we have seen,
are mere relations. What, then, do we really learn from language
even about the external world, the world of phenomena and of
fact? When, on the other hand, we speak of “imagination,” we name
one of the noblest faculties of the intellect, from the analogy
afforded by the property of the glassy wave, which “refreshes and
reflects” the flowers upon its banks; yet who shall say that our
metaphor (“imagination”) gives us a less clear[176] and definable
conception than is conveyed by our general term (“gold”)?

Nothing can be known of itself, but sensible things can only be
named from the manner in which they affect the senses, and things
invisible can only be pictured forth analogically, from the manner
in which they affect the soul. And God has given us an intellect
capable of observing the analogies of which the world is full,
and not only of observing them, but of applying to them with
perfect comprehension the words by which we describe our physical
sensations. In the wise and noble language of the son[177] of
MADE NOTHING IMPERFECT.” There _is_ a close, though mysterious,
analogy between physical and intellectual phenomena. The continual
metaphors by which we compare our thoughts and emotions to the
changes of the outer world--sadness to a cloudy sky, calm to
the silvery rays of the moonlight, anger to waves agitated by
the wind--are not, as Schelling observed, a mere play of the
imagination, but are an expression in two different languages of
the same thought of the Creator, and the one serves to interpret
the other. “Nature is visible spirit, spirit invisible nature.” It
could have been no result of accident, no working of blind chance,
that made the mind of man a mirror of the things whereby he is
surrounded, and that created the world of matter under the guidance
of laws which are an exact analogon of the laws of mind. Thus the
Universe itself, with all that it contains, is a mighty emblem, and
man is the analogist who, by the Word that lighteth him, is enabled
to decipher it.

      Two worlds are ours: ’tis only sin
        Forbids us to descry
      The mystic heaven and earth within
        Plain as the sea and sky.

The stars and the mountains, the oceans and winds, may exist
for nobler and sublimer purposes than “to furnish man with the
dictionary and grammar of his municipal speech,” but for _us_ at
least it should be our first and chief cause of thankfulness to
God when we commemorate the glories of the world in which he has
placed us, that it is by the reflection of those glories that we
grow conscious of ourselves, exactly as it is by the reverberation
of a luminous ray that we become aware of the presence of holy

But, in those primeval ages which saw the birth of language, the
instinctive perception of this harmony, and the application of
the perceived analogy to the purposes of language, was far more
quick and vivid than it can be now, when our minds are obscured
by discussion, dried up by logic, and too often choked by the
unnecessary gold of a vocabulary inexhaustible and ready made.
“As we go back in history,” says Mr. Emerson, “language becomes
more picturesque, until its infancy, when it is all poetry; or all
spiritual facts are represented by natural symbols.” To the primal
man his words were like the fragments of coloured glass in the
kaleidoscope, readily admitting of a thousand new uses, “changing
their place and their effect with every emotion which agitated his
language, and lending themselves with a lustre ever-new to all the
new combinations of his thought.”

The dawn of language took place in the bright infancy, in the
joyous boyhood of the world; the glory-clouds still lingered among
the valleys, upon the hills, and those splendors of creative power
which had smitten asunder the mists that swathed the primeval
chaos had not yet ceased to quiver in the fresh and radiant air.
Everything was new; the soil was clad in the vernal luxuriance
of green and untrodden herbage, and a blissful innocence gave to
the new child of Heaven a life of “happy yesterdays and confident
to-morrows.” He looked at all things with the large open eyes of
childish wonderment, and the[178] simplest facts of the eternal
Order were to him miraculous events. To him “the warmth, the west
wind, the ornaments of springtide returned unforeseen, and the
sunrise, was but a long phenomenon which might in the morning fail
the longings of night. If an arch of resplendent colours unfolded
itself from heaven to earth, and there broke into a shower of
brilliant atoms, sowing the soil with a dust of precious stones, it
announced a message and a promise of God. If the moon disappeared
in an eclipse, it was devoured by a black dragon; the thunder
was the wrath of the Almighty, and the manna was his bread. The
adolescent race had all the delicacy of tact, and all the freshness
of sentiment, which in youthful souls identifies itself with the
poetry of things. In fact, life was itself a poesy full of mystery
and full of grace.”

And this delicacy of tact, this youthfulness of sensation, this
ever-fresh capacity for that wonder which is the parent of all
knowledge and all thought, was allied most closely to religion and
to poetic insight. “They seem to me,” says Plato,[179] “to frame a
right genealogy, who make Iris the daughter of Thaumas.”

      Upon the breast of new-created earth
      Man walked; and when and wheresoe’er he moved,
      Alone or mated,--solitude was not.
      He heard, borne on the wind, the articulate voice
      Of God, and Angels to his sight appeared
      Crowning the glorious hills of Paradise;
      Or through the groves gliding like morning mists
      Enkindled by the sun. He sate and talked
      With winged messengers who daily brought
      To his small island in the ethereal deep
      Tidings of joy and love. From those pure heights
      (Whether of actual vision, _sensible_
      _To thought and feeling, or that in this sort_
      _Have condescendingly been shadowed forth_
      _Communications spiritually maintained,_
      _And intuitions moral and divine_)
      Fell human kind--to banishment condemned
      That flowing years repealed not.

For what is religion but reverence, and love, and worship? And
what is poetry but the delicate perception of new truths, and new
relations--the eloquent[180] soliloquy of wonder and of thought?
“In wonder[181] all philosophy began; in wonder it ends; and
admiration fills up the interspace. But the first wonder is the
offspring of ignorance; the last is the parent of adoration.
The first is the birth-throe of our knowledge; the last is its
euthanasy and apotheosis.”

To the early language nothing was common or unclean, as to
the youthful nations nothing was vulgar. With them it was no
degradation for a king to labour in his vineyard and tend his
flocks, or for a princess to join her maidens in washing the
palace-clothes. Homer describes the cooking of a dish or the
cleansing of a chamber with the same minute circumstantiality,
with the same lively yet dignified delight, with the same sense
that everything human has its own divine side, as he describes the
falling of a hero, or the armour of a god. And the feeling which
inspired him with this catholicity of admiration for every human
action was a right and noble one; it was the same feeling which
actuated the Christian poet in the quaint lines--

      A servant in this cause
        Makes service half divine;
      Who sweeps a room as for thy laws
        Makes that, and the action, fine.

It is only in the fastidious conventionality of later ages that
a false shame quenches enthusiasm, and “the quotidian ague of
frigid impertinences” infects the healthy veins of our mental
constitution. Then it is that reverence perishes, and simple
acts must be veiled in metaphysical euphuisms, and simple
thoughts overlaid with galimatias, with tortured acceptations,
with uncouth archaisms. ‘It[182] must always be the same. After
the beautiful period of Spanish literature come Gongora and his
_cultorists_; after Tasso and Ariosto, the Chevalier Marin and
his pale cortège of mannered _seicentisti_, armed with points and
conceits; after Shakspeare, _euphuism_; after the admirable French
of the sixteenth century, after the language of Rabelais, of Des
Periers, of Marot, of Henri Estienne, of Amyot, of Montaigne,
comes “préciosité,”[183] so vain, so affected, so puerile, so
pretentious, so unreal, so false.’

Thus the language of nations is the type of their moral as well
as of their intellectual character. As long as men are noble and
simple, their language will be rich in power and truth; when they
fall into corruption and sensuality, their words will degenerate
into the dingy and miserable counters, which have no intrinsic
value, and only serve as a worthless and conventional medium of
exchange. In the pedantry of Statius, in the puerility of Martial,
in the conceits of Seneca, in the poets who could go into emulous
raptures on the beauty of a lap-dog, and the apotheosis of a
eunuch’s hair, we read the handwriting of an empire’s condemnation.
Even a past[184] literature is full of power to save a people from
utter degeneracy. It is the true poet after all who, more than the
financier, more than the merchant, more than the statesman, more
than the soldier, saves his countrymen from ruin, elevates their
conduct by purifying their thoughts, keeps their feet upon the
mountain, and turns their eyes towards the sun.

      We must be free or die, who speak the tongue
      That Shakespeare spake, the faith and morals hold
      Which Milton held.



  “Credibilius est, quia præsens est eis, quantum id capere
  possunt, LUMEN RATIONIS ÆTERNÆ, ubi hæc immutabilia vera
  conspiciunt.”--S. AUGUSTIN, _Ret._ i. 4.

“It may lead us a little,” says Locke, “towards the original of all
our notions and knowledge, if we remark how great a dependence our
words have on common sensible ideas; and how those which are made
use of to stand for actions and notions quite removed from sense,
have their rise from thence, and from obvious sensible ideas are
transferred to more abstruse significations, and made to stand for
ideas that come not under the cognizance of our senses.”[185]

So far we may seem to have been adducing a crowd of illustrations
in support of this statement: for we have traced the germinal
development of language from the seed and root of onomatopœia to
the various ramifications of metaphor, and have seen convincing
reason to infer the primary origin of all words from sensible

Are we then obliged to give in our adherence to the sensational
philosophy, and to believe that “Nature, even in the naming of
things, unawares suggested to men the originals and principles of
all their knowledge?” Are we forced to accept the dogma that “there
is nothing in the intellect, which has not previously existed in
the sense?”

Such are the questions which must now be considered, because
these are the conclusions usually drawn from the premisses,
which have been hitherto receiving our support. The discussion
of them cannot be considered a digression, because it will lead
us at least to recognise the existence of problems which are of
the profoundest importance, the examination of which must always
bear reference to the facts of language, and especially to its
origin and history. The space devoted by Locke to the development
of his views on the use and abuse of words is a sufficient proof
that we are not wilfully turning aside from the direct discussion
of the subject before us. Indeed, it is the assertion of one of
Locke’s acutest[186] and most admiring disciples, that the whole
of the Essay on the Human Understanding is “little more than
a philosophical account of the first sort of abbreviations in

Before we reject the conclusion which may seem to have been
involved in the facts which we have endeavoured to establish, it
may be well to mark the full consequences which the sensationalists
were gradually led to adopt. Locke, in defining the source of our
ideas, had distinctly acknowledged an _internal sense_, which he
calls reflection, as being necessary to complement the work of
sensation; in the very passage which we quoted at the commencement
of this chapter, he goes on to say that we have “no ideas at all,
but what originally came _either_ from sensible objects without,
_or what we feel within ourselves from the inward workings of
our own spirits of which we are conscious to ourselves within_.”
Similarly, Bishop Berkeley, in his Theory of Vision, very clearly
lays down “that there are properly no ideas or passive objects in
the mind but what are derived from sense, _but there are, besides
these, her own acts and operations_;--such are notions.”

But of that element of our thoughts which he called reflexion,
Locke, although he barely asserted its existence, made so little
use that it hardly counteracted the general tendency of his
philosophy. “When[187] a term so wide and vague, or so complex
and multifarious, so thin and shadowy, or so ponderous and
unmanageable, as this ‘reflexion’ is introduced side by side with
the clear, bodily, definite realities of the senses (sensation),
it can hardly hold its place securely as a philosophical term.”
Accordingly we are not surprised to find that Locke was claimed
as the founder[188] of a sensationalist school, whose ultimate
conclusions his calm and pious mind would have indignantly

But it was in France that the Essay on Human Understanding was
received with the most enthusiastic applause; and when the
metaphysics of Locke had once “crossed the channel on the light
and brilliant wings of Voltaire’s imagination,” sensationalism
reigned for a long period without a rival near the throne. Etienne
de Condillac was the philosopher who was mainly instrumental
in introducing to his countrymen the speculations of the great
English thinker; and it is an interesting fact that in Condillac’s
first work, “L’Essai sur l’Origine des Connaissances Humaines,”
(1746), he had not yet thought of “simplifying” Locke’s system,
by discarding reflexion as an element of knowledge. But eight
years after, in his “Traité des Sensations,” he states, in the
broadest possible manner, that the senses are the source not only
of our knowledge, but even (monstrous as it may appear) of our
_intellectual faculties_ themselves! And as he makes the faculty
of speech the principle of superiority of men over animals, he is
involved in the vicious[189] circle of considering language to
be, at the same time and in the same sense, a cause and an effect
of thought. This system found its most wonderful illustration
in the too-famous description of the statue-man; a being, who,
so far from being capable of acquiring memory, and judgment and
thought, would even be incapable of _anything_, except mere organic
impressions,[190] because it could have had no will whereby to
contrast its personality with the action of external causes.

So far is it from being true, that there is nothing in the
intellect which has not previously been in the sense, that even
our conception of matter[191] itself is derived from a superior
source, and would without the intellect be one at which we could
not arrive. The senses themselves can tell us nothing except in so
far as they are “the scribes[192] of the soul.”

It might have been thought that sensationalism itself could go no
farther than Condillac, but it found exponents still more audacious
in Helvetius and St. Lambert. According to the former, man is
merely an animal superior to other animals because of the greater
perfection of the organs with which he has been endowed; according
to the latter, man, when born, is only an organised sensible mass;
and the first objects which strike our senses give us our first
ideas, until thus, gradually, Nature has created the soul within
us. We are hardly surprised after this to find that Helvetius
considers love to be only the feeling of a need, courage to be the
fear of death (!), and “Do what is useful” to be the moral rule;
and that St. Lambert avows openly, that pleasure and pain are the
masters of man, so that the object of life will be to seek the one,
and avoid the other.

Are we obliged by our theory respecting the origin of language to
accept any of these conclusions? Must we say, with Condillac, that
“science is only a well-constructed language?” or with M. Destutt
de Tracy, that “thought[193] is sensation?” or (to go back to the
cradle of these materialist imaginings), must we believe, with the
old sophist, that “man[194] is the measure of all things?” that
there is no eternal right or truth? that justice and turpitude
are the result not of divine instinct, but of association, habit,
custom, convention? Must all morality be founded, with Occam,[195]
on the result of an arbitrary decree? and must we believe, with
Horne Tooke, that truth is simply and purely relative, since
its derivation is supposed to imply that it is merely what one

To establish such conclusions was the direct object of Horne Tooke
in his “Diversions of Purley,”[196] and it is astonishing that he
should have met with such complete success. A certain Dutchman[197]
had preceded him in the same line of argument; abusing the fact
that the terms of theology, morals, and metaphysics, are originally
derived from material images, he turned theology and the Christian
faith into ridicule in a little Dutch dictionary, in which he gave
to words, not such definitions as usage demands, but such as seemed
to carry a malignant inference drawn from the original meaning; and
since he had shown marks of impiety elsewhere, they say that he was
punished for it in the Raspel-Huyss.

Far different was the acceptance given to the “Diversions of
Purley,” which to this day is praised and quoted, although a recent
philologist has not scrupled to affirm that Tooke’s “alluring[198]
speculations will not bear the light of advancing knowledge, and
it _is hardly too much to say that there is not a sound etymology
in the work_.” No one has done more to overthrow his baseless
fabric than the late Mr. Garnett,[199] in an article on English
Lexicography, who has shown in particular that the details of his
much-vaunted analysis of the particles may be contested more often
than admitted, and indeed that his theory contains very little
that can be safely relied upon. Tooke seems to have been led to
his system by the conjecture that “if” is equivalent to “gif,”
an imperative of the verb “to give;” but as the cognate forms in
other languages prove that this particle has no connection whatever
either with the verb “to give” or with any other verb (a fact which
was proved by Dr. Jamieson in his Scottish Dictionary), “any system
founded on this basis is a mere castle in the air.” “According to
Plutarch,” says Mr. Garnett, “the Delphian EI supported the tripod
of truth; we fear that Tooke’s _if imperative_ led him into a
labyrinth of error.”

Again, let us take the etymology by which Tooke endeavours to
explode the common notion of truth. He assumes that the word
‘truth’ is merely a contraction of “troweth,” and that “trow”
simply denotes to _think_ or _believe_. The inferences are as
follows: “Truth[200] supposes mankind; for whom and _by_ whom alone
the word is formed, and _to_ whom alone it is applicable. If no
man, then no truth. There is no such thing as eternal, immutable,
everlasting truth, unless mankind, _such as they are at present_,
be also eternal, immutable, and everlasting. Two persons may
contradict each other, and yet both speak truth, for the truth of
one person may be opposite to the truth of another.” Here we are
removed at once from the solid basis of certainty and conviction
to the shifting deserts and treacherous waves of conjecture and
doubt; and the etymologist would reduce morality and religion to
shadowy superstructures built upon moving and trembling sands. Even
if the derivation were admissible we should reject the conclusion,
but the etymology is as erroneous as the inference drawn from it is
dangerous and false. Mr. Garnett, with infinitely more probability,
derives truth “from the Sanskrit _dhru_, to be established--_fixum
esse_; whence _dhruwa_, certain, _i.e._, _established_; German,
_trauen_, to rely, trust; _treu_, faithful, true; Anglo-Saxon,
_treow_--_treowth_ (_fides_); English, _true_; _truth_. To these
we may add Gothic, _triggons_; Icelandic, _trygge_; (_fidus_,
_securus_, _tutus_): all from the same root, and all conveying the
same idea of stability or security. _Truth_, therefore, neither
means what is _thought_ nor what is _said_, but that which is
_permanent_, _stable_, and is and ought to be _relied upon_,
because, upon sufficient data, it is capable of being demonstrated
or shown to exist. If we admit this explanation, Tooke’s assertions
... _become Vox et præterea nihil_. In all inquiries after truth,
the question is, not what people, who may or may not be competent
to form an opinion, _think_ or _believe_, but what _grounds_ they
have for believing it.”[201]

The question how mind can be affected by matter has in all
ages been a problem of philosophy. Descartes accounted for it
by occasional causes; Leibnitz, by pre-established harmony;
Malebranche, by a vision of all things in God; Kant, by the
existence of innate ideas. However the question be resolved, it is
closely analogous to the question, ‘how can things immaterial[202]
and unsubstantial like thought and conception be represented,
and for all practical purposes adequately represented by things
physical, _i.e._, by pulsations and modifications of the ambient

Idealism denies the existence of an external world, and obtrudes on
us in its stead “a world of spectres and apparitions;” materialism
denies us the possession of any ideas but those which we have
derived from sense, and thus deprives us of all belief in an
eternal and pre-existing truth; between the two we lose alike “the
starry heaven above, and the moral law within.” But neither of
these systems can derive any real support from the phenomena of
language, which indeed in no way affect the considerations they
involve. For if confessedly our words have nothing to tell us, and
_can_ tell us nothing about the world of phenomena, and yet the
common sense of mankind forces us to believe in the existence of
that outer world, then it can be no argument against the existence
of _noumena_, _i.e._, against the existence of eternal ideas and
necessary truths, that the words which we apply to our conceptions
of immaterial entities are borrowed from the analogy which those
conceptions offer to the objects surrounding us in the world of
sense. “When we impose on a phenomenon of the physical order a
moral denomination, we do not thereby spiritualise matter; and
because we assign a physical denomination to a moral phenomenon,
we do not materialise spirit. Let us not from these appellations,
more or less inexact, draw conclusions either as to the nature of
our ideas or the essence of things.”[203]

Even if it were possible that we could invent names for each
separate particle of matter in the material universe, we should
_know_ nothing of any one particle except that it _causes_ (or,
perhaps, we ought to say no more than that it _is_) a modification
of ourselves; and yet we believe that there is a non-ego entirely
and wholly independent of the ego, though it may in no way
_resemble_ our notions respecting it. Why then may we not equally
believe in the independent absolute existence of ideas which
correspond to our terms,--truth and justice, goodness and beauty,
space and time?

