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Causes of the Mutability of Language. 105

grown up which does not know or fear the deceased,5 it may revert to the old word; or where the prohibition only extends to dhe horde, and the forbidden word survives in another, it may be reintroduced by intermarriages. Nor must it be supposed that new syllables are invented, but merely that new words are concocted out of the existing ingredients of the language. Among the Abipones on the western shore of the river Paraguay, in South America, the old women are entrusted with the business of creating the new appellations. On account of deaths which had occurred, they changed the name of the tiger (jaguar) three times in seven years, and finally into lapriretrae, the "speckled" or "variegated."6

Language is exposed to far greater risk of metamorphosis among tribes which roam over thinly populated hunting-grounds in small bands, or sometimes in single families. The requirements of daily life constrain every member of a large society to speak distinctly that he may be understood by all. Ill-trained children often invent syllables which for a time are tolerated in the household, and would become permanently established if they were not rejected in general intercourse as unknown coin. But these bad habits of children find a parallel in the customs of men among the Brazilian hunters, whose single tribes, on account of the rapid development of dialects, not only become incomprehensible to their kindred of the same language, but each obstinately adheres to his peculiar pronunciation. Martius, the traveller, complained that among his escort, although they belonged to the same horde, each clung to small dialectic differences of accent and inflection. His companions understood him as he understood his companions.7 For this reason the syllables naturally change with great rapidity.

It is easy to conceive the gradual growth of languages, when once the great leap was accomplished, by which the communication of an idea, or even of a want, was expressed by the

5 Pallas (Voyage dans l'Empire de Russie) expressly says that the Samoyeds at first most scrupulously avoid the name of a deceased person, but afterwards give it to a grandson or great grandson, to recall the memory of the departed.


• Dobrizhoffer, Geschichte der Abiponer, vol. ii. pp. 235, 361. Verbally communicated by the traveller.

7 Ausland, p. 891. 1869.

speaker by any particular sound and understood by a fellowcreature. This first step, however, is still enveloped in profound obscurity, for the connection of a particular idea with a sound of the human voice depends on a compact between the speaker and the hearer; but it is hard to see how this compact or agreement as to the first word could be concluded when there were as yet no means of communication. According to the oldest conjecture, the process was one of phonetic representation, for by the selection of imitative sounds the attention of the listener was directed to some object of sensory perception. As all languages are rich in sonorous forms which, as it were, give a musical representation of that which they are intended to express, the first commencement was supposed to have been onomatopoeic experiment. In consequence of the rapidity of phonetic changes, it was very easy for the opponents of this opinion to refute the hypothesis by observing that the older forms of the present imitative words bear no traces of phonetic representations.

We may easily be deceived by the German word rollen (roll), particularly if we think of rolling thunder, into a belief that it is an attempt to represent the noise. Nevertheless L. Geiger easily traced this verb, through the French rouler, the Latin rotulari, to rota (wheel), in which the sonorous imitation is totally absent. Yet this ingenious analyzer of languages overlooked the important circumstance that, in its transfer to the German language, a word must have arisen out of rouler sounding something like ruhlen. The fact that rollen (roll) was formed out of ruhlen, betrays an endeavour to give the word onomatopoeic force, and at the same time to make it more intelligible by an alteration of sound. But as geologists infer that the changes of form such as are now taking place on and in our planet, took place from the first in like manner, we may presume, from the still undiminished love of phonetic representation, that the same propensity must have operated also in the first beginnings of linguistic evolution. Max Müller has tried to discredit this explanation with the contemptuous epithet of "bowwow theory," because at the first creation of language the cow would be called moo and the dog bow-wow, in imitation of their

Ursprung der Sprache, p. 27.

"Bow-wow Theory."


lowing and barking. But he himself endeavours to explain the process by the aid of mysticism. Each material body, such as glass or a bell, he says, has its own peculiar resonance, and thus thought has, as it were, constrained the vocal apparatus to produce appropriate vibrations. In allusion to the sound of the bell, Max Müller's explanation has therefore been ridiculed by others as the "ding-dong theory."

In recent times the tendency has been in favour of the older view. A. Pott, the philologist, collected the various local expressions for thunder from every part of the world, and found that the majority of nations endeavour to render the sensation of this noisy phenomenon by an echo in the expression.9 Tylor has shown that families of mankind in distant regions of the world employ the same syllables for noisy movements in other instances. The explosion of gases under high pressure, everything that is violently blown, is designated by Malays, Australians, Africans, Asiatics, and Europeans with sounds very nearly approaching poo or puff. Again, the name for ox, Boûs, bos, bou, bo, recurs among Hottentots and Chinese, 10 Neither must it be overlooked that our children in their first attempts to speak are apt to imitate with their vocal organs any sound they hear, and designate animals almost exclusively by the sounds which they emit. The circle of perceptions that may be expressed by the phonetic representation is however limited to events connected with the production of sounds, for no such representation is possible of that which is perceived by sight or the sense of touch.

