Imagini ale paginilor






Method of evolution-Ancient and modern theories of the origin of

articulate speech-Elements of sound—Vowels and semi-vowels -Explosives or consonants proper — Long uncertainty between gutturals, dentals, and labials—The four classes of languageIsolating or syllabic, agglutinative, inflected, analytic ; corresponding originally to different degrees of intellectual capacity.

DURING many centuries mankind was anxious to be alone in the universe, to establish between the “fallen god ” and all other living creatures a line of demarcation, the more inviolable that his vanity overlooked of set purpose all intermediate degrees.

Montaigne and La Fontaine, Georges Leroy and La Mettrie, sceptical philosophers or observers of nature, who, without any very profound study, had yet remarked in animals memory, reason, affections, social relations, the rudiments of all arts and industries, seem all to be infected to a certain degree by what is still termed the spirit of evil. They are all branded with the orthodoxy of religion and prejudice. Even Linnæus repented of


having classed man at the head of apes in the order of Primatiz. Yet, having seen the successive removal of the barriers raised by official geology, anatomy, and even by psychology, man resigns himself at last to be no more than the first of mortals.

A very ancient doctrine, which, however, has only within the last forty years been put to the proof of experience and experiment, the theory of evolution and development, has led to a complete change of method. In the light of this doctrine students note divergences but seek resemblances. Leaving the barren comparison of extremes, they give up the easy task of contrasting modern civilised man, homo sapiens, with the ant, the dog, the elephant, or the gorilla. The enormous progress made by the least imperfect of mammals is all the more clearly established by science, now that she grasps, not indeed its cause, but its point of departure. Science cannot, it is true, answer the insoluble question—Why is there progress at all? but its existence postulated, science can trace its “low beginnings.” Step by step the scattered links, buried in the depths of the past, are recovered and joined anew, the slow transitions which have by degrees removed man so far from the animals are made manifest in their probable or certain succession; and so the vain regrets for a lost paradise give place to the legitimate pride in an acquired dignity.

We take this doctrine, this method, for lamp and guide in the boundless field of the science of language. Some parts of this domain have in our own day been explored with admirable wisdom; and where we touch upon these discoveries of modern talent, we shall only need to set forth facts which are admitted, if too little known. But here, in dealing with preliminary matters,

[ocr errors]

on it.

more initiative is necessary, because of the confusion of doctrines.

On one point only, and even in this we must not press too closely the meaning of the words, there seems to be complete accord between the simplest of men and the most subtle of thinkers, from antiquity down to our own time. “ Articulate speech is, together with the use of fire, the most characteristic attribute of man.” If we add anything to this formula, we at once lay ourselves open to contradiction, specious or valid.

Does man think because he speaks? or does he speak because he thinks ? The discussion of this dilemma is not worth the ink that has been wasted

If by thought is meant the more or less durable impression produced in the brain by sensation, and the more or less conscious reasoning which gives rise to the action consequent on the impression, it is evident that thought precedes the vocal act which renders it. If thought becomes a labour of the brain, independent of the immediate impression, working on sound - symbols, retained by memory, elaborated by writing, expressed or understood, substituted for sensations stored in recollection and analysed by the mind, it is no less evident that language is not only the instrument, but also the form and condition of thought. We shall see, moreover, that there exist intermediary stages between crude thought and elaborated thought, between certain languages and articulate speech. The second question is even worse formulated than the first. Man does not speak because he thinks. He speaks because the mouth and larynx communicate with the third frontal convolution of the brain. This material connection is the immediate cause of articulate speech.

« ÎnapoiContinuați »