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and periodical nature of the actions and events that would require naming, would favour the establishment of some articulate sign, which might at first be a mere sportive invention of one of the group. Amongst some savages we know that it is an amusement to invent new words by altering the pronunciation of, or otherwise transforming the old ones. And although in these cases the savage only substitutes one name for another, and does not name a thing that previously had no name at all, yet this facility of playing with mere sounds enables us to comprehend how names for things yet unnamed might arise to the infantine intellect of the savage.
Mr Bates, in his delightful book, theNaturalist on the Amazons,' which, amongst its other charms, has that unspeakable charm of truthfulness in it, so that one feels always under good guidance,-Mr Bates, writing about the native Brazilians, says :
"But language is not a sure guide in the filiation of Brazilian tribes, seven or eight languages being sometimes spoken on the same river within a distance of two or three hundred miles. There are certain peculiarities in Indian habits which lead to a quick corruption of language and segregation of dialects. When Indians, men or women, are conversing amongst themselves, they seem to take pleasure in inventing new modes of pronunciation, or in distorting words. It is amusing to notice how the whole party will laugh when the wit of the circle perpetrates a new slang term, and these new words are very often retained. I have noticed this during long voyages made with Indian crews. When such alterations occur amongst a family or horde, which often live many years with. out communication with the rest of their tribe, the local corruptions of language become perpetuated. Single hordes belonging to the same tribe, and inhabiting the banks of the same river, thus become, in the course of many years' isolation, unintelligible to other hordes, as happens with the Collénas on the Zurúa. I think it, therefore, very probable that the disposition to invent new words and new modes of pronunciation, added to the small population and habits of isolation of hordes and
This and several other curious customs are mentioned in these Lectures-customs which show a readiness in some savages to modify the sounds of their language in a manner which to us would be impossible, because we should never think of uttering a new sound by way of variety of language. Any sound we use has already some meaning. Suppose we made a rule that throughout the English language some half-dozen syllables, wherever they occur, should be struck out, and other syllables arbitrarily substituted, what gibberish we should make of many of our words! It is a process we could not condescend to. Yet the Tahitians have a custom of this description.
What was gibberish one moment becomes a word the next. They arbitrarily choose a mere sound, and substitute it for others.
"The Tahitians have another and more singular mode of displaying their reverence towards their king, by a custom which they term Te pi. They cease to employ in the common language those words which form a part, or the whole, of the sovereign's name, or that of one of his near relatives, and invent new terms to supply their place. As all names in Polynesia are significant, and as a chief usually has several, it will be seen that this custom must produce a considerable change in the language. It is true that this change is only temporary, as at the death of the king or chief the new word is dropped, and the original term resumed. Vancouver observes that, at the accession of Otu, which took place between the visit of Cook and his own, no less than forty or fifty of the most common words which occur in conversation had been entirely changed."
The Kafir women have a custom of a similar kind. Every word which "happens to contain a sound similar to one in the names of their nearest male relatives," must have some substitute for it. Thus temporary diversities of the most arbitrary character are introduced into the language of the women.
We quote these anecdotes to show that there may be a dealing with language such as to us appears too infantine, too irrational, to be possible. Words are with us wedded to sense, and we cannot treat them as mere sounds-as mere sounds to be modified at our pleasure. The first English wag who, from the top of a stage-coach or omnibus, called the driver a brick, was struck by some analogy between the solidity of a brick and the solid qualities of the driver. But the Indian wag whom Mr Bates encountered was satisfied with distorting the names, the articulate sounds attached to things; and these alterations, if they pleased his simple companions, were repeated, and took the place of the original word, or were added to the vocabulary. The Tahitians and the Kafir women find no difficulty in arbitrarily substituting one syllable for another through a considerable number of words, and adopting for language what at first must have sounded like gibberish. All this makes it easy to comprehend that there was a time when the coinage of new words, as they were really wanted, would sometimes proceed on the simple plan of merely altering or transposing the syllables of words already in
There is no necessity for us to imagine (as our lecturer seems to think there is) that these early linguists were in the habit of repeating to themselves a list of merely articulate sounds, and then, as occasion required, choosing one of these for the new name that was wanted. "There never was," he says, 'an independent array of determinate conceptions waiting to be matched with an independent array of articulate sound." No one, we believe ever made so fanciful a supposition. The mere articulate sound would have no independent prior existence for the savage; he would call it into existence at the time he first made use of it for the purposes of language. Max Müller seems to have reasoned himself into
the persuasion that Thought – which in its simplest form is the memory of objects-that thought, and such articulate sounds as we use as words, could not, from the nature of things, exist separately; that we could neither think without language, nor ever increase our vocabulary merely by some new combination of articulate sounds which till that moment had not been a word at all. Such appears to be the meaning of the following, and of other similar passages we meet with in these Lectures :
"It matters not whether the sound is articulate or not; articulate sound without meaning is even more unreal than inarticulate sound. If, then, these articulate sounds, or what we may call the body of language, exist nowhere, have no independent reality, what follows? I think it follows that this socalled body of language could never have been taken up anywhere by itself, and added to our conceptions from without; from which it would follow again that our conceptions, which are now always clothed in the garment of naked state. This would be perfectly language, could never have existed in a correct reasoning if applied to anything else; nor do I see that it can be objected to as bearing on thought and language. If we never find skins except as the integuments of animals, we may safely conclude that animals cannot exist without skins."