A shower falls while the sun is shining, and we are conscious of
a sensation which presents to us an arch shining with the divided
perfection of seven-fold light to which we have given the name
Rainbow. But what does the name teach us of the thing itself? It
is not even a name for the thing itself, but only for the effect
it produces upon us; indeed for us, the very existence of the
object _is_ its perception, “its _esse_ is _percipi_.” Not only
is the coloured arch a phenomenon existing merely for us and our
visual sense, but the very raindrops are only empirical phenomena,
and “their[204] round shape--_nay, even the space in which they
are formed_, are nothing in themselves but a mere modification
or principle of our sensuous intuition; with all this, however,
the object itself remains to us completely unknown.” We cannot
even say that our conception of the object is in any way like the
object itself: can pain, for instance, resemble the pricking of
a pin? Such language, as Bp. Berkeley showed long ago, is a mere
contradiction in terms; for “an idea can be like nothing but an
idea; a colour or figure can be like nothing but another colour
or figure. I appeal to any one whether it be sense to assert that
a colour is like something which is invisible; hard or soft, like
something which is intangible.”

What, then, is the word (_e.g._ rainbow) to us? _In itself_ it is
worthless, a mere hieroglyphic, which cannot even teach us one iota
about the phenomenal world. We are very far from agreeing with
the “divers philosophers” mentioned by Sir Hugh Evans in the Merry
Wives[205] of Windsor, who “hold that the lips is parcel of the
mind.” We still believe that objects _do_ exist in the external
world, even although it be absurd to say that they _resemble_ our
“ideas” of them. Although to _us_ they can only exist as “ideas,”
and not as objects, we do not therefore deny that they _have_ a
real independent existence of their own. And precisely in the
same way, whatever may be the derivation of the word truth, and
however much our conceptions of that word must be modified by the
laws of thought, we yet believe, as firmly as we believe anything,
that truth _has_ an independent, eternal, immutable existence;
that it is infinitely more than a mere “_flatus vocis_;” that its
indestructible idea, its original, its antetype, exists in the
Divine[206] mind, and that if man and the works of man were to
sink for ever into annihilation in the flames of a fiery surge,
truth and wisdom would still exist, even as they existed when God
prepared the heavens, “from the[207] beginning, or ever the earth

There is then no reason to complain of the materialism of language,
or to be afraid of the conclusions which nominalists like Horne
Tooke and his Dutch predecessor would willingly draw from the
origin of words. No system of materialism will account for
grammar, that _form_ of language which is due to the pure reason.
No treatise on the history of words will be able to point to any
external source as sufficient to account for the relation[208]
of words among themselves. No language is a _mere_ collection of
words; and Locke in all that he has written about _words_ has
offered no proof that any system of _syntax_ is ultimately due to
sensible ideas. His followers have attempted this, but they have
failed. An eminent modern scholar has observed that a “careful[209]
dissection of the whole body of inflected speech will make it
plain, that while words are merely outward symbols, designating
certain notions of the mind, those notions do not stand related in
all cases, just as the words or inflections which express them, and
that we cannot by means of mere words convert into physical truth
all that is logically and metaphysically true.”

Language is not what it has been called, “la pensée[210] devenue
matière.” The very expression involves a contradiction. Words _can_
be nothing but symbols, and, at the best, very imperfect ones. To
make the symbol in any way a measure of the thought, is to bring
down the infinite to the measure of the finite. Our words mean far
more than they express, they shadow forth far more than it is in
their power to define. When two men converse their words are but
an instrument; the speaker is descending from[211] thoughts to
words, the listener rising from words to thoughts. Onomatopœia and
metaphor are sufficient to provide us with the material part of
language, the articulate _sounds_; but to translate those sounds
into signs or words is the effort of a faculty which transcends the
sense. On the one hand we have a spiritual perception,[212] the
thought; on the other hand a material accident, the combination
of articulate utterances;--but what power can bridge the abysm
between the two? The reason, and the reason only. Without reason,
the use of metaphor would be impossible, and the result of
imitation would be a collection of sounds as meaningless as the
screams of a parrot or the chatterings of an ape.

Surely these considerations are sufficient to show that there is
no danger to true philosophy in the inferences to which language
leads us. But, indeed, the whole of nominalism rests on a vast
_petitio principii_. Because our primitive vocabulary is deduced
solely from corporeal or sensible images, it is assumed, _per
saltum_, that our intellect only admits of conceptions directly
derived from the agency of the senses, and that therefore thought
is nothing but sensation. But the _consciousness_ of the metaphor
has vanished for ages from language, and when we use such a word
as “spirit,” we do not even remember that our word means in itself
no more than “a whisper of the wind.” Our primitive conceptions
admitted only of _expression_ by means of a material analogy:--this
is the sole ground of nominalism, and it will not bear the enormous
structure of inferences built upon it; 1st, that our conceptions
were themselves originally material; and, 2ndly, that they are and
must be so still, because we are incapable of any others.

Finally, there are in every language “a vast number of words
which may be explained by the idea, although the idea cannot be
discovered by the word, as is the case with whatever belongs to
the mystery of the mind.” Such words are sacrifice, sacrament,
mystery, eternity. The conclusion to which they lead us is a plain
one, and it is one which will render us fearless of the arguments
which the sensational philosophy has so long paraded with triumph
as the main support of its unbeliefs. It is that “Words are at most
intellectual symbols, and symbols are, at the best, words. Neither
the words of language, nor the symbols of religion, are the basis
and reality of thought or of worship; _they have no reality but in
reason and conscience_, and are of no use but in so far as they
express this reality, and are so[213] understood and applied.”



The history of almost every language points to the action of
certain general law’s of progress, which laws are psychological as
well as linguistic, _i.e._ they correspond and are parallel to the
growth and progress of the human mind. They may be briefly summed
up by saying that languages advance from exuberance to moderation,
from complexity and confusion to grammatical regularity, and from
synthesis to analysis. The explanation and illustration of these
laws will occupy the present chapter.

1st. _Languages advance from exuberance to moderation, by
eliminating superfluities._

The earliest languages are marked by exuberance,[214]
indetermination, extreme variety, uncontrolled liberty. They
are melodious, but prolix and measureless. Words were invented
independently, spontaneously, as they were required by the tribe or
the individual, with little or no reference to already existing
forms. The absence of literature, the want of political unity, the
habits of a nomadic life, tended to create an immense multitude of
terms and idioms. Among semi-barbarous and wandering communities
the peculiarities which we call dialects existed simultaneously and
side by side.

The Caucasus and Abyssinia present us a number of distinct
languages in a narrow district. The number and variety of the
American dialects is almost as great as that of the several tribes;
and in Oceania it has been asserted that nearly every island
or group of islands possesses a speech which barely offers any
affinity with that of the neighbouring groups.

Unity of speech is the result of civilisation, and it is
preceded by a diversity of forms which subsequently become the
characteristics of particular localities. The steps towards unity
are three; first, we have the confused, simultaneous existence of
dialectic varieties; then the isolated and independent existence
of dialects; and, finally, the fusion of these varieties in a
more[215] extended unity. Thus the earliest Hebrew records contain
traces of idioms which were subsequently the peculiar property of
Aramaic, and we find in the Homeric poems a thousand variations
of form and structure which were afterwards exclusively Æolic, or
Attic, or Doric. The explanation of this fact is to be found in
the consideration that these forms were in Homer’s time the common
property of the old Ionic tongue, and it was not till after ages
that they became appropriated and localised. The supposition that
the rhapsodists employed a judicious selection of idioms, and made
a mosaic out of distinct dialects, has long ago been abandoned as
impossible and absurd.

The process of eliminating superfluities is found in every
language. Redundancy seems to have been necessary to an early stage
of thought, for we find it not only in words but in expressions.
The whole of Hebrew poetry depends on a repetition and enforcement
of the same fundamental thought, so as to gain emphasis and
variety. In children we find a tendency to repeat the same thing
twice, once affirmatively and once negatively, as though the double
assertion gave them an additional security. “It is not you, but
I;” “This letter is not A, but B;” are turns of expression well
known to those who have observed the language of the nursery. It
is surprising to find the same unnecessary tautology existing
very widely in the most advanced literatures. “We have seen with
our eyes and heard with our ears,” is a superfluity which has many
types in the sacred writers; “They were in great numbers, not in
small,” is the translation of a line in the Œdipus Tyrannus, and we
find even a poet of our own times writing--

      There saw he where some careless hand
      O’er a DEAD[216] _corpse_ had heaped the sand.

There is no doubt that such tautologies are often so far from being
barren, that they give force and precision to the conception which
they convey; but the mischief of them is that they give rise to a
thousand errors of reasoning, and to many minds have the effect of
an argument.

      The Spanish fleet you cannot see, because
      It is not yet in sight,


      Et respondeo
      Quia sit in eo
          Vis quæ faciat homines dormire.

might be used as the satirical motto of many a treatise both in
science and metaphysics.[217]

There are two processes by which nations get rid of words which
are mere synonyms of other words, and are therefore burdensome.
The one is to drop altogether the superfluous word, or only retain
some one form or application of it; the other is to desynonymise
words by using them each with one special shade of signification.
Thus, when the Greek language obtained the word χρύσος to mean
“gold,” it dropped altogether the word αὔρον, which at one time
it must have possessed, as is clear from a comparison of the
word θήσαυρος with the Latin _aurum_. What are called anomalous
declensions and conjugations are explicable in the same manner,
since ancient idioms are always richer than those which have
undergone the revision of grammarians. It is, in fact, one of the
duties of grammarians to make a choice among the riches of popular
language, and to eliminate all words that are unnecessary. Thus
a boy would be naturally puzzled by being told that φέρω, οἴσω,
ἤνεγκα are parts of the same verb, but it will be easy for him to
understand and remember that these words are, in fact, the débris
of three entirely separate conjugations, parts of which only have
been retained, while the remaining forms have been dropped because
they were in no way needed. Merely capricious varieties have all
been solved into a single verb.

2ndly. _Languages advance from confusion to regularity, from
indetermination to grammar._

What is true of the vocabulary of a language is no less true
of its grammar. Here also simplicity is due to reflection, and
is posterior to the rich complexity of a faculty spontaneously
exercised. Scientific grammar is a subsequent invention; at their
birth languages are lawless and irregular. The reason why the
oldest and least grammatical languages appear to have the longest
grammars, is because the anomalies are all catalogued as though
they were so many rules, and what was once permissible because
it then violated no law of language is ranked as the recognised
exception to a definite order. An Isaiah would have been amazed
at reading the innumerable rules of language by which modern
grammarians suppose him to have been governed; and a Thucydides
would have been hardly less astonished to see his “syllogism of
passion” rigidly reduced to a syllogism of grammar.

At first, until usage had arisen, every body seems to have been
at liberty to invent or adopt conjugations and declensions
almost at his own caprice. “The more barbarous a language,” says
Herder, “the greater is the number of its conjugations.” It has
been a fatal mistake of philology to suppose that simplicity is
anterior to complexity: simplicity is the triumph of science,
not the spontaneous result of intelligence. The Basque language,
which has retained much of the primitive spirit, has eleven
moods; the Caffir language has upwards of twenty. Agglutination
or Polysynthetism[218] is the name which has been invented for
the complex condition of early language, when words follow each
other in a sort of idyllic and laissez-aller carelessness, and
the whole sentence, or even the whole discourse, is conjugated or
declined as though it were a single word, every subordinate clause
being inserted in the main one by a species of _incapsulation_.
This is the case with the Astec, the languages of the Pacific,
and many other languages. The Mongol declines an entire firman,
and even in Sanskrit, flexions so far supersede syntax that
the whole thought is in some sort declined. In Mexican, the
word[219] _Notlazomahiuzteopixcatatzin_, with which they salute
the priests, is easily decomposed into “Venerable priest, whom
I honour as my father;” and in Turkish,[220] the single word
_Sev-ish-dir-il-me-mek_ means “not to be brought to love one
another.” Yet even these are entirely surpassed by some of the
dialects of North America. In the[221] Iroquois, for instance, one
word of twenty-one letters expresses this sentence of eighteen
words: “I give some money to those who have arrived, in order to
buy them more clothes with it.” This one word is an agglomeration
of simple words and roots in a violent state of fusion and apocope.

3rdly. Analogous in great measure to the law which we have been
mentioning (or perhaps we may say a further development of the same
law), is the progress of language _from Synthesis to Analysis_.

We have seen that many ancient languages are polysynthetic
or[222] holophrastic, _i.e._, that they produce the entire thought
or sentence under the form of one complex and rich unity, and
subordinate every word and phrase to the domination of the entire
clause. Even in early Greek and Latin we may find traces of this
“_holophrasis_” in the separation of two parts of the same word
which was permissible by what is called _tmesis_, as for instance
in such expressions as κατὰ δάκρυ χέουσα, and even κατὰ πίονα μήρι’
ἔκηα. In Latin the same licence is far more rare, although we find
it in the lines, “_Inque cruentatus_,” &c., and it was retained
in one or two compounds, as “_Quo te cumque_ ferent.” In both
languages these extreme cases early disappeared, and the startling
audacity of Ennius in the famous

      _Cere_ comminuit _brum_,

for “comminuit cerebrum,” would probably have made Virgil stare and
gasp, as much as[223] the modern

      O _Jo_ qui terras de cœlo despicis _hannes_.

But although nothing is left in the Indo-European languages but
the faint _traces_ of that sylleptical tendency which seems to
have marked the earliest stage of language, they offer the most
splendid examples of a perfect synthesis. By a facile power of
composition, and by attaching to the verb and noun a variety of
terminations capable of distinguishing the nicest modifications
of meaning, they have produced an instrument of thought almost
unrivalled in accuracy and beauty.

In Greek and Latin one word was enough to express alike the
subject, copula, and predicate; in English, two are always
requisite, and generally three. The single word τύπτω requires
the three words--“I am striking”--to render it; to translate
_amabor_ in English or in German we require four words, “I shall be
loved--_Ich werde geliebt werden_;” and the same is true of many
other parts of the verb; as ἐτετιμήμεθα, _periisses_, “we had been
honoured,” “you would have perished.”

At first sight this analysis may seem to be a defect, but, in point
of fact, it is a development. It is a bad thing for the human mind
to be subjected to the despotism of a rigid grammar, the tyranny of
too perfect a form. As it is the danger of advancing civilisation
and of too refined a society to reduce men to the dead level of
uniformity, and subject every caprice of the individual to the
domination of an unwritten code, called the “laws of society,” so
a language which crystallises every relation in a definite form
tends to cramp and restrain the genius of those who use it. In the
tragedies of Æschylus and the odes of Pindar, marvellous as is the
power which crams every rigid phrase with the fire of a hidden
meaning, we yet feel that the form is cracking under the spirit,
or at least there is a tension injurious to the general effect. A
language which gets rid of its earlier inflections--English, for
instance, as compared with Anglo-Saxon--loses far less than might
have been supposed.

The progress of language from synthesis to analysis is that of the
human intelligence. Later generations find the language of their
ancestors too learned for their own use. For the unity, spontaneous
but often obscure, of the primitive tongues, they substitute an
idiom clearer and more explicit by giving a separate existence to
every subject in the sentence. They break up the conglomerated
jewels of old speech to reset them in an order less dazzling but
more distinct. They sacrifice the magnificence of mystery to the
light of distinct comprehension. Instead of one sentence, out of
whose tangled intricacies flashed, all the more brightly from
contrast, the rays of enthusiasm and genius, they attain to a
logical accuracy which gives to each idea and each relation its
isolated expression. What they lose in euphony, force, and poetic
concision, they gain in the power of marking the nicest shades of
thought; what they lose in[224] elasticity they gain in strength.
If synthetic and agglutinative languages are the best instruments
of imagination, analysis better serves the purposes of reflection.
Splendid efflorescence is followed by ripe fruit.

It is thus[225] that Sanskrit, with its eight cases, six moods, and
numerous inflections, capable of expressing a crowd of secondary
ideas, decomposes first into the Pali (?), Prâkrit, and Kawi,
dialects less rich and learned, but more precise, which substitute
auxiliaries and prepositions for case and tense; and even these
latter, too complex for ordinary use, are gradually displaced by
the more vulgar dialects of Hindostan,--the Hindoo, the Mahrattah,
and the Bengali.

In the same way the Zend, Pehlvi, and Pars-i, are replaced by the
modern Persian. The Zend, with its long and complicated words,
its want of prepositions, and its method of supplying the want by
means of cases, represents a language eminently synthetic. Modern
Persian, on the contrary, is poorer in flexions than almost any
language which exists; it may be said, without exaggeration, that
its whole grammar might be compressed into a few pages. Modern
Greek is the analysis or decomposition of ancient Greek during a
long period of barbarism. The Romance languages are Latin submitted
to the same process; Italian, Spanish, French, and Wallachian,
are merely Latin mutilated, deprived of its flexions, reduced
to shortened forms, and supplying by numerous monosyllables the
learned organisation of the ancient idioms. “The fact then that
the people in Italy, in France, in Spain, in Greece, on the
banks of the Danube and of the Ganges, have been reduced to the
necessity of treating their ancient languages in precisely the same
manner to accommodate them to their wants; and the fact that two
languages, so distant in time and space as the Pali and the Italian
for instance, occupy positions exactly identical in relation to
their mother-tongues, affords the best proof that there is in
the progress of languages a necessary law, and that there is an
irresistible tendency which leads idioms to despoil themselves of
an apparel too learned to clothe a form more simple, more popular,
and more convenient.”[226]

In the Semitic languages we find the progress towards analysis
from various[227] causes less decided, but no less ascertainable.
Ancient Hebrew is remarkable for its agglutination. “Like a child,”
says Herder, “it seeks to say all at once.” It uses one word where
we require five or six. But as we approach the period of the
captivity we find a propensity to replace grammatical mechanisms by
periphrasis, a propensity still more marked in modern or Rabbinical
Hebrew. The later dialects--Chaldean, Samaritan, Syriac--are
longer, clearer, more analytic. These, in their turn, are absorbed
into Arabic, which pushes still farther the analysis of grammatical
relations. But the delicate and varied flexions of Arabic are still
too difficult for the rude soldiers of the early Khâlifs; solecisms
multiply, grammatical forms are abandoned, and for the Arabic of
the schools we get the vulgar Arabic, which is simpler and less
elegant, but in some respects more accurate and distinct.

Even the languages of central and eastern Asia are not entirely
wanting in analogous phenomena. But the facts already adduced
are amply sufficient to prove that, in the history of languages,
Synthesis is primitive, and Analysis, far from being the natural
process of the intelligence, is only the slow result of its
development. And if it be a natural development it must, on the
whole, be considered an advance.