The first beginnings of speech were supposed to be enriched by the spontaneous action of our vocal organs on occasions of strong internal excitement. The cry of joy and of horror still exists even in civilized nations. At birth we bring a cry with us into the world, for the infant's first sign of life consists in an exercise of its vocal organs. The cry is intelligible to us all without either instruction or practice; nay, during the first months of life, crying fully suffices for the announcement of the various requirements.

9 Zeitschrift fur Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft, vol. ii. p. 359. Berlin, 1865.

10 Primitive Culture, vol. i. p. 209.

Without the existence of any intention to speak, crying is understood, and for a time, even for a long time, children employ crying as a means of making themselves intelligible, and very soon learn to do so consciously and intentionally. At the time of the origin of language, the screams of adults may for a long time have represented speech in like manner, especially as shrill sounds are still preserved as exclamations. Only it must be remembered that our ah and oh cannot be referred to the age of the first origin of language, for exclamations such as these, in all appearance spontaneously wrung from the agonized feelings, have frequently been unmasked and shown to be abbreviated words or even idioms. The English zounds originated from by God's wounds, and alas from oh me lasso." The negro of Western Africa exclaims in terror or surprise, Mâmâ, mâmâ, and the Indian of New California, Anâ. Both signify mother, so that, like children, they call the guardian of their youth to their assistance. The only important fact is that these phonetic outbursts cannot even yet be dispensed with in any civilized language. The language of animals is entirely composed of similar explosive sounds emitted by the vocal organs, and to suppose that man in every age expressed his inward emotions-pain, joy, fear, surprise, aversion— by signals such as these, needs reflection only and not proof.13

Accentuation is as an important auxiliary. Our yes and our no admit of a series of pronunciation by which the inquirer or petitioner may plainly hear whether the acquiescence or assent be willing or reluctant, the denial vacillating or decided, and generally in what frame of mind the utterances are made. The meaning of the German word pfui, when quietly pronounced, might remain completely unknown to any one not acquainted with German, but if uttered with the full emphasis of abhorrence, even a Fuegian would be able to guess that this syllable expressed the reverse of assent. Accentuation, which is intuitive and not acquired, and on the other hand not intentional but spontaneous, might materially assist mutual comprehension in the earliest stage of the con


11 Whitney, Language and the Study of Language, p. 277.

12 Tylor, Primitive Culture, vol. i. p. 202.

13 Steinthal (Pyschologie und Sprachwissenschaft, p. 376. Berlin, 1871), regards interjections as reflex sounds.

Accent and Gesture.


struction of language. It is assuredly not accidental that it is precisely the formless monosyllabic languages which still employ accentuation as an important auxiliary in the discrimination of like-sounding roots.

Pantomimic action and gesticulation did for the eye what accentuation did for the ear. So-called savages, without instruction, unconsciously, or at least only half consciously, exercise the art which, by laborious practice before the looking-glass, our actors are obliged to acquire afresh. The Bushmen, observes Lichtenstein, communicate with each other more by gesticulation than by speech. 14 There are, however, a number of bodily movements of this description of which the sense is by no means identically interpreted by all families of mankind. It is even questioned whether, in every part of the world, clenching the fist is to be recognized as a threat, or stamping the foot as an explosion of anger. Among the Bantu negroes a popular public orator is rewarded with hisses.

Many gestures have acquired their meaning only by mutual agreement. The Turks and others assent by a shake of the head, and reply in the negative with a nod. In ancient Greece a petitioner was repelled by throwing back the head (ȧvaveveiv); in Southern Italy the back of the hand is laid upon the chest and the fingers are waved at the person addressed, as a summons to approach. 15 And yet in every human being there is a latent power of making himself intelligible by signs. All navigators who have set foot upon a strange shore have communicated with the inhabitants by this means, and have succeeded in obtaining water or food. All over the world mankind has adopted the same pantomimic representation for the expression of their thoughts. The deaf and dumb were the inventors of their own language, which leads us to the beautiful thesis that even without vocal organs mankind would have attained the means of rendering themselves intelligible. The greater number of their signs, especially such as consist in drawing outlines in the air, are intelligible

14 Reisen im südlichen Afrika, vol. ii. p. 82. Berlin, 1811.

15 Kleinpaul, Zur Theorie der Gebärdensprache. Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie, vol. ii. p. 362. Berlin, 1869.

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