Leaving these obscurities behind us, we have to thank the lecturer for a brief and clear account of the mechanism of speech, for his investigation of the alphabet, of the various vowels and consonants which compose articulate sounds, and for much interesting information as to the distribution of these through the various languages spoken on the earth. The early language of every people was probably very limited in its repertory of sounds. "Where we find very abundant alphabets," he remarks, "as, for instance, in Hindustani and English, different languages have been mixed, each retaining for a time its phonetic peculiarity." There are some languages which dispense with what to us seem the
most elementary sounds, in which our labials are absent, or exist in a very obscure rudimentary state.
"We are so accustomed to look upon pa and ma as the most natural articulations that we can hardly imagine a language without them. We have been told over and over again that the names for father and mother in all languages are derived from the first cry of
recognition which an infant can articulate, and that it could at that early age articulate none but those formed by the mere opening and closing of the lips. It is a fact, nevertheless, that the Mohawks, of whom I knew an interesting specimen at Oxford, never, either as infants or grown-up people, articulate with their lips. They have no p, b, m, ƒ, v, w—no labials of any kind; and although their own name Mohawk would seem to bear witness against this, that name is not a word of their
own language, but was given to them by their neighbours. Nor are they the only people who always keep their mouths open, and abstain from articulating labials. They share this peculiarity with the five other tribes who together form the so-called Six Nations. The Hurons likewise have no labials, and there are other languages in America with a similar deficiency.
The gutturals are seldom altogether absent; yet they are so in the Society Islands, and the first English name their inhabitants had to pronounce, Captain Cook, could not be approached nearer than Tute. The d is never used by the Chinese; neither is the r. They say Eulope for Europe; Ya-me-li-ka for America, and the name of Christ is distorted into Ki-li-yse-tu.
If we in England are rich in our alphabet, we make the very wildest and most extravagant use of it in our written language. Our orthography is the most anomalous, we believe, on the face of the earth. Those who have at heart its reformation, will rejoice to be able to quote the authority of Max Müller in their favour. Assuredly, if we could once get over the grotesque effect that novelty has in this instance, we should all become reformers here,
we should all be advocates for a truly phonetic system of spelling. But this first impression of the grotesque is too strong to be overcome. Our reformers must proceed gradually. They have a good cause. All the world admits that it is of infinite importance that every boy should be taught to read, and to read so as to make a pleasant occupation of it. But poor boys, especially in agricultural districts, can give but scant time to their schooling. Now if a reform in our spelling would abridge the labour of learning to read by one-half-which we think is a moderate statement-there could be no better expedient for promoting the education of the people. The argument most gravely insisted on against such a reform comes from the etymologists, and the lovers of historical association; it is precisely this argument which Max Müller, a philologist par excellence, would teach us to disregard. Speaking on the subject of phonetics, he says :—
"I ought not to omit to mention here the valuable services rendered by those
who for nearly twenty years have been labouring in England to turn the results of scientific research to practical use, in devising and propagating a new system of Brief Writing and True Spelling,' best known under the name of the Phonetic Reform. I am far from underrat
ing the difficulties that stand in the
way of such a reform, and I am not so seeing it carried for the next three or sanguine as to indulge in any hopes of four generations. But I feel convinced
of the truth and reasonableness of the
principles on which that reform rests; and as the innate regard for truth and
reason, however dormant or timid at
times, has always proved irresistible in
the end, enabling men to part with all they hold most dear and sacred, whether corn-laws or Stuart dynasties, or
Papal legates or heathen idols, I doubt not but that the effete and corrupt orthography will follow in their train.
Nations have before now changed their numerical figures, their letters, their
chronology, their weights and measures;
and though Mr Pitman (or Mr Ellis*)
may not live to see the results of his
*We insert this gentleman's name because, without disparaging the claim of any one else, we believe that no one has wrought with greater zeal in this matter, or with more self-sacrifice.
persevering and disinterested exertions, it requires no prophetic power to perceive that what at present is pooh-poohed by the many will make its way in the end, unless met by arguments stronger
than those hitherto levelled at the 'Fo
netic Nuz.' One argument which might be supposed to weigh with the student of language-viz., the obscuration of the etymological structure of words—I cannot consider very formidable. The pronunciation of languages changes according to fixed laws; the spelling has changed in the most arbitrary manner; so that if our spelling followed the pronunciation of words, it would in reality be a greater help to the critical student of language than the present uncertain and unscientific mode of writing.'