“An instance,”[228] observes Grimm, “unique but decisive, is
alone sufficient to replace all the proofs and arguments which I
have accumulated in my reasoning on this subject. Among modern
languages there is not one which has gained more force and solidity
than the English by neglecting or breaking the ancient rules of
sound, and suffering almost all flexions to drop. The abundance
of medial sounds, the pronunciation of which may be learnt but
cannot be taught, gives to this language a power of expression,
such as perhaps no human language has ever attained. Its highly
spiritual genius and marvellously happy development are due to
the astonishing union of the two most noble languages in modern
Europe, German and Romance. We know the part which each of these
elements plays in the English language; one of them is almost
entirely devoted to the representation of sensible ideas, the other
to the expression of intellectual relations. Yes, the English
language, which has produced and nourished with its milk the
greatest of modern poets, the only one who can be compared to the
classical poets of antiquity (who does not see that I am speaking
of Shakspeare?), may of good right be called an universal language,
and seems destined, like the English people itself, to extend its
empire farther and farther in all quarters of the globe.”

To the laws which we have been considering, many philologists would
be inclined to add a fourth--viz., the _progress to polysyllabism
from a state originally monosyllabic_. Many arguments may
undoubtedly be adduced, which give a _primâ facie_ probability to
this supposition.[229] We will proceed briefly to state them.

It is argued, firstly, that we should have expected _à priori_ a
predominance of monosyllabic roots, because it is unlikely that a
single powerful impression would have expressed itself by more
than one sound. Since one sound would have been sufficient, we
should not be inclined to look for any superfluity. Impression
would provoke expression with the same rapidity that the flash
of lightning is kindled by the shock of two electric clouds. It
must be remembered that the young senses of the human race were
unaccustomed to compound articulations, and neither their ears nor
their tongues would have led them to signify by two sounds or two
syllables an impression essentially single.

_Secondly_, it is said that existing facts prove the likelihood
of this conclusion. Thus, to this day, some nations are unable
to pronounce compound consonants by one emission of the voice.
Such is the case with the Mantschou, and the Chinese can only
utter the word _Christus_ by changing it according to the custom
of his language into _ki-li-su-tu-su_.[230] The Chinese then
may be considered as a language petrified in its first stage of
flexionless and ungrammatical monosyllabism. Thus, in order to
express the plural, they are obliged to add the words, “another”
and “much,” or to repeat the noun twice, expressing “us” by “me
another,” and trees by “tree,[231] tree.” The prayer, “Our Father
which art in heaven,” assumes in Chinese[232] the form “Being
heaven me another (= our) Father who,” a style not unlike the
natural language of very young children.

Thirdly, it is asserted that all existing languages are capable
of being deduced from monosyllabic roots; that even the
triliteral[233] Semitic languages afford abundant evidence of the
fact that the three consonants are only the result of a growth,
since one of the consonants is often weak and unnecessary, and many
of the words expressing simple[234] ideas have only one syllable.

Whatever weight may attach to these considerations, they do not
appear to be convincing. The attempt of Fürst and Delitzch to
get over the fact of Semitic triliteralism is not completely
successful, and no evidence has ever been adduced to show the
causes which could have influenced a language to abandon an
essentially monosyllabic character, or the time when so immense a
change could have taken place.

Chinese, as we know, has been monosyllabic from the earliest
period, and continues so to this day; and even Thibetian and
Burmese,[235] though they have, under the influence of other
languages, made great efforts to attain a grammar, have yet
retained the ineffaceable impress of their original condition. We
therefore reject this fourth law, as one which, even if possible,
is by no means proven. Further discussion of it will, indirectly,
be involved in the following chapter. At best, it can only be
regarded as an artificial hypothesis, occasionally convenient for
the purposes of the grammarian, but not corresponding to any real
condition of the languages as once spoken.



                      “Facies non omnibus una,
      Nec diversa tamen, quales decet esse sororum.”--VIRG.

It has been considered by many that language has passed through
four[236] stages. 1. A period in which words succeed each other in
the natural order of the thought, with nothing except this order
to express their mutual relation, and with few or no inflections,
as in Chinese. 2. A period of agglutination in which the smaller
words to express relation have assumed an inflectional form, but
without losing the trace of their originally distinct existence, as
in Mongol and the majority of existing languages. 3. A period of
amalgamation, in which the language becomes purely inflectional, as
in Latin and Greek. 4. A period of analysis, in which inflections
fall off and get displaced by separate words, auxiliaries,
prepositions, &c., as in English.[237]

That languages exist in each of these conditions is undeniable,
but that they represent an historical sequence is an inference
which may well be disputed. The common _à priori_ notion that
complexity is a proof of development is, as we have already seen,
entirely erroneous; since the languages of American savages and
central Africans are surprising in their grammatical richness,
and the bald monosyllabic Chinese is yet an adequate organ for a
developed civilisation. The logical order is not the same as the
historical. It is the opinion of M. Renan that each branch of
languages was, from the first, pervaded by one dominant idea, which
was due to the genius of the race by which it was produced, and
that, from this idea, all further changes directly derive their
origin. The entire language existed implicitly in its primitive
stage, just as a bud contains entire every essential part of the
full-grown flower. Languages once monosyllabic, for instance, have,
he maintains, always continued so, and although some languages
of the trans-Gangetic peninsula have effected a real progress in
the direction of grammatical polysyllabism, yet an abyss still
separates them from the languages which are truly grammatical,--an
abyss which, he thinks, never has been and never can be bridged

But we shall be better able to enter on these most important
considerations when we have glanced at the _certain_ results
respecting the classification of languages which have been at
present established by modern philology.

Two families of languages, embracing a large and widely-separated
number of the spoken languages of the globe, have now been
distinctly recognised and clearly defined. These are the
Indo-European, and the Semitic. The remaining languages, which are
non-Semitic and non-Arian, have been recently included under the
general name Turanian, and the high authority of Baron Bunsen and
Prof. Max Müller has secured for this name a wide acceptation. We
shall see hereafter that the semblance of unity in these languages,
which is assumed by the adoption of this name, has been disputed
by some of the ablest philologists, and at any rate the languages
of the so-called Turanian family have far less real claim to the
ties of mutual relationship than the members of the Semitic and
Indo-European families.

I. Of these families, the noblest and most widely spread is the
Indo-European, or as it is now more generally called, the Arian
family. Neither of these names is entirely[238] unobjectionable,
though either of them is preferable to the term Indo-Germanic,
which is now abandoned as wholly inaccurate. The name Indo-European
marks the geographical extent of these languages, but it is
inconvenient, and not quite wide enough. The name Arian was given
them because the ancestors of the people who spoke them are
supposed to have called themselves “Arya,”[239] or nobly-born.
This name is now generally adopted, and M. Pictet, one of the
profoundest of modern comparative philologists, has called his
most recent work, “Les Origines Indo-Européennes ou les Aryas
Primitifs.” But although this term Arya is of frequent occurrence
in the later Sanskrit literature, and was also familiar to the
Persians, the traces of it among the other branches of the race
are few and dubious; they are but very “_faint_[240] echoes,” if
echoes at all, “of a name which once sounded through the valleys
of the Himâlaya.” Still it is not likely that this name will now
be superseded, as Rask’s term Japhetic involves an unwarrantable
assumption; and the name Pataric (derived from Patar, the Sanskrit
“_pitar_,” a father), which has been recently suggested,[241] is
not likely to gain ground.

The Arian family comprises eight divisions, the Hindu, the Persian,
Greek, Latin, Lithuanian, Sclavonic, Teutonic, and Celtic; of these
it is uncertain whether the Celtic or the Sanskrit represents the
oldest phase, but it is known that all of them are the daughters
of a primeval form of language which has now ceased to exist, but
which was spoken by a yet-undivided race at a period when Sanskrit
and Greek had, as yet, only an implicit existence. “It is,” says
M. Renan,[242] “the noblest conquest of comparative philology to
have enabled us to cast a bold glance over this primitive Arian
period, when the whole germ of the world’s civilisation was
concentrated in one straight ray. Just as the Romance dialects
are all derived from a language which was once spoken by a small
tribe on the banks of the Tiber; so the Indo-European languages
presuppose a language spoken in a very narrow district. What
motive, for instance, could have induced all Indo-European nations
to derive the name of ‘father’ from the root ‘pa’ and the suffix
‘tri’ or ‘tar,’ if this word, in its complete shape, had not formed
part of the vocabulary of the primitive Arians? What motive,
above all, could have induced them, after their departure, to
derive the name of ‘daughter’ from a notion so special as that of
_milking_[243] (Sanskrit _duhitri_, θυγάτηρ, dochter, &c.), if this
word had not deduced the reason for its form in the manners of an
ancient pastoral family?” It is from considerations such as these
that we prove the great fact of the Indo-European unity,--the New
World now thrown open to modern scholarship. “That the Sanskrit,
the ancient language of India, the very[244] existence of which
was unknown to the Greeks and Romans before Alexander, and the
sound of which had never reached a European ear till the close of
the last century, that this language should be a scion of the same
stem, whose branches overshadow the civilised world of Europe, no
one would have ventured to affirm before the rise of comparative
philology. It was the generally received opinion that if Greek,
Latin, and German came from the east, they must be derived from
the Hebrew,--an opinion for which, at the present day, not a
single advocate could be found,[245] while formerly to disbelieve
it would have been tantamount to heresy. No authority could have
been strong enough to persuade the Grecian army that their gods
and their hero-ancestors were the same as those of King Porus, or
to convince the English soldier that the same blood was running in
his veins, as in the veins of the dark Bengalese. And yet there is
not an English jury now-a-days, which, after examining the hoary
documents of language, would reject the claims of a common descent
and a legitimate relationship between Hindu, Greek, and Teuton.
Many words still live in India and in England that witnessed the
first separation of the northern and southern Arians, and these
are witnesses not to be shaken by any cross-examination. Though
the historian may shake his head, though the physiologist may
doubt, and the poet scorn the idea, all must yield before the facts
furnished by language. There was a time when the ancestors of
the Celts, the Germans, the Danes, the Greeks, the Italians, the
Persians, and Hindus, were living beneath the same roof, separate
from the ancestors of the Semitic and Turanian races.”

Comparative philology enables us to form a very probable conjecture
respecting the cradle of the Arian race, and even to draw in
outline a picture of their primitive civilisation. We know that
this race was not indigenous in India. M. Lassen has proved that it
entered India from[246] the north as an aristocratic and conquering
nation, distinguished by its fair complexion from the swarthier
aborigines; and a crowd of linguistic inferences converge into a
proof that it sprang from the mountain-cradle of Imäus, from which
neighbourhood it seems likely that the Shemites also derived their

The traditions of the Arians, as well as the facts of their
language, point to Bactriana, as the region in which they first
appeared; central in position, temperate in climate, rich in the
metals always found in mountainous countries, resembling Europe in
its flora and fauna, and equally removed from tropical luxuriance
and northern poverty, no other country could be found more
perfectly suited for the peaceable development of the noble family
which was destined to mould the character of the world.

The Arians did not appear till late in the world’s history. “The
Achæmenid empire, which is the first great conquering Arian
empire, is contemporary with a period when the descendants of
Ham had already lost all excellence, and when China had long
arrived at that degree of administrative absorption of which the
_Tcheou-li_ affords an astonishing picture, and which has so near
a resemblance to absolute decrepitude. Brilliant civilisations,
powerful kings, organised empires, already existed in the world
at a period when our ancestors were still a race of poor and
ignorant peasants. And yet it was these austere patriarchs who, in
the midst of their chaste and obedient families, thanks to their
pride, their cultivation of right, and their noble self-respect,
laid the foundation of the future. Their thoughts, their terms,
were destined to become the law of the moral and intellectual
world. They created those eternal words, which, with many changing
shades of meaning, were destined to become ‘honour,’[247] ‘virtue,’

In speaking thus of the apparition of a race or a language, we only
mean the time at which man awoke to reflection and consciousness.
The origin of language is not _necessarily_ identical (considered
scientifically) with the origin of mankind. The circumstances and
conditions under which man first appeared on the face of the world
is a subject for the research of the physiologist, rather than
the philologist, and it is more than doubtful whether the most
earnest inquiries will ever be able to draw aside the thick veil
which hides the dawn of human life. In endeavouring to derive from
the facts of language some conjecture as to the nucleus around
which it grew, and the primitive condition of the races with whose
distinctive genius it is indelibly stamped, we are not pretending
to throw any light on the original appearance of the fathers of

II. Second in importance, although earlier in historical
development, stands the great SEMITIC family of languages. Formerly
they were called by the general name of oriental languages, and
Eichhorn was, we believe, the first to give them their present
designation. The name is, however, defective, since many people
who spoke Semitic languages (as for instance the Phœnicians)
were descended, according to Gen. x., from Ham, and several
mentioned in that chapter as descendants of Shem (for instance,
the Elamites), did _not_ speak a Semitic language. But it is now
generally agreed that the sense of this document is geographical,
not ethnographical, and that the name of Shem is a general term
to describe the central zone of the earth. Were we to name these
languages, on the analogy of the word Indo-European, from their
extreme terms, we must call them Syro-Arabian. Leibnitz suggested
the name Arabic, but this would be to use an objectionable
synecdoche, and, on the whole, the term Semitic involves
no inconvenient consequences if it be considered as purely

The Semitic languages have been destined to exercise a stupendous
influence over the religious thought of mankind. Almost unconscious
of science and philosophy, this theocratic race has devoted itself
to the expression of religious instincts and intuitions,--in one
word, to the establishment of Monotheism. The three most widely
spread and enduring forms of belief originated in the bosom of
this family. They were essentially the people of God, and to them
belong, _par excellence_, the psalm, and the proverb, and the
prophecy,--the words of the wise, and their dark sayings upon
the harp. Clear but narrow in their conceptions, marked by their
subjective character, and capable of understanding unity but not
multiplicity; they lacked alike the lofty spiritualism of India
and Germany, the keen sense of perfect beauty which was the legacy
of Greece to the new Latin nations, and the profound yet delicate
sensibility which is the dominant mark of the Celtic peoples. And
yet neither India nor Greece alone could have taught the world the
great lesson which was connected by the Semitic race with their
most imperious instincts, that there is but one God, and that
religion is something more than a relative conception. Destitute of
that restless spirit of inquiry which has led the sister-race to
explore every nook of the universe and every secret of the mind,
the highest attainment of Semitic research is to declare that the
increase of knowledge is the increase of sorrow, and that the
praise and service of God is the sole end and aim of life. It was
a great lesson which the world could ill have spared, and it more
than atoned for the absence of research, of imagination, of art,
of military organisation, of public spirit, of political life: it
more than atones even for an egotistic poetry and a defective
conception of morality and duty.

The Semitic languages partake of the characteristics of that race
whose thoughts they embodied. They are simple and rigid, metallic
rather than fluid; physical and sensuous in their character,
deficient in abstraction, and almost incapable of metaphysical
accuracy. The roots are triliteral in form and so few in number
that their meanings are generally vague, being in fact a series of
metaphorical applications of some sensible perception. They are
deficient in style and in perspective; they are, as Ewald observes,
lyric and poetic, rather than oratorical and epic; they are the
best means of showing us the primitive tendencies of language; they
may be compared to the utterances of a fair and intelligent infancy
retained in a manhood which has not fulfilled the brilliant promise
of its early days.

The Semitic family has three main branches--viz., the Aramaic,
divided into two dialects, Syriac and Chaldee; the Hebrew, with
which is connected the Carthaginian and Phœnician, and the Arabic.
Besides these the Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Assyrian
and the Berber dialects are now considered to have a Semitic
character, such at least is the conclusion arrived at by those
whose authority is of the highest importance--viz., Champollion and
Bunsen in the case of Egyptian, MM. Lassen and Eugène Burnouf,
Dr. Hincks and Sir H. Rawlinson in the case of Assyrian, and Prof.
F. Newman in the case of the Berber dialects.[249] It is admitted,
however, that the people speaking these languages were the cognate
rather than the agnate descendants of Shem; and it must not be
overlooked, that the conclusion which would rank these languages as
indubitably Semitic is rejected by philologists so celebrated as
MM. Pott, Ewald, Wenrich, and Renan.[250]

III. All languages which belong to neither of these two great
families have been classed together under the name of the TURANIAN,
NOMADIC, or ALLOPHYLIAN family,[251] which “comprises all
languages spoken in Asia or Europe, not included under the Arian
and Semitic families, with the exception perhaps of the Chinese and
its dialects.”

The chief labourers in the field of Turanian philology were Rask,
Klaproth, Schott, and Castren; but even M. Müller, one of the
main authorities for the classification of the various branches
of language which occupy this wide range (_e.g._, the Tungusic,
Mongolic, Turkic, Samoiedic, and Finnic), candidly admits that
the characteristic marks of union ascertained for this immense
variety of languages, “are _as yet very vague and general_, if
compared with the definite ties of relationship which severally
unite the Semitic and the Arian.” He argues, however, that this
is exactly what we should have expected, _à priori_, in the case
of Nomadic languages spoken over an area so vast; languages which
have never been the instruments of political organisation, which
have no history in the past and no destiny in the future, and which
never had any literature to give fixity to their acknowledged
unsettledness. Though the “Turanian” languages occupy by far
the largest portion of the earth (viz., all but India, Arabia,
Asia-Minor and Europe), there is not a single positive principle,
except perhaps agglutination, which can be proved to pervade them

It is impossible here to examine the arguments on which the
unity of this family has been considered to be _approximately_
established, while it is admitted that this unity does not
admit of any proof so strong and decisive as in the case of the
Indo-European and Semitic families. Those who seek the evidence
will find it stated, at full length, and with great eloquence and
ability, by Prof. Max Müller, in his “Survey of Languages,” and
also in Baron Bunsen’s “Outlines.” Suffice it here to say, that to
many the vast group of Tartaro-Finnic languages still appear to be
purely sporadic, and to have no common character except such as is
involved in their being neither Arian nor Semitic, _i.e._, in the
_purely negative trait_ of an absence of certain development. Under
these circumstances, we think that for the present it would be far
better to call these languages by the _purely negative name_,
Allophylian,[253]--a name which involves no hypothesis, and which
has the advantage of being the simple assertion of a fact.

But even supposing that we unhesitatingly admit a postulate so
large as that required of us, by the supposition that the Nomad
languages may be united into one family, which has points of
affinity with the dialects of Africa and America, and even with
Chinese, the further and more important question still remains;
Are there any points of osculation between the languages of these
three great distinct families? Is there any evidence in the present
state of philology sufficiently strong to induce a scientific
belief in the primitive unity of human language, and therefore of
the human race? The answer to that question must be found in the
next chapter, and I need only premise, that it is here treated
as a question of pure science, and is entirely separated from
its theological bearings. The question before us is not “must
we believe in the unity of the human race?” but “does philology
furnish any proofs or presumptions of the unity of the human race?”



