« ElőzőTovább »
cation that flow from it. The student, while employed in tracing the origin of Language, and afcertaining its fignification, will also reap great advantage from calling history to his affiftance; and he will find that allufions, idioms, and figures of speech are illustrated by particular facts, opinions, and institutions. . The customs of the Greeks throw light upon the expressions of their authors; without some acquaintance with the Roman laws, many forms of expression in the Orations of Cicero are unintelligible : and many defcriptions in the Old and New Testament are obfcure, unless they are illustrated by a knowledge of eastern manners. Furnished with such aids, the scholar acquires complete, not partial information; throws upon Language all the light that can be reflected from his general studies; and, imbibes, as far as a modern can imbibe it, the original spirit of ancient authors.
As lor.g as any one confines his studies solely to his native tongue, he cannot understand it per: fectly, or ascertain with accuracy its poverty or richness, its beauties or defects. He who cultivates other languages as well as his own, gains new instruments to increase the stock of his ideas, and opens new roads to the temple of knowledge, He draws his learning from pure sources, converses with the natives of other countries without the assistance of an interpreter, and surveys the contents of books without being under the necessity of an implicit reliance on translations. He may unite Q 3
the speculations of a philosopher with the ac: quirements of a linguist; he may compare different languages and form just conclufions with respect to their defects and beauties, and their conformity with manners and institutions. He may trace the progress of national refinement, and discover, by å comparison of arts and improvements with their correspondent terms, that the history of Language, įnasmuch as it developes the efforts of human genius, and the rise and advancement of its inven. tions, constitutes an important part of the history of Man.
How the focieties of men could have been originally formed without the aid of language, or lan. guage invented without fociety, are points which the inquiries of several writers, particularly Lord Monboddo and Adam Smith, however ingenious, are far from enabling us to settle". The only rațional and satisfactory method of solving the difficulty is to refer the origin of speech to the great Creator him. self. Not that it is necessary to fuppofe, that he inspired the first parents of mankind with any par, ticular original or primitive language ; but that he made them fully sensible of the power with which they were endued of forming articulate founds, gave them an impulse to exert it, and left the arbitrary imposition of words to their own choice.
Şee Lord Monboddo's Origin of Language, Vol. I. p. 514, &c. Vol. IV. p. 50. Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, Vol. II, p. 403.
Their ingenuity was left to itself to multiply names, as new objects occurred to their observation; and thus language was gradually advanced by their descendants in process of time to the different degrees of copiousness and refinement, which it has reached among various nations.
· This theory is conformable to the description given in the Sacred Writings, and agrees very remarkably with the opinions to be collected from prophane history. Plato maintains that the original language of man was a divine gift; and when he divides words into two classes, the primitive and the derivative, he attributes the former to the immediate communication of the Supreme Being, and the latter to the ingenuity of man. The Egyptians, from whom this opinion was probably derived, maintained that by Theuth, the god of eloquence, their ancestors were at first taught to speak'.
• Dr. Johnson talking of the origin of language said, “ It must have come by inspiration : a thousand, nay a million of children could not invent a language. While the organs are pliable, there is not understanding enough to form a language; by the time that there is understanding enough, the organs are become stiff. We know that after a certain age we cannot learn to pronounce a new language. No foreigner, who comes to England, when advanced in life, ever pronounces English tolerably well; at least such instances are very rare. When I maintain that language must have come by inspiration, I do not mean that inspiration is required for rhetoric, and all the beauties of language; for when once mun kas language, we can conceive that he may gradually forın modifications of it. I
There is sufficient reason to suppose that in the early ages of the world, the difference of language in Europe, Asia, and Africa was no more than a difference of dialects; and that the people of Greece, Phenicia, and Egypt, mutually understood each other. The Greek and Latin are of acknowledged oriental origin; the Teutonic dialects have an affinity to Greek and Latin; the Celtic refembles the Hebrew, and other oriental tongues ; In the Welsh there are many remarkable analogies to Hebrew P. From these considerations which might be extended to a particular detail of proofs, it seems highly probable, that one original fountain, and one only, has produced not only those very -.. antient streams of language that have been long dried up, but supplied those, likewise which ftill continue to flow, And it is as probable, that this original or parent language was the Hebrew, if we consider the mode of its derivation from its radicals, and the fimplicity of its structure. Hence the accounts recorded by Moses of the primeval race of men speaking one language, and their subsequent dispersion in consequence of the confusion of tongues which took place at Babel, receives strong confirmation.
mean only that inspiration seems to me to be necessary to give man the faculty of speech; to inform him that he may have speech; which I think he could no more find out without inspiration, than cows or hogs would think of fuch a faculty.” Boswell's Life of Johnson, vol. iii. p. 460.
> Mitford's Greece, C. ii. Sect. 2.
Language kept pace with the progress of ideas, and the cultivation of the mind urged mankind to the increase and improvement of the sounds, by which its, dictates were communicated. From de noting the perceptions of sense, they proceeded to represent by words the inftruments and operations of art, the results of observation and expefience, the flights of fancy, and the deductions of reason. Hence may be traced the progress of poetry, history, and philosophy. Thus language, from being in its early age the child of necellity, became the parent of ornament; and words, ori. ginally the rude and uncouth dresses of ideas, have been improved, as fociety has advanced to higher degrees of refinement, into their most splendid and most beautiful decorations, j..,,
:: II. The Origin and Progress of Literature.
Next to speech, writing is without doubt the most useful of human arts. Written characters are of two kinds, they are either signs for things, or signs for words: of the former kind are pictures and hieroglyphics; of the latter, are the characters of the alphabet now employed by the na: tions of Europe.
To fix the sounds of the voice as soon as they are breathed from the lips, and to represent ideas
4 Blair, Lecture VII.