It is not the poor man only, or the country lad, who would receive a benefit from this phonetic reform. The competitive examinations have revealed if the revelation was wanted-what a plague to all classes is the present mode of spelling. It is a case of sheer arbitrary memory. How often does one hear it said, "I can spell the word if you do not ask me; I shall spell it right if I do not think about it." And, by the way, is it quite so equitable as it is supposed to be, to make bad spelling a fatal blot in these examinations? When, in the House of Commons, some remarks were made on the unnecessary severity of those examinations which the candidate for the civil service has to pass through, it was thought sufficient answer to reply that a large portion of the rejected were rejected on account of their spelling. If this were the sole cause of their failure, the answer is not to us at all satisfactory. It is a mistake to suppose that immaculate spelling is a sure test of general education, or the want of it a sure sign of general ignorance. With such an orthography as we have, it is mere habit and a mechanical memory that insure good spelling. Many minds are so constituted that while they can remember a train of thought, or a fact of interesting knowledge, they cannot retain a mere sequence of words or figures. Such men shall discourse
well and ingeniously of the origin and development of the British constitution, and all their lives long they shall not be master of a single date in English history. If they know it to-day, they will have forgotten it to-morrow. We have heard it said-we cannot ourselves vouch for its truth-that more than one literary man of eminence has felt himself plagued all his days by the anomalies in our spelling. Many a faithful servant of the public spells well enough, but he requires the moral aid of a Johnson's Dictionary within reach it is seldom that he consults it, but he would immediately begin to feel alarmed if he knew that his oracle was removed. Set such a man down to a dictation, and his fear of blundering would inevitably produce a large crop of blunders. We can only hope that the examiners are not so given over to pedantry as to prevent a shrewd, honest young fellow from obtaining his promised clerkship merely because he doubled his p or his t at the wrong place, or substituted e for i.
In one of these Lectures we have an interesting account of Bishop Wilkins's scheme for a universal language. In 1668 the Bishop published his 'Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language.' By a real character he means (what the Chinese are said to possess) a character which should stand for things, and not for the words of things, so that all people throughout the world, without knowing any language but their own, might communicate together through this written character. This part of the Bishop's project does not appear impracticable. To what extent such a written character would be useful is another question; there must be some manifest utility to prompt the natives of different countries to make themselves acquainted with it. Jones, Brown, and Robinson would have found it useful on their Continental tour; but we doubt if
they would have given themselves the trouble to learn it. Shy men, and men who are accustomed to speak their own language with accuracy, and who are annoyed at the consciousness that in a foreign language they are making themselves ridiculous by vile pronunciation, if not by false grammar, would be delighted with such a mode of communication. Many a man would travel, and sojourn in foreign cities, who now sulks at home, if wherever he went he could take out his pencil and his pocketbook, and express himself clearly by a written character, and not be reduced to stammer something which will make him look like a fool or an idiot. But this class is not so numerous in the various countries of the world that a new written character would be generally learnt for their accommodation; and if it were not generally known, it would, of course, be useless. The idea has been lately taken up by Don Sinibaldo de Mas in his Idéographie;' "a memoir on the possibility of forming a written character in which people of all nations, without understanding each other's language, can communicate." Why not adopt at once for this purpose the Chinese characters, or so many of them as would be necessary ? Thus we should be at once at home in China, and the difficulty would be obviated of obtaining the general concurrence to any arbitrary system of signs. Let all educated people in Europe forthwith set about learning so much of the Chinese character as to be able to hold written communication therein. This might be the germ of a written language common to all the civilised world. Perhaps Don Sinibaldo de Mas, as he went on some diplomatic mission to China, has fully considered this. We have not had an opportunity of learning the details of his scheme.
But Bishop Wilkins had project ed not only his real character, but a philosophical language to be pro
nounced by living lips. In this undertaking Max Müller gives him credit for great ingenuity, and intimate acquaintance with the nature of language itself; but he also points out what indeed is a fatal defect in the scheme which the Bishop has elaborated. His philosophical language makes no provision for any advance in human knowledge. He surveys and classifies all human knowledge as it existed in 1668; and having arranged it into genera and species, and so forth, he gives to each thing a new and philosophic name based on this classification. Thus our advances in science, as in chemistry and zoology, which lead to new classifications, would utterly dislocate and destroy the language.
Amongst the most instructive of these Lectures is the one On the Root Mar." It is an admirable illustration of the modern science of etymology, as contrasted with that hap-hazard etymology which allowed itself to be guided simply by the sound and the meaning of words. What Voltaire intended as a sarcasm- "L'étymologie est une science où les voyelles ne font rien, et les consonnes fort peu de chose"
is boldly accepted by the modern etymologist. Similarity of sound or meaning is but of secondary importance. We know words,' says our lecturer, "to be of the same origin which have not a single letter in common, and which differ in meaning as much as black and white." The rules by which letters are changed one for the other are deduced from a wide examination of the languages in question; and the application of these rules enables the etymologist to detect the same root under various forms. These forms, again, by the habit we have of thinking in metaphors, come to represent most opposite ideas. A word, for instance, which signified soft, might become in one form to mean something lovable, in another something foolish-ideas altogether antagonistic. We will