  “Innumeræ linguæ dissimillimæ inter se, ita ut nullis machinis ad
  communem originem retrahi possint.”--F. SCHLEGEL.

Besides the immense number of languages now spoken over the surface
of the globe, we must remember that hundreds have now died away
altogether, and left no trace behind them. Even in our own times,
languages are dying out; the last person who could speak Cornish
died almost within this generation,[254] and it is probable that
Manx will not long survive, although it may be violently galvanized
into a semblance of vitality. Many of the sporadic dialects,
spoken by the North American Indians, have disappeared with the
tribes that spoke them; and Humboldt even mentions that he had
seen a parrot which was the only living thing that preserved the
articulation of one forgotten tongue. Every extant language has
grown out of the death of a preceding one.[255] “Like a tree,
unobserved through the solitude of a thousand years, up grows the
mighty stem, and the mighty branches of a magnificent speech. No
man saw the seed planted; no eye noticed the infant sprouts; no
register was kept of the gradual widening of its girth, or of the
growing circumference of its shade, till the deciduous dialects of
surrounding barbarians dying out, the unexpected bole stands forth
in all its magnitude, carrying aloft in its foliage, the poetry,
the history, and the philosophy of an heroic people.”[256]

Thus the Greeks and Romans[257] displaced by their dominant idioms
numerous languages of Southern and Central Europe; the Arabs
effaced the indigenous dialects of a large portion of Western
Asia, and Northern and Eastern Africa; the Spanish and Portuguese
have expelled a crowd of American languages. Again, the Visigoths
and Alani lost in Spain both their name and their language; the
Ostrogoths and Heruli suffered the same fate in Italy; and in
short, we may fairly suppose that the dead languages of the world
are nearly as numerous as those that are still living.

Passing over the dead languages, is it possible to deduce even all
living languages from one primitive speech?

Even those who believe in a primitive language admit that the three
families of language are irreducible, _i.e._ incapable of being
derived from one another.

“These three systems of grammar (Arian, Semitic, and Turanian),
are,” says Professor Max Müller, “_perfectly distinct, and it is
impossible to derive the grammatical forms of the one from those of
the other_, though we cannot deny that in their radical elements
the three families of human speech may have had a common source.”

Attempts have, indeed, been made to connect Hebrew and Sanskrit,
but the adduced points of osculation are so few and dubious, that
such attempts must be pronounced to be egregious failures. Dr.
Prichard endeavoured to prove a connection between Celtic and
Hebrew, but “he succeeds no better than those who had made the
same attempt before him. In nearly every case, the identity of the
terms compared is questionable, and in many it is demonstrably

It must then be allowed, that the Indo-European and Semitic
families are in their grammatical system (which affords the truest,
if not the only test of affinity) radically distinct, and can in no
way be derived from each other. The motto of the old school, that
“all languages are dialects of a single one,” must be abandoned for

But even if it could be shown that there is an affinity between
Hebrew and Sanskrit, a far more difficult task would remain for
those who endeavour to prove from philology the original unity of
the human race; for it would be still necessary for them to show
further the Turanian unity, and the possibility of a primitive
nucleus, not only for Semitic, and Arian, and Turanian languages,
(assuming this to comprise even the Malay, Australian, Papuan,
Kaffir, Esquimaux, &c.), but also for these languages and the
ungrammatical, unagglutinative, monosyllabic Chinese. Yet, such is
the task undertaken, with vast learning and marvellous ingenuity,
by Professor Müller and Baron Bunsen. It will, however, be
admitted, that the proved existence of great irreducible families
is a strong _à priori_ evidence against them. Let us examine some
of their main arguments.

1. “Though in physical ethnology we cannot derive the Negro from
the Malay, or the Malay from the Negro type, we may look upon each
as a modification of a common and more general type. The same
applies to the types of language. We cannot derive Sanskrit from
Hebrew, or Hebrew from Sanskrit: but we can well understand how
both may have proceeded from one common source.”[259]

Thus it is argued, that although these families of language cannot,
in their present state, have been derived from each other, yet it
is possible to suppose that they are widely diverging radii from
the same original centre; that they may all have sprung from a
primitive language, whose existence we may conjecture, just as we
should have conjectured the existence of such a language as the
Latin, to account for the numerous marks of affinity between the
Romance dialects.

But this proposition is hedged in by difficulties. The very unity
of the great Arian and Semitic families tells powerfully against
it. If the members of these families retain, after the separation
of many hundred years, the most striking similarity, in the roots
of the words which refer to the relations of life, and to the
primitive acts of weaving and the working of metals, how is it
possible to believe that the points of resemblance between Sanskrit
and Hebrew, or between Chinese and Greek, are so extremely few,
and so dubiously vague, that they hardly afford the shadow of a
presumption in favour of the hypothesis which they are adduced to
support? Even if we grant the postulated length of time--thousands
and thousands of years--which take us back to a period when
historical “chronology borders on the geologic eras,” which will
alone render such a diversity of sister languages _possible_, we
confess that it still appears to us so improbable, that it rather
wears the appearance of an arbitrary hypothesis, than an inductive

2. The main affinities supposed to exist between language of the
different families, will be found at large in the “Outlines of
the Philosophy of Universal History.” Great stress is there laid
(i.) on the supposed discovery of certain non-Sanskritic elements
in Celtic, which form the link by which the Indo-European family
approaches the Turanian formations; and (ii.) the establishment of
a connection between the Arian and Semitic families, by a reduction
of the Hebrew triliteral roots to biliteral ones.

(i.) While wishing to allow the fullest weight to everything
which has been adduced by Dr. Meyer in proof of this discovery,
and not professing to be fully able to weigh the value of the
evidence, we cannot think that his researches have at all settled
the question. Beyond certain accidental and vague resemblances,
a few lexicographical similarities[260] easily explicable by
onomatopœia, and a few words[261] adopted in consequence of
foreign influences, and that general affinity which we should
expect from the ascertained fact of the psychological unity of the
human race, nothing that we have hitherto met with seems at all
adequate to counterbalance the enormous difficulty of supposing
that families, closely united together, yet radically distinct
from each other, could, even during thousands of years, have
diverged so widely from a common source. Again, we must ask, if
it was possible for one primitive language to pass through stages
of development so irreconcilably different as those represented
by Hebrew and Sanskrit, what cause can be adduced sufficient to
account for the fact that after the lapse of three millenniums,
a Lithuanian peasant could almost understand the commonest of
Sanskrit verbs?[262]

The Chinese must always remain a stumbling-block in the way of
all theories respecting a primitive language. Radical as is the
dissimilarity between Arian and Semitic languages, and wide as is
the abyss between their grammatical systems, yet they almost appear
like sisters when compared with the Chinese, which has nothing
like the organic principle of grammar at all. Indeed, so wide is
the difference between Chinese and Sanskrit, that the richness
of human intelligence in the formation of language receives no
more striking illustration than the fact that, as we have already
observed, these languages have absolutely _nothing_ in common
except the end at which they aim. This end is in both cases the
expression of thought, and it is attained as well in Chinese as in
the grammatical languages, although the means are wholly different.

(ii.) Very great stress has been laid on the general
lexicographical affinity between Hebrew and Sanskrit, produced by
the reduction of the Hebrew triliteral roots to biliteral ones.
This was suggested by Klaproth, and supported with great learning
and industry by Fürst and Delitzsch. We have already alluded to
it, and can only repeat here, that it is not accepted as certain,
or even as probable, by some high authorities. We cannot now
recount the numerous and weighty objections brought against this
attempt by the historian of the Semitic languages[263]--objections
derived mainly from the extreme laxity of the process which even
involves the extraordinary hypothesis, that these triliteral roots
were formed by prefixes and suffixes, and that the prefixes have
nothing determinate about them, but that every letter in the
alphabet might be used for the purpose,--an hypothesis contrary to
the most essential principles of language. It will be sufficient
to repeat his questions. How can we conceive the passage from
the monosyllabic to the triliteral stage? What cause can be
assigned for it? At what epoch did it take place? Was it due to
the multiplication of ideas or the invention of writing? Was this
stage of grammatical innovation the result of chance, or of a
common agreement? To these inquiries, no answer ever has been or
can be given. The supposition of an original biliteralism must be
considered (as we said before) simply as a convenient hypothesis,
and must not be taken for an historical fact.

Languages, of course, develop; but it is, as we have seen, by
the germinal development of a rudimentary idea, and not by this
process of gross exterior concretion for which no single parallel
can be suggested. The only monosyllabic dialects which we know,
viz., those of Eastern Asia, have continued monosyllabic for
unknown ages. Chinese cannot attain to a grammar, and the Semitic
languages could never arrive either at regularly written vowels,
or at a satisfactory system of moods and tenses. Grammar is to a
language its _unalterable_ individuality. The growth and change
of language has nothing analogous to grammatical revolution; it
is due to a silent, a spontaneous, an unconscious genius, not to
deliberate reflexion, or conscious alteration. All idioms which
have been artificially altered (_e.g._ Rabbinic Hebrew), betray the
fact by their harshness and awkwardness,--their want of harmony and
flexibility; they bear no resemblance to those languages which are
the genuine instrument of a nation’s thoughts.

3. Undoubtedly the strongest argument in favour of a Primitive
Language arises from the phenomenon of several languages which
appear to occupy an anomalous position on the frontier of the great
kingdoms of speech, and to present a lexicographical affinity with
one family, and a grammatical affinity with another family. Such
languages are the Egyptian, the Berber, the Touareg, and generally
the languages of Northern and Eastern Africa, which resemble the
Semitic tongues, in some parts of their vocabulary, but differ
widely from them in all the rest. Similarly, the Tibetian and
Burmese stand on the confines of the monosyllabic languages.

Perhaps the only way to account for these strange appearances is to
suppose that language had a period of primitive _fusibility_,[264]
during which they were susceptible of great modification from
contact with other languages also in an ante-historical and
embryonary state. It is impossible, otherwise, to explain the
identity, for instance, of the pronouns and numerals in Coptic
and the Semitic languages, or to account for the fact that among
different races _t_ is the sign of the second person singular, and
_n_, of the first person plural. The analogies which guided the
first men in such cases entirely escape our power of perception.
Philology in its present state has not sufficient materials to
decide how can it be that a few essential elements in a vocabulary
should be nearly the same in two languages, while yet they differ
totally in so important a particular as the flexions of the noun
and verb. We know, however, as an historical fact, that wide as
is the difference between the Semitic and Egyptian systems of
civilisation, and different as are the physical traits of the two
nations, yet that for many ages the Semitic influence was very
strongly felt in Egypt.[265] Egypt, indeed, was only a narrow
valley, surrounded by Semitic Nomads, who lived side by side
with the sedentary population; sometimes victorious, sometimes
subject,--always detested. The Egyptian language belongs then to
a Chamitic family, to which also belong the Berber, and other
indigenous languages of Northern Africa; a family which is spread
in Africa from the Red Sea to Senegal, and from the Mediterranean
to the Niger.

Of these languages, the Berber presents numerous grammatical
affinities with the Hebrew, but is completely distinct in its
vocabulary. This, too, may be accounted for by the fact, that it
has also been submitted to long ages of Semitic influence, in
consequence of its relations with Carthaginian and Arabic. The
possibility of a state of language so incomplete as to admit of
these radical influences from contact with superior idioms, is an
important subject for philological inquiry.

We are forced then to conclude that whatever may be the other
arguments, physiological and historical, for a material unity of
the human race, a belief, which understood in a high psychological
sense, will meet with universal acceptation, philology alone,
so far as it has yet proceeded, adds no contribution to the
probability of such a view. Of the primitive men we know little
or nothing, nor can we advance beyond the region of conjecture;
but language _does_ reveal to us something about the origin of
_nations_, and the apparition of the main _races_ of humanity would
appear to have been in the following succession.

‘1st. Inferior races which have no history, covering the soil
since an epoch which must be determined by geology rather than by
history.[266] In general, these races have disappeared in those
parts of the world where the great civilised races have advanced.
The Arians and the Semites have everywhere found the traces of
these half-savage tribes which they exterminate, and which often
survive in their legends as gigantic or magical, and autochthonous
races. The relics of their primitive humanity are found in those
parts of the world where the great races have not established
themselves, and they present a profound diversity, varying from the
sweet and simple child of the Antilles to the voluptuous Tahitian,
and the wicked population of Borneo and Assam. But wherever
found, these primitive tribes betray an absolute incapacity for
organisation and progress; and they wither away before the advance
of civilisation, and pine into a sickness and decay from which, as
far as we can see at present, not even the healing influences of
Christianity are sufficient to rescue them.[267]

‘2ndly. The apparition of the first civilised races; Chinese
in Eastern Asia, the Cushites and Chamites in Western Asia and
Africa. Early civilisations stamped with a materialistic character;
religious and poetic instincts slightly developed; a feeble
sentiment of art, but a refined sentiment of elegance; a great
aptitude for manual arts and the applied sciences; literatures
exact, but without an ideal; a turn for business, but an absence
of public spirit and political life; perfect administrations, but
little military aptitude; language monosyllabic and flexionless
(Egyptian, Chinese); hieroglyphic or ideographic systems of
writing. These races have a history of three or four thousand years
before the Christian era. All the Cushite and Chamite civilisations
have disappeared before the advance of the Arians and Shemites; but
in China this type of primitive civilisation has survived even to
the present day.

‘3rdly. Apparition of the great noble races, Arians and Shemites,
coming from the Imäus. These races appeared simultaneously in
history, the Shemites in Armenia, the Arians in Bactriana, about
two thousand years before the Christian era. Inferior to the
Chamites and Cushites in external civilisation, material works,
and the science of imperial organisation, they infinitely excel
them in vigour, courage, poetic and religious genius. The Arians
far surpass the Shemites in political and military arts, and
in their intelligence and capacity for rational speculation,
but the Shemites long preserved a religious superiority, and
ended by drawing almost every Arian nation to their monotheistic
conceptions. In this point of view Islamism crowns the essential
work of the Shemites, which has been to simplify the human
spirit--to banish polytheism and those enormous complications in
which the religious thought of the Arians became entangled. This
mission once accomplished, the Shemite race rapidly declines, and
leaves the Arian race to march alone at the head of the destinies
of mankind.’

Such are some of the conclusions to which philology would seem to
point; but they are only stated with a perfect readiness to abandon
all present inferences when we are required to do so by a wider
knowledge, and with a profound consciousness that what we know as
yet is but a drop compared to the ocean, which is still untraversed
and unknown.

  NOTE.--For some very accurate original observations on the
  Egyptian language, I refer the reader to a remarkable book, the
  _Genesis of the Earth and Man_, 2nd. ed. pp. 255-268. To Mr.
  Reginald Stuart Poole, the Editor of that candid and learned
  Essay, I take this opportunity of returning my thanks.



  “Even as a hawke fleeth not hie with one wing, even so a man
  reacheth not to excellency with one tongue.”--ROGER ASCHAM.

We have seen that philology offers no proof of a universal
primitive language. The question now arises, Is there any
probability of a universal future language? Does it seem likely
that the day will ever come when all men shall be of one
speech? The noble Indo-Germanic race has carried its power and
its conquests over a vast surface of the globe, and our own
tongue[268]--which receives by common consent the meed of the most
powerful of existing languages--is probably spoken by at least a
hundred millions of the human race. Have we any reason to believe
that English will hereafter prevail over every other dialect, and
become in some form or other the language of the world?

That the Arian race is the destined inheritor of the future world
seems clear to the least discriminating glance, because it has
proved itself to be the race most capable of perfectibility, and
therefore most worthy of power. But that any one language spoken by
the various branches of their race will ultimately prevail to the
exclusion of all others is an event which hardly seems probable;
if probable, it is still in the present state of the world
undesirable; and even were it certain, yet the permanent existence
of such a language is incompatible with the present condition of
human intelligence.

1. The development of a future universal language seems improbable.
It is true that dialects become merged in languages, and these
languages lost in others still more extensive, just as streams flow
into rivers, and rivers into the sea. It is true that diversity
of idioms is the characteristic of barbarism, and unity the slow
result of civilisation. But against these considerations we must
set the extraordinary tenacity of national associations and
national characteristics. However far we may look into the future,
we see nothing to show us that the distinctions of nations were
not intended to be as permanent as the oceans that divide them;
and nothing to make us expect that all humankind will be gathered
hereafter (in its present general condition) under one universal
empire, and into one school of religion and of thought.

2. But even were it probable that there would be only one language
hereafter, such a consummation would not be desirable, because it
would greatly hinder the search for truth, and would tend to reduce
men to a dead level of uniformity, a Chinese dryness and mediocrity
of intelligence. It is, indeed, conceivable that a universal growth
of mammon-worship, making merchandise almost the only occupation
of mankind, might tend to give to languages that form of practical
abbreviation which we find in telegraphic despatches, and which,
to economise phrases and expense, neglects grammar, and puts down
the smallest possible number of words, with no desire beyond that
of being barely understood.[269] But such abbreviation, useful as
it may be for certain purposes, would, if applied to all the forms
of language, despoil it for ever of all ornament and all poetic
charm, and so far from enabling us to rival the noble languages of
antiquity, would reduce us to a condition from which the instincts
of our race would inevitably break loose, to begin a fresh career
of discovery and thought.

“Truths,” said Coleridge,[270] “of all others the most awful and
interesting are too often considered so true that they lose all
the power of truth, and lie bed-ridden in the dormitory of the
soul, side by side with the most despised and exploded errors.”
By frequent use, as by repeated attrition, the brightness and
beauty of a word is worn bare, and it requires a distinct effort
of attention to restore the full significance to the forms of
expression with which we are most familiar. “Hence it is,” says Mr.
Mill,[271] “that the traditional maxims of old experience, though
seldom questioned, have often so little effect on the conduct of
life, because their meaning is never, by most persons, really felt,
until personal experience has brought it home. And thus, also, it
is that so many doctrines of religion, ethics, and even politics,
so full of meaning and reality to first converts, have manifested
a tendency to degenerate rapidly into lifeless dogmas, which
tendency all the efforts of an education expressly and skilfully
directed to keeping the meaning alive are barely found sufficient
to counteract.” The weight and importance of these remarks will
best be felt by those who have observed how new and rare meanings
are perceived when we read the words, for instance, of Holy Writ
in their original language, and lose sight for a moment of those
groundless fancies with which long association has confused our
perception. To study the Bible in other languages than our own is
like looking upon the Urim and Thummim when, for him who rightly
consulted it, the fire of the divine messages flashed upon its
oracular and graven gems.

Hence language is most important, is almost indispensable to the
human race for the perpetual preservation of truths which would
otherwise be banished “to the lumber-room of the memory,” rather
than be prepared for use “in the workshop of the mind.” For words
are constantly acquiring new shades of meaning in consequence of
the things which they connote, and to such an extent is this the
case, that our quotations of an author’s actual words often involve
a gross anachronism, because his “pure ideas”[272] have often
become our “mixed modes.” If, for instance, we were to use the word
“gravitation” in translating various passages of ancient authors,
we might be led to assert that the great discovery of Newton had
been anticipated by hundreds of years; and yet we know that those
authors had no conception whatever of the law which that word
recalls to our minds.

Both in the history of the world, and in the growth of individual
intellects, the study of language has produced the noblest results.
To it more than to any other cause we owe the outburst of freedom
in thought which produced the Reformation, and the mighty advance
of humanity which followed that emancipation of the intellect of
Europe from the ignorance fostered by a depressing superstition;
and to it in very great measure we owe the matchless power and
beauty of our own tongue. “Indeed, the adoption of words from dead
languages into English has, above all other causes, tended to
increase the number of our simple ideas, because the associations
of such words being lost in the transfer they are at once refined
from all alloy of sense and experience.”

The old Roman poet,[273] proud in the unusual erudition which had
made him master of three languages, used to declare, that he had
three hearts, and his opinion has been echoed by a modern poet[274]
with emphatic commendation--

      “Mit jeder Sprache mehr, die Du erlernst, befreist
      Du einen bis daher in Dir gebundenen Geist,
      Der jetzo thätig wird mit eigner Deukverbindung,
      Die aufschliesst unbekannt gewesene Weltempfindung.
      Ein alter Dichter, der nur dreier Sprachen Gaben
      Besessen, rühmte sich der Seelen drei zu haben,
      Und wirklich hätt’ in sich alle Menschengeister
      Der Geist vereint, der recht wär’ alle Sprachen Meister.”

The Emperor Charles V. went still further, and declared that “in
proportion[275] to the number of languages which a man knew,
in that proportion was he more of a man.” There may have been
exaggeration in this expression, but at any rate it arose from
the conviction of an important truth. And we may add with Göthe
the undoubted certainty, “Wer fremde sprache nicht kennt, weiss
nichts von seiner eigenen.” Perhaps in this sentence we may find
the reasons why so few know their own language in half its richness
and power.

3. A universal language could not, in the present state of
human intelligence, last for any long period. New circumstances
of life, new discoveries of thought, new conquests of art and
science, would require new forms of expression. The influences
of climate and history would produce fresh revolutions in the
character of nations, and the change of character would necessitate
modifications of the prevalent idiom, which in the course of
time would diverge so widely from the parent language, as to be
unintelligible unless separately acquired. There is in language, as
we have seen repeatedly, an organic life; it is an incessant act of
creation, ever progressing, ever developing. To reduce it to one
stereotyped[276] and universal form would be to contradict the very
law of its being, by substituting an eternal immobility for that
power of growth and alteration which constitutes its very existence.

If all men be hereafter of one speech, it can only be after
they have arrived at a condition when knowledge has superseded
the necessity of inquiry, when intuition supplies the place of
discovery, and certainty has been substituted for faith. As far as
the science of philology can pronounce an opinion, we must infer,
that the familiar line will remain true henceforth as heretofore--

      Πολλαὶ μὲν Θνητοῖς γλῶτται, μία δ’ Ἀθανάτοισι.
      Mortals have many languages, the Immortals one alone.




  _Bopp_, Vergleichende Grammatik.

  _Bopp_, Vokalismus.

  _Bopp_, Accentuationssystem.

  _Grimm_, Ueber den Ursprung der Sprache. Berlin, 1858.

  _Grimm_, Geschichte der Deutsch. Sprache.

  _Grimm_, Ueber die namen der Donners. 1856.

  _Heyse_, System der Sprachwissenschaft. Berlin, 1856.

  _Steinthal_, Der Ursprung der Sprache. Berlin, 1858.

  _W. von Humboldt_, Ueber die Verschiedenheit des Menschlichen
  Sprachbaues. 1836.

  _Steinthal_, Grammatik, Logik, und Psychologie. Berlin, 1855.

  _Lersch_, Die Sprachphilosophie der Alten. Bonn, 1841.

  _Weber_, Indische Skizzen. Berlin, 1857.

  _Pott_, Etymologische Forschungen.

  _Pott_, Die Ungleichheit Menschlicher Rassen.

  _Schlegel_, Philosophische Vorlesungen. Wien. 1830.

  _Schleicher_, Linguist. Untersuchungen.

  _Zeuss_, Grammatica Keltica.


  _Renan_, De l’Origine du Langage. 2me ed. Paris, 1858.

  _Renan_, Histoire et Système Comparés des Langues Sémitiques.
  Paris, 1858.

  _Benloew_, Aperçu Général de la Science Comparative des Langues.
  Paris, 1858.

  _Benloew_, De l’Accentuation dans les langues Indo-Européennes.
  Paris, 1847.

  _Charma_, Essai sur le Langage. Paris, 1846.

  _Pictet_, Les Origines Indo-Européennes. Paris, 1859.

  _Nodier_, Notions de Linguistique.

  _Victor Cousin_, Cours de 1829, et Fragmens Philosophiques.

  _Degerando_, Des signes et de l’art de penser.

  _Balbi_, Introduction à l’atlas ethnographique du globe.

  _Fauriel_, Dante et les Origines de la Langue et de la
  Littérature Italienne.

  _Thommerel_, Sur la Fusion de l’Anglo-Norman avec l’Anglo-Saxon.


  _Horne Tooke_, Diversions of Purley.

  _Harris_, Hermes.

  _Bunsen_, Philosophy of Universal History.

  _Max Müller_, Survey of Languages.

  _Max Müller_, Oxford Essay on Comparative Mythology.

  _Latham_, The English Language.

  _Dr. Donaldson_, New Cratylus.

  _Dr. Donaldson_, Varronianus.

  _Garnett_, Philosophical Essays.

  _Hensleigh Wedgwood_, Etymological Dictionary.

  Transactions of the Philological Society.

I have here indicated a few only out of a very large number of
books which will be found useful by a Philological student. The
list might be very easily and very considerably enlarged, but
any one who once takes up the study will find in the books here
mentioned ample materials on which to commence. The questions
suggested by the study of Language are so closely connected
with those of Moral Philosophy, that almost every philosophical
work contains matter valuable to the Philologist. From Plato,
Aristotle, and Cicero, down to Locke and Leibnitz, there is no
great philosopher who has not in some degree entered on reasonings
respecting the nature and origin of Language. Perhaps there is
no more important result from the study of Language than the
greater clearness which it necessarily gives to our metaphysical
conceptions, and the attention which it necessarily turns to the
phenomena of the mind.




[1] Σίβυλλα δὲ μαινομένῳ στόματι καθ’ Ἡράκλειτον ἀγέλαστα καὶ
ἀκαλλώπιστα καὶ ἀμύριστα φθεγγομένη χιλίων ἐτῶν ἐξικνεῖται τῇ φωνῇ
διὰ τὸν θεόν.--Plut. _de Pyth. Orac._ p. 397 et p. 627. Wytt.
Lapalle’s _Heraclitus_, p. 29.

[2] Sir John Stoddart. “Bei allem was Sprache heissen soll, wird
schlechterdings nichts weiter beabsichtiget, als die Bezeichnung
des Gedankens.”--Fichte, _Von der Sprachfähigkeit und dem Ursprunge
der Sprache_. “Die Sprache ist die Aeusserung des denkenden Geistes
in articulirten Lauten.”--Heyse, _System der Sprachwissenschaft_,
S. 35.

[3] Grimm, _Über den Ursprung der Sprache_, S. 11.

[4] Grimm, s. 52.

[5] Renan, _De l’Origine du Langage_. Deux. éd. p. 69.

[6] Bunsen, _On the Philosophy of Universal History_, ii. 126.

[7] Humboldt’s _Cosmos_, ii. 107-109, ed. Sabine.

[8] Philology has been well defined as the cognitio cogniti, and
Comparative Grammar, (the branch of Philology which occupies itself
with the study of the birth, the development, and the decadence of
various languages, together with their divergences and affinities),
has deserved the title of Θριγκὸς μαθημάτων φιλολογικῶν, “the
coping-stone of philological inquiries.” See _Science Comparative
des Langues_, par Louis Benloew. Paris, 1858.

[9] Thus, though Zend and Sanskrit are the oldest languages of the
Indo-European family, they are offsets of an _older_ primitive one.
“Among other evidences of this, may be mentioned the changes that
words had already undergone in Zend and Sanscrit from the original
form they had in the parent tongue; as in the number ‘twenty,’
which being in the Zend ‘_visaiti_,’ and in Sanscrit ‘_vinsaiti_,’
shews that they have thrown off the ‘d’ of the original ‘dva,’
two.”--Sir G. Wilkinson in Rawlinson’s _Herod_. i. p. 280.

[10] Charma, _Essai sur le Langage_, p. 60.

[11] “Ici comme ailleurs on a commencé par bâtir des systèmes, au
lieu de se borner à l’observation de faits.”--Abel Rémusat.

[12] Bunsen, _Phil. of Un. Hist._ i. 40. The philosophers who held
these views were called “Analogists,” while those who leaned to
the conventional origin of language were styled “Anomalists.” But
Plato and Aristotle admit the existence of both principles, and
have written on the subject with a depth of philosophical insight,
which, in spite of their defective knowledge, has never been
surpassed. See Humboldt’s _Cosmos_, i. 41, ii. 261.

[13] Plato’s _Cratylus_, p. 423, et passim; and Schleiermacher’s
Introduction. The great authority on the ancient views of philology
is Lersch, _Sprachphilosophie der Alten_. (Bonn, 1838-1841.)
The question which agitated the schools was, φύσει τὰ ὀνόματα ἢ
θέσει; it was generally decided in favour of the “Analogists,”
though often for frivolous reasons. See Aul. Gell. _Noct. Att._
x. 4. (Renan, p. 137.) Cf. Xen. _Mem._ iv. 6. 1. Arrian, _Epict._
i. 17, ii. 10. _Marc. Aur._ iii. 2; v. 8; x. 8. These views of
the _mimetic_ character of words (Arist. _Rhet._ iii. 1, 2), and
their _intrinsic_ connection with things, did not seem to be much
disturbed by the fact of the multiplicity of languages, although
this fact led Aristotle to place the conventional element first.
The very word βάρβαρος implies a lofty contempt for all languages
except Greek, and traces of a similar contempt may be found in the
vocabulary of many nations. Cf. Timtim, Zamzummim, &c., Renan, p.
178. Pictet’s _Origines Indo-Eur._ p. 56, seqq. (1 Cor. xiv. 11.)

[14] ὃς ἂν τὰ ὀνόματα ἐπίστηται ἐπίστασθαι καὶ τὰ πράγματα. Plato,
_Crat._ 435, _c._ In proof that Plato _did_ recognise both elements
of language--the absolute and the conventional, see _Crat._ 435,
_c._, and _Philol. Trans._ iii. 137. For an able exposition of the
_Cratylus_, see Dr. Donaldson’s _New Crat._ p. 93, seqq.

[15] Herodot. ii. 2.

[16] Raumer, _Gesch. der Hohenstaufen_, iii. 491, quoted by
Baehr, _Herod._ l. c. For some other theories on the primitive
language, see Cardinal Wiseman’s _Lectures on Science_, i. 19.
Becanus supposed seriously that Low Dutch was spoken in Paradise.
_Hermathena_, lib. ix. p. 204. “That children naturally speak
Hebrew,” is one of the vulgar errors which had to be exploded
even in the time of Sir T. Browne. _Vulg. Err._ v. ch. 26. When
James IV. of Scotland repeated the experiment of Psammetichus,
the infants were shut up with a dumb man, and spoke Hebrew
spontaneously! Basque, Swedish, Russ, &c., have all had their
advocates. Charma, _Essai sur le Langage_, p. 242, seqq. Leibnitz,
_Lettre à M. de Sparvenfeld_, § 8.

[17] Renan, p. 147.

[18] There are some noble remarks to this effect in Schlegel’s
_Philosophische Vorlesungen_. Wien. 1830. Hebrew scholars will
readily remember cases of the importance attached by the sacred
writers to the mere _sound_ of words; a remarkable instance may be
seen in Jer. i. 11, 12, and a curious play on sounds occurs in the
second verse of Genesis.

[19] Grimm, s. 12.

[20] “I am by no means clear that the dog may not have an analogon
of words.”--Coleridge. Similarly Plato attributes a διάλεκτος
to animals, adducing some very interesting proofs. See Clemens
Alexandr. _Strom._ i. 21, § 413. See, too, Thomson’s _Passions of
Animals_. “They also know, and reason not contemptibly.”--Milton.

[21] μέροπες βροτοί.--Homer, passim.

[22] As in the instance of Balaam.--Numb. 22. Cf. Tibull. ii. v.
78. Hom. _Il._ τ. 407, &c.

[23] Dr. Latham points out that this statement requires
modification; e.g., it is doubtful whether a _howl_, and not a
bark, is not the organic and instinctive sound uttered by dogs.
(_Encycl. Brit._ Art. _Language_.) Still we do not anticipate that
any one will dispute the general proposition. See Heyse, _System
der Sprachwissenschaft_, § 25.

[24] Grimm, 13, 14. “Language,” he adds (p. 17), “can only be
compared to the cries of animals, in respect that both are
subjected to certain physical conditions of organism.”

[25] “On a très judicieusement remarqué sur celle-ci,” says M.
Nodier, “que la seule induction qui en résultât naturellement, fort
concluante pour la langue primitive et immodifiable des chèvres ne
prouvoit rien en faveur de la première langue de l’homme; puisque
les chèvres formoient elles-mêmes d’une manière très-distincte les
deux articulations dont ces enfants avoient composé leur étroit
vocabulaire.” Sir Gardner Wilkinson discredits the whole story,
and supposes that it originated among the Greek ciceroni in Egypt,
because he thinks that children, unless artificially instructed,
would not have been able to get beyond the labial sound “be.”
(Rawlinson’s _Herodotus_, i. 251.) Surely this is merely a begging
of the question. The fact that the inference from the experiment
was one unfavourable to the national vanity of the Egyptians, is
only one of the reasons which induce us to credit its reality.
Larcher (ad loc.) rightly regards the ος as merely the Greek

[26] “Mutum et turpe pecus.”--Hor. _Sat._ i. 3. 99. Similar
views are to be found in Diod. Sic. i. 1; Vitruv. _Archit._
ii. 1. “Thrown as it were by chance on a confused and savage
land, an orphan abandoned by the unknown hand that had produced
him.”--Volney. Epicurus thought that men spoke just as dogs bark,
φυσικῶς κινούμενοι.

[27] Lucret. v. 1027-1089. The whole passage is one of remarkable
beauty and ingenuity. Neither Epicurus nor Lucretius excluded
altogether the innate element; v. Diog. Laert. x. 75, sq. Lucretius
rightly regards language as no less natural than gesticulation,
and so might have taught a lesson to Reid and Dugald Stewart. See
Fleming’s _Vocab. of Philosophy_, s. v. _Language_. The whole
theory is stated and ridiculed by Lactantius, _Institt. Divv._ vi.

[28] He began

“In murmurs which his first endeavoring tongue Caught infant-like
from the far-foamèd sands.”

An extremely curious Esthonian legend (the only one which Grimm
has discovered bearing any resemblance to the Babel-dispersion)
seems to involve the same conception. God, seeing that population
was too crowded, determined to disperse men, by giving to each
nation a distinct tongue. Accordingly, he placed on the fire a
caldron full of water, and made the different races successively
approach, who appropriated respectively the various sounds of the
hissing and singing water.--Grimm, p. 28. Others have compared
with it the Mexican legend about the doves. See Winer, _Biblisches
Realwörterb._ s. v. _Sprache_.

[29] Spenser’s _Faërie Queen_.

[30] For assertions of the conventional character of language,
see Arist. περὶ Ἑρμηνείας, ii. 1. Plato, _Crat._ ad in. Harris,
_Hermes_, iii. 1. Locke, iii. 1-8. Fénelon, _Lettre sur les
occupations de l’Acad._ § 3. (These are quoted at length by Charma,
p. 208.) Smith, _Theory of the Moral Sentiments_, ii. 364. Grimm,
39, 40. Lersch, _passim_.

[31] Renan, p. 78.

[32] See Wiseman, p. 54. This theory of the development of human
language required the supposition of an indefinite period of human
existence; but even if this be freely admitted, it is impossible
to prove the _first step_ by which unarticulated sounds, the
_merely passive_ echoes of blind instincts or outward phenomena,
could develop into the expression of thought. See Bunsen, ii.
76. It would have been marvellous indeed, if man had by the mere
possession of vocal cries, not differing from those of animals,
been able to raise himself from the utterances of instinct and
appetite to express the emotions of admiration, hope, and love. See
Nodier, _Notions_, p. 14.

[33] Bunsen, ii. 130.

[34] Thus words and phrases repeatedly acquire a conventional
meaning for a generation, and then recur to their old sense. Almost
every sect, every profession, and even every family, have certain
words in use to which they attach a peculiar and special meaning,
which is sometimes unintelligible to others. M. Cousin has been
unable to discover the meaning which the Port-Royalists attached to
the word “machine.” See Charma, p. 209.

[35] Wilhelm von Humboldt, _Lettre à M. Abel Rémusat_. Paris, 1827.

[36] Grimm, § 28.

[37] In the following observations, I quote the thoughts of M.
Renan, pp. 81-83. I have not used inverted commas, because I have
often transposed and abbreviated his actual words. Very similar
are the excellent remarks of Nodier, which are too apposite to be
omitted. “On ne me soupçonnera pas d’être d’assez mauvais goût pour
avoir attendu à substituer mes théories aux faits de révélation....
Je crois fermement que la parole a été donnée à l’homme, comme je
le crois de toutes les facultés que la création a réparti entre les
créatures. Le seul point sur lequel j’ose différer des casuistes
du son littéral, c’est que ce don ne me paroît pas avoir consisté
dans la communication d’un système lexicologique tout fait,
&c.”--_Notions de Linguistique_, p. 9.

[38] A beautiful illustration of Herder’s will help to show our
meaning. “Observe,” he says, “this tree with its vigorous trunk,
its magnificent crown of verdure, its branches, its foliage, its
flowers, its fruits, raising itself upon its roots as on a throne.
Seized with admiration and astonishment, you exclaim, ‘It is
divine, divine!’ Now observe this little seed; see it hidden in
the earth, then pushing out a feeble germ, covering itself with
buds, clothing itself with leaves; you will again exclaim, ‘It is
divine!’ but in a manner more worthy and more intelligent.”

[39] Nothing has been more fatally prejudicial to the progress of
science than a theological bias in its votaries; and nothing more
fatal to the peace of true discoverers than its ignorant tyranny.
Adelung shows true wisdom in prefacing his _Mithridates_ with the
statement, “Ich habe keine Lieblingsmeinung, keine Hypothese zum
Grunde zu legen. Noah’s Arche ist mir eine Verschlossene Burg, und
Babylon’s Schutt bleibt vor mir völlig in seiner Ruhe.”

[40] It seems to me, however, that Grimm’s special arguments on
this subject are weak (p. 26); he is clearly right in pointing out
the futility of such conjectures as those of Lessing, that language
was made known to man by intercourse with intermediate spirits.
(Lessing, _Sämmtl. Schriften_, Bd. 10.)

[41] _Préface aux Œuvres Philos. de Maine de Biran_, iv. p. xv.

[42] Charma, _Essai sur le Langage_, p. 129.

[43] Dr. Whewell, _Hist. of Ind. Science_, iii. 504. A host of
eminent authorities, from Bacon down to Sir John Herschel, have
said the same thing;--hitherto, alas, in vain! See Herschel’s
_Letter to Dr. Pye Smith_. Mill’s _Dissert._ i. 435-461. Renan,
_Hist. Rel._ xxvii. Charma, p. 248.

[44] St. Gregory of Nyssa has expressed himself on this subject
with startling freedom of thought. He alludes with ironic pity to
those who speak of the Deity as the fabricator of Adam’s language,
an opinion which he expressly calls a sottish and ridiculous
vanity, quite worthy of the extravagant presumption of the Jews.
And on the subject of Babel, he says, “The confusion of tongues
must be necessarily attributed to the will of God according to the
theologic point of view, but according to the truth of history it
is the work of man.”--_Contra Eunomium, Or._ xii. p. 782. Nodier,
p. 56. St. Augustin distinctly implies the same thing.--_De Ord._
ii. 12.

[45] Since writing the above, I have met with another Biblical
argument in favour of the Revelation of Language, drawn from Gen.
i. 5. καὶ τὸ μὲν φῶς ἐκάλεσεν ὀ Θεὸς ἡμέραν, τὸ δὲ σκότος νύκτα·
ἐπεί τοι γε ἄνθρωπος οὐκ ἂν ᾔδει καλεῖν τὸ φῶς ἡμέραν ἢ τὸ σκότος
νύκτα. ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ μὲν τὰ λοιπὰ, εἰ μὴ τὴν ὀνομασίαν εἰλήφει ἀπὸ τοῦ
ποιήσαντος ἀυτὰ Θεοῦ.--Theophil. _ad Autolyc._ ii. 18. ed. Wolf.
p. 140. I present this argument without reply to any one who is
convinced by it.

[46] Stewart, _Phil. of the Mind_, iii. 1.

[47] “This method of referring words immediately to God as
their framer, is a short cut to escape inquiry and explanation.
It saves the philosopher much trouble, but leaves mankind in
great ignorance, and leads to great error. _Non dignus vindice
nodus._ God having furnished man with senses, and with organs of
articulation, as he has also with water, lime, and sand, it should
seem no more necessary to form the words for man, than to temper
the mortar.”--_Divers. of Purley_, Pt. i. ch. 2.

[48] Gen. ii. 19, 20.

[49] e.g. There is no hint of _grammar_, the very blood of
language. “Une Langue n’est pas une seule collection des
mots.”--Cousin, _Cours de 1829_, iii. 212.

[50] Renan, p. 85. See an eloquent passage of Schlegel’s to the
same effect, quoted in Wiseman’s _Lect._ i. 108. Pythagoras
probably had some vague sentiment of the kind when he said that
“the name-giver” was both the most ancient and the most rational of
men. The Egyptians worshipped Theuth as the Regulator of Language;
and the Chinese referred its origin to their great mysterious King
Fohi. See Cic. _Tusc. Disp._ i. 28. Lersch, _die Sprachphilos. der
Alten_. Bonn, 1838, i. 23-29.

[51] Bunsen, i. 49.

[52] The fact that man is a social animal (ζῶον πολιτικὸν) which
has been so strangely urged by the advocates of a revealed
language, from Lactantius down to M. de Bonald and the Abbé
Combalot, in no way militates against this conclusion.

[53] Heyse, _System der Sprachwissenschaft_, § 50.

[54] Schlegel.

[55] Wil. von Humboldt.

[56] Grimm.

[57] Renan.

[58] The Revelation of Language is supported in a book by J. S.
Süssmilch, Berlin, 1766. An excellent review of the main opinions
is given by R. W. Zobel, _Gedanken über die verschiedenen_
_Meinungen der Gelehrnten von Ursprunge der Sprachen_. Magdeb. 1733.

[59] See Franck’s _Dictionnaire des Sciences Philosophiques_, Art.
_Signes_. I must here again caution the reader that the view here
supported is _not_ the conventional theory of language condemned in
the last chapter, although it might easily become so in the hands
of a person inclined to look at the physiological rather than the
psychological aspects of the question.

[60] This is an expression of F. Schlegel’s (_Philos. Vorlesungen_,
p. 78-80). Renan also quotes the authority of Humboldt and Goethe.

[61] “Seht, es ist schwer zu denken auf welche Art man denkt....
Ich denke, und mit dem Zeuge, womit ich denke, soll ich denken wie
dieses Zeug beschaffen sei,” &c.--Tieck, _Blaubart_, act. ii. sc.

[62] We are, for instance, obliged entirely to pass over the
question as to the Primum Cognitum, on which see Sir W. Hamilton’s
_Lectures_, ii. 319-331.

[63] “One might be tempted to call Language a kind of Picture of
the Universe, where the words are as the figures and images of
all particulars.”--Harris’s _Hermes_, p. 330. This is something
like Plato’s curious notion that words are a μίμησις of external
things.--Heyse, _System_, s. 24. ἐοικέναι γὰρ τὰ ὀνόματα ... εἰκόσι
τῶν ὁρατῶν.--Heraclitus, _ap. Ammonium ad Arist. de Interp._ p. 24.
Democritus called them ἀγάλματα φωνήεντα.

[64] Garnett’s _Essays_, p. 281-341.

[65] Quoted by Mr. Garnett, p. 283.

[66] Grimm, 29-31. Compare Heyse, _System_, s. 28. “Nur was gedacht
ist, kann gesprochen werden; und das klar gedachte ist nothwendig
auch ansprechbar.” What St. Paul saw in his rapture was only
unutterable because it recalled no human analogon. (2 Cor. xii. 4.)

[67] Manudscha, Goth. Manniska, Germ. Mensch; from the root man,
“to think.” Compare φράζειν, “to speak,” and φράζεσθαι, “to
think.”--Heyse, s. 40. Turner ad Herod, ii. 7.

[68] “Speech,” says Humboldt, “is the necessary condition of the
thought of the individual.” The statement should at least be
qualified by the word “now.” For some allusions to this interesting
discussion, see Archbishop Whately’s _Logic_, ch. ii. M. de Bonald
_assumed_ the reverse: “L’homme pense sa parole _avant_ de parler
sa pensée.” See, too, Mill’s _Logic_, ii. 201. Charma, p. 134.
Of course the short-hand of human intelligence is too infinitely
rapid and abbreviated for us to be always able to read it off with
facility; or, as Mr. Tennyson expresses it,

“Thought leapt out to wed with thought, Ere thought could wed
itself to speech;”

but we are inclined to believe that without _some_ signs (not
necessarily words--see Charma, _Essai sur le Langage_, p. 50)
thought could not exist. When we cannot express what we mean, the
reason probably is that we have no _clear_ meaning. “Die Sprache
ist nichts anderes als der in die Erscheinung tretende Gedanke, und
beide sind innerlich _nur eins und das selbe_.”--Becker, _Organism.
der Sprache_, p. 2. “Sans signes nous ne penserions presque
pas.”--Destutt de Tracy, _Idéologie_, pt. xvii. Plotinus distinctly
asserts the contrary. Τὸ δὴ λογιζόμενον τῆς ψυχῆς οὐδένος πρὸς τὸ
λογίζεσθαι δεόμενον σωματικοῦ ὀργάνου.--_Ennead_, v. 1, ch. 10.

[69] _In Memoriam._

[70] See Harper, _on the Force of the Greek Tenses_.

[71] _Der Ursprung der Sprache._ Berlin, 1851. We closely follow M.
Renan’s exposition as given in his preface, pp. 31, sq. Heyse sums
it up in one sentence, “Man kann mithin in dem Worte ein dreifaches
Moment unterscheiden: 1. die Lautform; 2. das dadurch bezeichnete
in Sprachbewusstsein liegende Merkmal der Vorstellung; 3. den
reinen Begriff, welchen der denkende Geist in seiner Erhebung über
die Individuelle Vorstellungsweise bildet, und als dessen Zeichen
ihm gleichfalls das Wort dienen muss.”--Heyse, _System_, s. 160.

[72] Garnier, _Traité des facultés de l’Ame_. Renan, p. 90.

[73] _Motus animi._ In the origin of language, the spontaneous
awakening of a sense of the _possibility_ of expressing thought
by speech, was in point of fact simultaneous with the production
of an objective Language as the material in which the awakened
intelligence could find expression. Heyse, s. 47.

[74] See _ante_.

[75] On this law of association, see Sir W. Hamilton’s _Lectures_,
i. 366.

[76] Exclamations, natural interjections would probably be the
first to acquire significance.

[77] In some savage languages abstraction is at the lowest ebb.
Thus, in Iroquois, there is no word for “good” in the abstract,
but only words for “a good man,” &c.; and in Mohican there is no
verb for “I love,” independent of the forms which involve the
object of the affection, as “I love him,” “I love you.”--Adelung’s
_Mithrid._ iii. b. p. 397. So again the Chinese in many cases
cannot express the simple conception without a periphrasis, and
have words for “elder brother” and “younger brother,” but not for

[78] See Gesenius, _Lehrgebäude_, p. 479. Ewald’s _Hebrew Grammar_,
§ 201. “The Mandschou is most like the Semitic here; in it the
origin is still plainer, since _ama_ means father, _eme_ mother,
according to the uniform distinction of _a_ as the stronger, and
_e_ as the weaker vowel.”--Renan, _Hist. des Langues Sémitiques_,
p. 452. Rawlinson’s _Herodotus_, i. 481.

[79] Similarly it has been observed by M. Nodier that the most
ancient names of God are composed only of the softest and simplest
vowels (_Notions_, p. 15). This reminds us of the famous oracle,
φράζεο τὸν πάντων ὕπατον θεὸν ἔμμεν’ Ιάω.

[80] _Über den Ursprung_, &c., p. 35.

[81] It is strange that the French language should not have adopted
the same course as the English, in discarding this useless rag of
antiquity. The influences which led to the decision of genders in
any particular case were purely fanciful.

[82] Renan, p. 28.

[83] Rousseau, _Essai sur l’Origine des Langues_.

[84] _Notions_, p. 24 sqq. The remarks on the labials are too
amusing to be omitted. “Le bambin, le poupon, le marmot a trouvé
les trois labiales; il bée, il baye, il balbutie, il bégaye, il
babille, il blatère, il bêle, il bavarde, il braille, il boude,
il bouque, il bougonne sur une babiole, sur une bagatelle, sur
une billevesée, sur une bêtise, sur un bébé, sur un bonbon, sur
un bobo, sur le bilboquet pendu à l’étalage du bimbelotier. Il
nomme sa mère et son père avec des mimologismes caressants, et
quoiqu’il n’ait encore découvert que la simple touche des lèvres,
l’âme se meut déjà dans les mots qu’il module au hasard. Ce Cadmus
au maillot vient d’entrevoir un mystère aussi grand à lui seul que
tout le reste de la création. Il parle sa pensée.” Want of space
alone compels us to refrain from transcribing the remarks on the
progress of infants and of society to the dentals. We must say,
however, that such speculations must be very sparingly indulged by
sober philologists. Many of them, at first sight plausible, were
refuted by Plato long ago in the _Cratylus_, and they lead to a
grammatical mysticism which has been well exposed by M. Charma,
_Essai_, p. 213.

[85] By roots we do not mean words used in the primitive language,
but rather “skeletons of articulate sound.” “They are merely the
fictions of grammarians to indicate the _core_ of a group of
related words.”--Hensleigh Wedgwood’s _Etymolog. Dict._ p. iii. For
some remarks on the nature of roots, see Donaldson’s _New Cratyl._
bk. iii. ch. 1. Ewald’s _Hebrew Gram._ § 202. This naked kernel of
a family of words is often best found in the _youngest_ dialects,
e.g. _kind_ (child) from γίγνομαι, genitum, &c. Grimm, _Deutsche
Gramm._ ii. 5. 3. Bopp. _Vgl. Gramm._ s. 131.

[86] One or two philosophers (e.g. Kircher, Becher, Dalgarno, Bp.
Wilkins, Descartes, Leibnitz) have amused themselves with the
invention of languages quite arbitrary, in which every word was
to be accurately determined; but no artificial language actually
used has ever thus arisen. The German _rothwelsch_, the Italian
_gergo_, the French _narquois_, the English “_thieves’ language_,”
the _lingua franca_ which serves for commercial purposes on the
shores of the Mediterranean, the strange jargon spoken by the
Chinese and English at Hong Kong, &c., have all arisen from _a
corruption of existing languages_ by metaphors, new words, new
meanings, derivation, composition, &c. See Leibnitz, _Nouv. Essai
sur l’Entendement Humain_, iii. I. 2.

[87] Mr. Garnett, _Essays_, p. 105. Latham, _Lect. on Language_.

[88] What, for instance, is the origin of the initial σ in such
words as σμικρὸς, σφάλλω, or of the initial vowels in ὄνομα, ὀδοὺς,
ἀμέλγω, &c.?--Garnett, p. 107.

[89] When a boy answers a lady in the words “Yes, ’m,” he is not
aware that his “’m” is a fragment of the five syllables mea domina
(madonna, madame, madam, ma’am, ’m.) “Letters, like soldiers,
being very apt to desert and drop off in a long march.”--_Divers.
of Purley_, pt. i. ch. vi. “Les noms des saints et les noms des
baptêmes les plus communs en sont un exemple.”--De Brosses.

[90] See _Philological Transactions_, v. 133 sq.

[91] _Phil. Trans._ v. 133 sq. “The facility with which unusual or
difficult words are corrupted is being at this moment strikingly
illustrated in the numerous Spanish words introduced into our
language through the American conquests in Mexico; cañon, estancia,
stampedo, &c., are already altered in form.”--R.G.

[92] _Engl. Lang._ i. p. 356, 4th ed. St. Aldhelm’s Head, in
Dorsetshire, is always pronounced and generally written St.
Alban’s Head, although St. Alban had no connection with it.
Penny-come-quick was a very natural corruption of Pen, Coombe,
and Ick, the former name for Falmouth. These words form a curious
chapter in the history of language. There is no doubt that the
mythological legends of a later period are largely suggested by the
corruption of names, as in the case of _Aphrodite_, _Dionysus_, &c.
The fiction of an Oriental nation provided with a two-fold tongue
(Diod. Sic. ii.) might easily spring from the word δίγλωσσος. See
many such instances in Lersch. iii. 6 fg. The Greek Ἱεροσόλυμα
presents a _double_ instance of this, being corrupted from
יְרוּשָּׁלַיִם, which is itself probably a corruption of the old
Canaanite name for Jerusalem. _Dict. of Bibl. Ant._ s. v.

[93] The instance is a pure supposition, for sherbet, syrup, and
shrub are from the same Arabic root, coming to us from three
different sources.--Latham.

[94] We know of very few words _invented_ on simply arbitrary
grounds. “Sepals” was devised by Neckar to express each division of
the calyx (Whewell, _Hist. Ind. Sc._ ii. 535), and yet we see at
once that it is only a very slight alteration of the word “petals,”
and this no doubt was the reason, not only for the choice of it,
but also for the ready currency which it obtained. The term “Od
force” is another instance. Chemistry at one period affected to
give to simple bodies only such names as were destitute of all
significance; but it abandoned this practice in consequence of
the absurdities and impossibilities which it involved. (v. Renan,
p. 148.) Thus, “_sulfite_” and “_sulfate_” are due to Guyton de
Morveau. (Charma, p. 66.) “_Ellagic_” acid is the name given by M.
Braconnot to the substance left in the process of making pyrogallic
acid, and it is derived from Galle read backwards (_Hist. Ind. Sc._
ii. 547); but such terms are justly reprobated by men of science.
Even proper names, which some have supposed to be often arbitrary,
are in almost every case found capable of a real etymology. “Ils
n’ont pas, plus que les autres mots, été imposés sans _cause_,
ni fabriqués _au hasard_, seulement pour produire une bruit
vague.”--De Brosses. This was noticed very early; see _Schol. ad
Hom. Od._ xix. 406.

[95] Renan, p. 122.

[96] Nodier, p. 39. See, too, Garnett’s _Essays_, p. 89.

[97] Bunsen, _Outlines_, s. ii. 84. 78.

[98] _Essais de Phil. Morale_, p. 344. (The word שָׁמַיִם comes
from a root signifying height.) Several of the instances in this
paragraph are from M. Vinet.

[99] “Augustus himself, in the possession of that power which
ruled the world, acknowledged that he could not make a new Latin
word.”--Locke, iii. 2. 8.

[100] Renan, p. 143. “Though the origin of most of our words is
forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, and obtained
currency, because for the moment it symbolised the world to the
speaker and the hearer.... As the limestone of the Continent
consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so
language is made up of images and tropes, which now in their
secondary use have long ceased to remind us of their poetic
origin.”--Emerson, _Ess. on the Poet_.

[101] Take, for instance, the word “fal-lals,” borrowed from the
burden of a song, and often used to describe female vanities. Does
not this word afford a curious analogy to the word “falbala,” the
origin of which (to express similar articles) has occupied the
attention of distinguished philosophers? It has been explained as
follows. It is said that a witty prince of the eighteenth century
once entered an elegant shop, and determined to try to the utmost
the assurance of the (probably pretty) milliner. He therefore
asked for a _falbala_, inventing the oddest vocable he could think
of. With admirable but unconscious insight into the principle of
language, the undisturbed female at once brought him the garniture
de robe called volant, which ended in light floating points. She
instinctively caught the notion involved in flabella, flammula,
&c.--Nodier, p. 211. The story is told differently by De Brosses,
_Form Méch._ ch. xvi. § 14. The word has excited much discussion.
Leibnitz connects it with _fald-plat_, and Hoffman with _furbelow_.
Charma, p. 306. The murderer, Pierre Rivière, invented the word
_ennepharer_ for the torture to which he used, when a boy, to
subject frogs; and the word _calibène_ for the instrument which
he constructed to kill birds. Charma, p. 66. Du Mérit notices
the purely musical names which children instinctively give to
those who inspire them with strongly marked feelings of love.
“Rumpelstiltskin,” the name of the imp in the fairy tale, is a good
instance of the reverse.

[102] It is mainly among the people, rather than with philosophers,
that the power of inventing names has lingered. Some write the name
Plonplon, and make it a familiar abbreviation of Napoleon; but
accomplished Frenchmen give differing accounts of the word.

[103] “Ὄνομα ποίεω. Ὀνοματοποιΐα est dictio ad imitandum sonum
vocis conficta, ut cum dicimus _hinnire_ equos, _balare_ oves,
_stridere_ valvas.” Charis. iv. p. 245. Lersch, i. 129-232. The
Latins call it “fictio nominis.”

[104] Renan, p. 136. We have already endeavoured to guard against
the misconception that language is in any sense a _result_ of
imitation: a mere power of imitating the sounds of nature belongs
to animals as well as to man.--Heyse, s. 91, and supra ch. i.

[105] Wedgwood’s _Etym. Dict._ p. v. It is necessary to be
cautious, of course, in deducing the processes of language from the
observation of children. See Heyse, s. 47. The word moo-cow is a
mixture of pure onomatopœia, and onomatopœia after it has become

[106] See the lists of such vocabularies in the _Transactions of
the Philol. Soc._

[107] Wedgwood, p. v.

[108] L. 45. “Proprium tigridis, a sono. Alii leg.
_raucant_.”--Forcellini, _Lex._

[109] Wedgwood, p. vi. The name is not native probably, for the
native tribe-names mostly end in qua; as Griqua, Namaqua, &c.

[110] Nodier, p. 79 seq. Dr. Pickering quotes an account of the
_original people_ of Malay, in which it is said that “their
language is not understood by any one: they lisp their words, _the
sound of which is like the noise of birds_.” (_Races of Man_. Bohn
ed. p. 305.)

[111] Bunsen, _Outlines_, ii. 82. The poet Shelley implied the same
thought in _Alastor_:

“I wait breath, Great Parent, that my song May _modulate_ with
motions of the air, And murmurs of the forest and the sea, And
voice of living beings, and woven hymns Of night and day, and _the
deep heart of man_.”

[112] Locke _on the Human Understanding_, iii. I. § 1, 2.

[113] Harris’s _Hermes_, bk. ii. ch. 2, 3rd ed. p. 325.

[114] Renan, p. 139, quoting Adelung, _Mithrid._ i. p. xiv.
Grimm, _Über die Namen des Donners_. (Berlin, 1855.) If the words
“tonitru,” “donner,” &c., be not originally onomatopœian, as some
assert (who derive them from _tan_, Gr. τείνειν), they _became_ so
from a feeling of the need that they should be.--Heyse, s. 93.

[115] Wedgwood, p. 5. The word “pouf” is also used of falling
bodies, as in the Macaronic verse, “De brancha in brancham
degringolat atque facit ‘_pouf_.’” It would be interesting to trace
the causes for the divergencies in sound of obvious onomatopœian
words in various languages: e.g. it is clear that “ding-dong” could
only be used to denote the sound of a bell in a country possessing
large heavy bells, and therefore churches. The sound _bil_ or
bell (Cf. t_in_t_in_nab_u_lum), expressive of a clear sharp
tinkle, would naturally be used by a people, like the Galla, only
accustomed to the small bells sold as trinkets by foreign traders.
Among the Suaheli languages (out of five words given in Krapf’s
vocabulary), no word for a bell at all resembles the sound. I am
indebted to my friend, Mr. Garnett, for these remarks, as well as
for other ingenious suggestions.

[116] Wedgwood, _Etymol. Dict._

[117] Nodier, p. 41. Even when the sound is no guide, _different_
characteristics are chosen by different nations to furnish a
name. The names “_fledermaus_,” “_flittermouse_,” are suggested
like “_chauve souris_,” by the structure of the bat; νυκτερὶς and
_vespertilio_ by its habits; if the differentia of the animal be
_very_ marked, its name will probably be derived from it in all
languages, as _noctiluca_, glow-worm, _luccio_lato, ver _luisant_,
&c.; yet even then not in all, as _Johannis-wurm_. Compare again
σεισιπυγὶς, _motacilla_, _cutretta_, _wagtail_, with _Bachstelze_,
_hoche-queue_, &c. If the bird be rare, it is much more likely
to have numerous names, because the observation of each casual
observer as to its chief attribute is not liable to so much
revision. Take as an instance the night-jar, which is also called
fern-owl, churn-owl, goat-sucker, wheel-bird, dorhawk, &c. See,
too, Garnett’s _Essays_, pp. 88, 89.

[118] “The _physiognomy_, however, of a group of languages remains
unaffected by the divergency of their vocabularies; e.g. almost
every word in the Ethiopic family of languages contains a liquid
generally in connection with a mute as its most prominent and
essential feature.”--R. G.

[119] It is represented as a punishment in some legends, as in the
fragment of Abydenus, &c., quoted by Euseb. _Præp. Ev._ ix. 14.
Joseph. _Antt._ I. iv. 3. Plat. _Polit._ p. 272. Plin. vii. 1.
xi. 112. But see Abbt’s Dissertation, “_Confusionem linguarum non
fuisse pœnam humano generi inflictam_.” Hal. 1758.

[120] καὶ περιΐστα δὲ κατ’ ὄλιγον εἰς τυραννίδα τὰ
πράγματα.--Joseph. _Antt._ I. iv. 2.

[121] 1 Cor. xiii. 8; Rev. vii. 9; Zach. viii. 23; Zeph. 9, &c.

[122] “Trotz alle dem,” is Freiligrath’s rendering of Burns’ “for
a’ that.” I may remark here, that many of these instances are
borrowed from Mr. Wedgwood’s _Etymol. Dictionary_, of which the
first part only is yet printed. This work, although not free from
errors, has the merit of having put forward some very clear and
original views on this subject.

[123] Abridged from Mr. Wedgwood in the _Phil. Transac._ ii. 118.

[124] Latham _on the Engl. Lang._ 4th ed. p. xlix. Heyse, _System_,
s. 73 fg.

[125] Traces of this feeling are found in Quinctilian (_Instt.
Orr._ i. 5). “Sed minime nobis concessa est ὀνοματοποιία.... Jamne
hinnire et balare fortiter diceremus, nisi judicio vetustatis
niterentur?” See, too, viii. 6. Other passages quoted by Lersch
(_Sprachphilosophie_, i. s. 130), are Varro (_L. L._ v. p. 69);
Diomed. iii. p. 453, &c. Plato calls it ἀπείκασμα, and the
Grammarians ἀπὸ ἤχους.


“La gentile alouette avec son tire lire, Tire l’ire aux fachez, et
tire-lirant tire Vers la route du ciel: puis son vol vers ce lieu
Vire, et désire dire à dieu Dieu, à dieu Dieu.”

The verse seems to me too laboured and unnatural.

[127] “Many at least of the celebrated passages that are cited
as imitative in sound, were, on the one hand, not the result
of accident, nor yet on the other hand of study; but the idea
(?) in the author’s mind spontaneously suggested appropriate
sounds.”--Archbp. Whately’s _Rhetoric_, iii. s. 2.

[128] _Essai sur les fondements de la psychologie._ The same
psychologist in his Essay on the Origin of Language says of those
who maintain a revealed language, that they give us “comme article
de foi une hypothèse arbitraire et amphibologique.”--_Œuvres Inéd.
de Maine de Biran_, iii. pp. 229-278.

[129] See some admirable remarks to this effect in Mr. F. Whalley
Harper’s excellent book on the _Power of Greek Tenses_.

[130] Donaldson’s _New Cratylus_, p. 220, 4th ed.

[131] Donaldson’s _Greek Grammar_, s. 67-79.

[132] For the development and more clear enunciation of these
views, we must refer to the works quoted.

[133] Donaldson’s _New Crat._ ch. ii. Plato (_Crat._ p. 435)
thought the numerals offered a proof that at least _some_ part of
language must be the result of convention and custom (συνθήκη καὶ

[134] Bopp’s _Comparative Grammar_, § 311.

[135] Dr. Donaldson aptly compares (_New Crat._ § 154) the
vulgarism “number one” as a synonym for the first person, and
“proximus sum egomet mihi.”

[136] Bopp’s _Comparative Grammar_, §§ 309, 323. Donaldson’s _New
Crat._ ch. ii.; _Greek Gram._ § 246. For the Hebrew numerals see
_Maskil-le Sophir._ pp. 41 sq. by the same author. Other works
are Pott, _Die quinäre und vigesimale Zählmethode._ Halle, 1847.
Mommsen, in Höfer’s _Zeitschr. für die Wiss. der Spr._ Heft 2,
1846. In Greenland the word for 20 is “a man,” (i.e. fingers + toes
= 20); and for 100 the word is _five men_, &c.! It might have been
thought that particles were eminently (what Aristotle calls them)
φωναὶ ἄσημοι, and yet even _their_ pedigree may be traced; and in
fact no clear line of distinction can be drawn between them and the
φωναὶ σημαντικαί.--Heyse, s. 108 ff.

[137] For instance, we find M. A. Vinet (_Essais de Philos.
Morale_, p. 323) speaking of the verb as the word which founds,
or, so to speak, creates an ideal world side by side with the real
world, and of which the real world is either the expression or
the type. The word “verb” has often been dwelt on as showing the
importance attached to this part of speech; the German “_zeitwort_”
is more to the purpose. The Chinese call it _ho-tseu_, or the
living word (Silvestre de Sacy, _Principes de Gram. Gén._ i. ch. 1.)

[138] Compare the Italian _stare_, Spanish _estar_. Prof. Key
(_Trans. of Phil. Soc._ vol. iv.) quotes an anecdote of a lady
who had to tell her African servant, “Go and fetch big teacup, he
_live_ in pantry.” We cannot, however, accept his derivations of
“esse” from “edo,” and “vivo” from “bibo.”

[139] See Renan, p. 129. Becker, _Organism der Sprache_, p. 58. In
point of fact, the conception of existence in untaught minds is
generally concrete, and often grossly material. Vico mentions the
fact, that peasants often say of a sick person “he still eats,” for
“he still lives.” “In the Lingua Franca the more abstract verbs
have disappeared altogether; ‘to be’ is always expressed by ‘to
stand,’ and ‘to have’ by ‘to hold.’

‘Non _tener_ honta Questo _star_ la ultima affronta.’

This shows the tendency of language to degradation when not upheld
by literary culture and elevated thought. Barbarism proved as
efficacious in materialising the conception of the Latin races, as
in sweeping away the niceties of their grammar. To this day the
Spaniards say, _tengo hambre_, for _esurio_.”--R. G.

[140] See Wedgwood, p. xvii.

[141] Who would have thought _à priori_ that the word “stranger”
has its root in the single vowel _e_, the Latin preposition for
“from”? Yet we see it to be so, “the moment that the intermediate
links of the chain are submitted to our examination,--e, ex, extra,
extraneus, étranger, stranger.”--Dugald Stewart, _Philos. Es._ p.
217, 4th ed.

[142] Adelung, _Mithridates_, iii. 6, p. 325.

[143] Benloew, _De la Science Comp. des Langues_, p. 22.

[144] _Essay on English Dialects_, p. 64.

[145] Still more strange are the variations presented by the root
ἄω. See Leibnitz, _Nouv. Ess. sur l’Entendement Humain_, iii. 2. 2;
and Donaldson’s _New Crat._ p. 476.

[146] _New Crat._ p. 80.

[147] The “lucus à non lucendo” principle, which explained various
positive words as though they were derived from the _absence_ of
the quality they attributed, has long been given up by all sound
scholars. Of course such names as Euxinus, Beneventum, Εὐμενίδες,
“good folk,” “crétin,” “natural,” &c., arise in a totally
different manner, as well as the name Parcæ, absurdly derived “a
non parcendo.” The supposed instances of “Antiphrasis,” as the
grammarians called it, are eminently absurd, e.g. Varro, _L. L._
iv. 8: “Cœlum, contrario nomine _celatum_, quod apertum est.”
Donat. _de Trop._ p. 1778: “Bellum, hoc est minimè bellum.” They
confused it with irony and euphemism. See Lersch, i. s. 132, 133.

[148] _Essays_, p. 284 sq.

[149] _Dict. des Sciences Philosoph._ p. 646. Locke _on the Under._
III. ii. 6.

[150] Thus the long opposition to the Newtonian theory in France
rose mainly from the influence of the word “attraction.” See
Comte’s _Pos. Philos._ (Martineau’s ed.) i. p. 182. For the
tremendous consequences of the introduction of the term “_landed
proprietor_” into Bengal, see Mill’s _Logic_, ii. 232. It caused
“a disorganisation of society which had not been introduced into
that country by the most ruthless of its barbarian invaders.”
“Fetish,” as adopted by the negroes from the Portuguese, “feitição”
(sorcery), is an instance of a word changing meaning with the
feeling of the speakers.

[151] ἤθους χαρακτήρ ἐστι τ’ ἀνθρώπου λόγος.--Stob. The language of
a people expresses its genius and its character.--Bacon, _De Augm.
Scient._ vi. i. Cf. Diog. Laert. p. 58. Quinct. xi. p. 675. Cic.
_Tusc. Disp._ v. 16.

[152] Ἔστι μὲν οὖν τὰ ἐν τῇ φωνῇ τῶν ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ παθημάτων
σύμβολα.--Arist. _De Interp._ I. i.

[153] Nodier, p. 65.

[154] Victor Cousin, _Cours de Phil._ iii. Leçon Vingtième.

[155] Φύσικα, i. 1. The name alligator (Spanish, _el_ lagarto,
_the_ lizard) is another instance of the same kind of thing, as
indeed is the Greek κροκόδειλος.

[156] See Renan, 120 sqq. Theocrit. ii. 18. The French word colère
is from χόλος, bile; our word anger, from the root “ang” (ἄγχι,
ἀγχονὴ, angle, angina, angustus, &c.) implying _compression_. The
Greek στόμαχος explains itself.

[157] πρὸ ὀμμάτων ποιεῖν. For abundant instances of Hebrew
metaphors see Glassii _Philologia Sacra_, where there is a long
chapter on the subject.

[158] Emerson’s _Nature_.

[159] Compare ἐφιέμαι, ὀρέγομαι.

[160] Three derivations have been proposed: _re-lego_, Cic. _de
Nat. Deor._ ii. 28; _re-ligo_, Lact. _Div. Inst._ 4; _re-eligo_,
Augustin, _de Civ. Dei_, x. 3. See Fleming’s _Vocabulary of

[161] See Bunsen’s _Outlines_, ii. 142 seqq. Dyaus, θεὸς, deus,
&c., from the root _div_, to shine. The derivation of our English
word “God” is doubtful; but I fear the beautiful belief that it is
deduced from “good” must be abandoned. Grimm (_Deutsch Myth._ p.
12) shows that there is a grammatical difference between the words
in the Teutonic language signifying “God” and “good;” _if_ the
Persian “Khoda” can be derived from the Zend “qvadáta,” Sanskrit
“svadata,” _à se datus, increatus_, a very appropriate etymology
would be given.

[162] See Dugald Stewart’s _Philosoph. Essays_, p. 217, 4th ed.
Compare the widely different conceptions of happiness involved in
the derivations of two such words as “beatus” and “selig.” Or take
the word “poet;” if in these days of wider knowledge and shallower
thought, we find it nearly impossible to frame a satisfactory
definition of poetry, how should we have been able to invent the
word itself, which goes to the very root of the matter, by at once
attributing to “the maker” that divine creative faculty whereby he
is enabled “to give airy nothing a local habitation and a name?”

[163] χαλκαίνω, πορφύρω.

[164] “Une lumière éclate, des couleurs crient, des idées se
heurtent, la mémoire bronche, le cœur murmure, l’obstination se
cabre contre les difficultés.”--Nodier, p. 45.

[165] For the facts alluded to in this passage, see Herod. iii. 46,
iv. 132. Liv. i. 54. Jerem. xix. 10, &c.

[166] Arist. _Rhet._ iii. 10.

[167] ἤστραπτ’, ἐβρόντα, κἀνεκύκα τὴν Ἑλλάδα.--Aristoph. “Proinde
tona eloquio.”--Virg. _Æn._ xi.

[168] _Sartor Resartus_, ch. x. Compare Heyse, s. 97. “Die ganze
Sprache ist durch und durch bildlich. Wir sprechen in lauter
Bildern ohne uns dessen bewusst zu sein.” He gives abundant
instances, classified with German accuracy. See, too, Grimm,
_Gesch. d. d. Sprache_, s. 56 ff. Pott, _Metaphern vom Leben_, &c.
_Zeitschr. für Vergleich. Sprachf. Jahrg._ ii. _Heft_ 2.

[169] Luke, xii. 27.

[170] Mr. Kingsley has compared the ancient ballad,

“Could harp a fish out of the water, Or music out of the stane, Or
the milk out of a maiden’s breast That bairns had never nane,”

with the modern adaptation,

“O there was magic in his voice, And witchcraft in his string!”

The expression of Herodotus about the Libyan wild asses, ἄποτοι, οὐ
γὰρ δὴ πίνουσι, contrasts forcibly the two styles.--R. G.

[171] “Verborum translatio instituta est inopiæ causâ.”--_De
Orator._ iii. 39.

[172] Dr. Whewell’s _Philos. of the Inductive Sciences_, ii. 460.
Mill’s _Logic_, ii. ch. iv. p. 205.

[173] Take, for instance, the botanical description of the
_Hymenophyllum Wilsoni_; “fronds rigid, pinnate, pinnæ recurved
subunilateral, pinnatifid; the segments linear undivided, or bifid
spinulososerrate.”--_Philosophy of Ind. Sci._ i. 165. This is the
perfection of scientific terminology, but how would it answer
the purposes of common life? And how would poetry be possible
with such clumsy terms as these? At the same time, in _Science_,
dry precision of nomenclature is better than poetical terms like
the mediæval “flowers of sulphur.” _Fancy_ would only mislead in
terminology which requires accuracy; _e.g._ δίπους, the Greek name
for _jerboa_ might easily have led to mistakes.

[174] Sir Thos. Browne, _Christian Morals_, ii.

[175] Berkeley, _Principles of Hum. Knowledge_, xxxv.

[176] “It is remarked by a great metaphysician, that abstract ideas
are, in one point of view, the highest and most philosophical of
all our ideas, while in another they are the shallowest and most
meagre. They have the advantage of clearness and definiteness;
they enable us to conceive and, as it were, to span the infinity
of things; they arrange, as it might be in the divisions of a
glass, the many-coloured world of phenomena. And yet they are
‘mere’ abstractions, removed from sense, removed from experience,
and detached from the mind in which they arose. Their perfection
consists, as their very name implies, in their idealism; that is,
in their negative nature.”--Jowett _on Romans_, &c., ii. 88.

[177] Ecclus. xlii. 23.

[178] Nodier, p. 58 sqq.

[179] Ἔοικεν ὁ τὴν Ἴριν Θαύμαντος ἔκγονον φήσας οὐ κακῶς
γενεαλογεῖν.--Plato, _Theæt._ p. 155.

“La maraviglia Dell’ ignoranza e la figlia E del sapere La madre.”

[180] Mr. Mill was the first to point out the soliloquising
character of poetry.--_Essays and Dissertations._

[181] Coleridge, _Aids to Reflection_.

[182] Nodier.

[183] See _Précieux et Précieuses_ par Ch. L. Livet. 12^o, 1860.
Masson’s _Introduction to French Literature_, ch. iv.

[184] “And the regeneration of a people is always accompanied
by a rekindled interest in its early literature.” We can hardly
overrate the effect produced by the publication of Bishop Percy’s
_Reliques_, and much may be hoped from the reproduction of the old
romancers, &c., in Spanish, of late years.

[185] _Essay on Human Understanding_, III. i. 5.

[186] Horne Tooke, Part I. ch. ii.

[187] Dr. Whewell, _Hist. of New Phil. in Eng._ p. 72.

[188] We consider this on the whole a less objectionable term than
“sensualist” or “sensuist;” the latter word is uncouth, and the
former, from the things which it connotes, is hardly fair.

[189] See V. Cousin, _Cours d’Histoire de la Phil. Morale_.

[190] οὔτε τῆς ψυχῆς ἴδιον τὸ αἰσθάνεσθαι οὔτε τοῦ σώματος.--Arist.
_de Somno_, i. 5. “Sensation is not an affection of mind alone,
nor of matter alone, but of an animated organism, i.e. of mind and
matter united.”--Mansell’s _Metaphysics_, p. 92.

[191] “Il n’y a rien dans l’intelligence qui ait passé par
les sens; rien, pas même l’idée des sens!”--Charma, _Essai
sur le Langage_, p. 34. This is far truer than the assertion
of D’Alembert, that “the object of Metaphysics is to examine
the origin of ideas, and to prove that they all come from our
sensations.”--_Elém. de Philos._ p. 143.

[192] Ἡ μνήμη ταῖς αἰσθήσεσι συμπίπτουσα εἰς ταὐτόν ... φαίνονταί
μοι σχεδὸν οἷον γράφειν ἡμῶν ἐν ταῖς ψυχαῖς τότε λόγους.--Plat.
_Philebus_, p. 192.

[193] Penser c’est sentir.

[194] πάντων μέτρον ἄνθρωπος.--Protagoras.

[195] We allude to his monstrous hyperbole “that it would be our
duty to hate God if bidden to do so by Him,” which is merely
equivalent to the sycophant’s excuse, πᾶν τὸ πραχθὲν ὑπὸ τοῦ
κρατοῦντος δίκαιον.

[196] On the title of Horne Tooke’s treatise, “Winged Words, or
Language not only the Vehicle of Thought, but the Wheels,” see
Coleridge, _Aids to Refl._ p. xv.

[197] Leibnitz, _Nouv. Ess._ The passage is quoted by Dr.
Donaldson, _New Crat._ ch. iii., where the reader will find some
admirable remarks on the subject of this chapter.

[198] Mr. Wedgwood’s _Etym. Dict._ p. ii.

[199] _Essays_, p. 18 seqq.

[200] _Diversions of Purley_, Part II. ch. v.

[201] _Essays_, p. 28.

[202] See Vinet, _Essais_, p. 349.

[203] Kant, quoted by Chalybäus, _Speculative Philosophy_, Tr.
Tulk. p. 31.

[204] “There still remains the question, ‘Do things as they are
resemble things as they are conceived by us?’--a question which we
cannot answer either in the affirmative or in the negative; for
the denial, as much as the assertion, implies a _comparison_ of
the two,” (which is impossible, if they are absolutely unknown).
Mansell’s _Metaphysics_, p. 354.

[205] Act I. sc. iv.

[206] This was the ground taken both by Plato and Aristotle in
refuting the Sophists. See _Theætet._ p. 176. Arist. _Eth. Nic._ v.
7. Aristoph. _Nub._ 902 (quoted by Mr. Mansell, _Metaphysics_, p.

[207] See Proverbs, ch. viii. 22. Jewish philosophy reaches
its most passionate and eloquent strains in the expansion and
inculcation of this belief. Ecclus. passim.

[208] See Victor Cousin, _Cours de l’Hist. de la Phil. Mor._ iii.
p. 214 seqq.

[209] Dr. Donaldson, _ubi sup._

[210] Vinet, p. 349.

[211] See Harris, _Hermes_, iii. 4.

[212] Charma, p. 64.

[213] Bunsen’s _Outlines_, ii. 146. The whole chapter is well
worthy of attentive study, for the profound and noble thoughts
which it contains.

[214] Renan, p. 108. Grimm, 37.

[215] Renan, p. 185.

[216] Cf. 2 Kings, xix. 35. Such expressions as “a bullock that
hath horns and hoofs” belong not so much to this tendency to
avoid all possibility of mistake, as to the desire for something
graphic--the πρὸ ὀμμάτων ποιεῖν.

[217] “L’opium endormit parce qu’il a une vertu soporifique.” e.g.
“When the essence of gold and its substantial form was said to
consist in its _aureity_, the attempt at philosophic explanation
was no whit superior to those quoted in the text.” The word
“aureity” was merely an effort of abstraction, but it was supposed
to answer all questions and solve all doubts.

[218] First used by M. Duponceau in his English translation of the
German Grammar of Zeisberger. Charma, p. 266. Schleicher called
these languages “Holophrastic.”

[219] Humboldt, quoted by Charma, p. 222.

[220] Max Müller, p. 113. Compare Molière, _Le Bourgeois
Gentilhomme_, iv. 4. “Mons. Jourdain: _Tant de choses en deux
mots?_--Cov.: Oui, la langue turque est comme cela, elle dit
beaucoup en peu de paroles.”

[221] Ampère, _Rev. des Deux Mondes_. Fevrier, 1853, p. 572.

[222] Also called “_incorporant_.”

[223] Charma, p. 223.

[224] Grimm, ss. 37-47.

[225] Renan, p. 160 seqq. It is doubtful whether the Pali was
anything more than an artificial language. If so, however, it is
an unique phenomenon, and it must not be forgotten that a similar
opinion was once entertained respecting the Sanskrit and Zend.

[226] Precisely the same change takes place in the growth of
English from Saxon, and Danish from Icelandic.

[227] _Hist. des Langues Sém._ v. 1, 2, and 3.

[228] _Über den Urspr. d. Sprache_, p. 50. Another weighty
testimony to the splendour of the English language may be found in
Adelung’s _Mithridates_.

[229] See Benloew, p. 15 sqq. Humboldt, _Über die Verschiedenheit
des menschlichen Sprachbaues_, ad finem.

[230] The Chinese ‘l’ is pronounced like ‘r.’

[231] Many readers may recall the story of the late Mr. Albert
Smith about the Bishop being described in the mixed jargon of Hong
Kong as the “A-one-heaven-business-man.”

[232] Adelung, _Mithridates_, i. p. 412. Some deny the monosyllabic
character of Chinese. (Prof. Key, Art. _Language, Engl. Cycl._)

[233] It should be observed that triliteralism is not _necessarily_
incompatible with monosyllabism. See _Hist. des Langues
Sémitiques_, p. 94, 2nde ed.

[234] As אָב father, אֵם mother, אָח brother, הר mountain, יָד
hand, יוֹם day, &c.

[235] Renan, p. 168. I must content myself here with a general
reference to M. Renan, to whose works I have been very greatly
indebted throughout the chapter, and indeed, as I have repeatedly
observed, throughout the book.

[236] Pott’s formula for the morphological classification of
languages was that they are “isolating,” “agglutinative,” and
“inflectional.” Professor Müller and Baron Bunsen have shown that
these divisions nearly correspond with three stages of political
development--“Family,” “Nomad,” and “State.”

[237] _Encycl. Brit._ Art. _Language_. (Dr. Latham.)

[238] “On l’a désignée par les noms de famille Indo-Germanique ou
Indo-Européenne, lesquels ne sont _ni logiques ni harmonieux_,
car ils n’expriment qu’imparfaitement le sens qui leur est
attribué, et leur longueur démesurée en rend l’emploi fort peu
commode.”--Pictet’s _Origines Indo-Eur._ p. 28. They have, however,
the advantage of explaining themselves.

[239] Burnouf, _Commentaire sur le Yaçna_, p. xciii. See also
Bunsen’s _Outlines_, i. 281.

[240] These traces are most ably pointed out in the _Edinburgh
Review_ for October, 1851, quoted in an interesting note by Prof.
Max Müller, _Survey of Languages_, p. 28, 2nd ed. See, too, Pictet,
pp. 27-34, who connects the root _ar_ with the words Erin, Elam,
Ariovistus, Arminius, oriri, &c. If this be a right derivation of
Erin, the fact is important, as showing that some memory of the old
name was preserved in the extreme West as well as in the East.

[241] By a writer in the _Saturday Review_ for Nov. 19, 1859.

[242] P. 49.

[243] For a graphic sketch of early Arian life as deduced from
the records of language, see Weber’s _Indische Skizzen_, pp. 9,
10; Pictet’s _Origines Indo-Européennes_; Müller’s _Ess. on Comp.

[244] Müller, p. 28 sqq.

[245] Except some popular modern divines.

[246] Lassen, _Indische Alterthumskunde_. Renan, 219 seqq. Klaproth
builds an argument for the Northern origin of the Arians on the
word “birch,” which bears an analogous name “not only in the German
and Slavonic tongues, but also in the Sanskrit--_b’hurjja_.... It
seems birch was the only tree the invaders recognised, and could
name, on the south side of the Himalaya; all others being new to
them. The inference may be right or wrong--it is, at all events,
ingenious.” Garnett’s _Essays_, p. 33. See Klaproth, _Nouv. J.
Asiat._ v. 112. Pictet, _Orig. Ind._ i. 217. The fact that the
words for oyster are derived from the same root in the European
languages (Gk. ὄστρεον, Ang.-Sax. _ostra_, Irish _oisridh_, Cymr.
_œstren_, Russ. _üstersü_, French _huître_, Germ. _Auster_,
&c.), but _not_ in the Sanskrit or Indian branch of the Arian
family,--would seem to show that there was a great separation
of Eastern and Western Arians before the family had reached the
shores of the Caspian. A similar fact is observed in the name for
flax, (Gr. λίνον, Lat. _linum_, Goth. _lein_, Ang.-Sax. _lîn_,
Cym. _llin_, Russ. _lenû_, &c.), and shows that the Western Arians
were the first of the family to desert pastoral for agricultural
pursuits. _Id._ pp. 320, 516. Few studies are more interesting than
the “linguistic palæontology,” which thus enables us to revive the
form of an extinct language and civilisation.

[247] Renan, p. 235.

[248] _Histoire des Langues Sém._ pp. 1, 2.

[249] Müller’s _Survey_, p. 23 seqq.

[250] _Hist. des Langues Sémitiques_, pp. 70-90.

[251] The name was suggested by Baron Bunsen in 1847. _Outlines_,
i. 64. He even argues for the Turanian character of the Chinese;
“although it is certain that the same opposition exists between
the two as there is between inorganic and organic life.” General
laws, operative in the formation of all languages, ought not to
be taken for indications of special affinity; who would maintain
the identity of quadrupeds and birds from the analogy of their
respiratory and digestive systems? In the formation of languages
certain first principles were necessarily observed by all, and this
of course leads to some general resemblances.

[252] “Turanian speech is rather a _stage_ than a _form_ of
language; it seems to be the form into which human discourse,
naturally, and, as it were, spontaneously throws itself.... The
principle of agglutination, as it is called, which is its most
marked characteristic, seems almost a necessary feature of any
language in a constant state of flux and change, absolutely devoid
of a literature, and maintaining itself in existence by means of
the scanty conversation of Nomades.”--Rawlinson’s _Herodotus_, i.
p. 645.

[253] It is rather strange that this name, so peculiarly
appropriate, and so much preferable to the other, has not met with
wider acceptation. It was suggested by Dr. Prichard, “the greatest
of English ethnologists.”

[254] Dolly Pentreath, the last person who could speak Cornish,
died in 1770.

[255] Bunsen, _Outlines_, ii. 92.

[256] Ferrier’s _Institutes of Metaphysics_, p. 13.

[257] Adr. Balbi, _Atlas ethnographique_. _Disc. prélim._

[258] Garnett’s _Philol. Essays_, p. 85, &c., where the supposed
instances are examined. Most of them are, as might have been
expected, simple onomatopœias of the most obvious kind. See Renan,
_Hist. des Langues Sém._ p. 450 seqq. Nothing requires more
care than an inquiry of this kind;--often two words which have
identically the same letters have no connection with each other,
while two others derived from a common source have not one letter
in common. As an instance of the former case, take the French
souris “a smile,” and souris “a mouse,” (from _subridere_ and
_sorex_ respectively); as an instance of the latter, take the word
cousin, derived from _soror_ through _consobrinus_.

[259] _Outlines_, i. 476.

[260] _Outlines_, i. 143, 165 seqq.

[261] A very curious instance of this is the word שווין _shoes_,
found in a Syro-Chaldaic Lectionarium in the Vatican. We may
here remark that Dr. Young’s celebrated calculation--that, if
eight words are identical in two languages, the chances of a
direct relation between the languages are 100,000 to one--is
very exceptionable. See Dr. Latham, in the _Encycl. Brit._ Art.
_Language_. The greatest care is necessary to distinguish between
words really cognate, and accidental isolated resemblances. See
Pictet, _Orig. Ind._ p. 13, 17.

[262] _Survey of Lang._ p. 11.

[263] Renan, p. 216.

[264] _Hist. des Langues Sém._ p. 84 seqq.

[265] Renan quotes Mövers, _Die Phœnizien_, i. 33.

[266] _Hist. des Langues Sém._ 490, 491. Whenever passages are in
semi-inverted commas, it will be understood that they are almost
directly translated from the author referred to.

[267] The accounts of various missionaries among the New
Zealanders, American Indians, and aboriginal Australians, give a
strange and _mournful_ confirmation of these assertions.

[268] That there is more probability in favour of English becoming
prevalent throughout the globe, than in favour of any other
language acquiring a future universality, is admitted by all who
have studied the subject. See Benloew, _Aperçu Général_, p. 92.
Grimm, _Ueber der Ursprung_, p. 50. Russian is another language
which probably has a great future.

[269] Benloew, _Aperçu Général_, p. 91.

[270] _Aids to Reflection_, p. 1.

[271] Mill’s _Logic_, ii. 221.

[272] These thoughts are admirably developed in a beautiful Essay
on the Abstract Idea of the New Testament, by Mr. Jowett (ii.
90). See, too, W. von Humboldt’s tract _Ueber d. Entstehen d.
grammat. Formen und ihren Einfluss auf die Ideenentwickelung_, as
well as the chapter _Ueber die Verschiedenheit des Menschlichen
Sprachbaues_, which forms the introduction to the treatise on the
Kawi language.

[273] “Q. Ennius tria corda se habere dicebat, quod loqui Græce et
Latine et Osce sciret.”--A. Gell.

[274] Rückert.

[275] “Il disoit et répétoit souvent, quand il tomboit sur la
beauté des langues, ... qu’autant de langues que l’homme sçait
parler, autant de fois est il homme.”--Brantôme.

[276] See Destutt de Tracy, _Grammaire Or._ vi.


  Obvious typographical errors and punctuation errors have been
  corrected after careful comparison with other occurrences within
  the text and consultation of external sources.

  Except for those changes noted below, all misspellings in the text,
  and inconsistent or archaic usage, have been retained: for example,
  humankind, human kind; Thibetian, Tibetian; incognisable; endued;
  analagon; cumbrous; acceptation.

  Pg xiii: missing ‘--’ inserted in front of ‘The root’.
  Pg 7: ‘so irreconcileably’ replaced by ‘so irreconcilably’.
  Pg 14: ‘of Nüremburg’ replaced by ‘of Nuremberg’.
  Pg 44: missing anchor for Footnote [72] inserted after ‘into ideas.’.
  Pg 66: ‘Schephifoun (שְׁפִיפוֹךּ)’ replaced by ‘Schephifoun (שְׁפִיפוֹן)’.
  Pg 84: ‘Hebrew לָהֵדּ’ replaced by ‘Hebrew לָחַךְ’.
  Pg 93: ‘recal the manner’ replaced by ‘recall the manner’.
  Pg 101: ‘Π, Φ, Τ’ replaced by ‘Π, Ϙ, Τ’ (the archaic letter qoppa).
  Pg 105: ‘הָוַה (houa)’ replaced by ‘הָוָה (houa)’.
  Pg 110: missing anchor for Footnote [145] inserted after ‘to sit.’.
  Pg 146: ‘Skakspeare spoke’ replaced by ‘Shakespeare spake’.
  Pg 146: ‘That Milton held!’ replaced by ‘Which Milton held.’.
  Pg 147: missing anchor for Footnote [185] inserted after ‘our senses.’.
  Pg 159: missing anchor for Footnote [203] inserted after ‘of things.’.
  Pg 175: ‘the deal level’ replaced by ‘the dead level’.
  Pg 184: ‘rom the earliest’ replaced by ‘from the earliest’.
  Pg 184: ‘to h is day’ replaced by ‘to this day’.
  Pg 199: ‘Eugène Bornon’ replaced by ‘Eugène Burnouf’.
  Pg 210: ‘so irreconcileably’ replaced by ‘so irreconcilably’.
  Pg 212: ‘of course, develope’ replaced by ‘of course, develop’.
  Pg 223: ‘the most depised’ replaced by ‘the most despised’.
  Pg 230: ‘De signes et’ replaced by ‘Des signes et’.
  Pg 230: ‘de la Litérature’ replaced by ‘de la Littérature’.

  Pg 5 Footnote [9]: this page has two anchors for this Footnote.
  Pg 11 Footnote [18]: ‘Wiem. 1830.’ replaced by ‘Wien. 1830.’.
  Pg 16 Footnote [27]: this page has two anchors for this Footnote.
  Pg 21 Footnote [37]: ‘lexicologique  t fait’ replaced by
                       ‘lexicologique tout fait’.
  Pg 56 Footnote [89]: ‘apt tod desert an’ replaced by
                       ‘apt to desert and’.
  Pg 58 Footnote [91]: ‘cañon, stancia’ replaced by ‘cañon, estancia’.
  Pg 59 Footnote [92]: ‘from יְדושָּׁלַיִמ’ replaced by ‘from יְרוּשָּׁלַיִם’.
  Pg 72 Footnote [103]: ‘Ὄνοματοπαΐα’ replaced by ‘Ὀνοματοποιΐα’.
  Pg 74 Footnote [106]: this page has two anchors for this Footnote.
  Pg 98 Footnote [128]: ‘les fondements de’ replaced by
                        ‘les fondements de la’.
  Pg 108 Footnote [143]: ‘Beuloew’ replaced by ‘Benloew’.
  Pg 114 Footnote [150]: ‘See Coulte’ replaced by ‘See Comte’.
  Pg 126 Footnote [164]: ‘se cadre contre’ replaced by ‘se cabre contre’.
  Pg 130 Footnote [168]: ‘Die gauze Sprache’ replaced by
                         ‘Die ganze Sprache’.
  Pg 145 Footnote [183]: ‘Précieuse and Précieuses’ replaced by
                         ‘Précieux et Précieuses’.
  Pg 162 Footnote [208]: ‘l’Hist. de’ replaced by ‘l’Hist. de la’.
  Pg 183 Footnote [234]: ‘אַמ mother’ replaced by ‘אֵם mother’.
  Pg 188 Footnote [239]: ‘sur le Yaçua’ replaced by ‘sur le Yaçna’.

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