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SIGN OR SYMBOL
What does the smile mean and whence comes its meaning? In its most primitive character, as we first find it on the face of a little child, it means recognition of love. It means the joyous acceptance of life. It means a realization of one's own individuality, the affirmation of one's own identity. Looking at the smile as a language, we find it to be a sign, not a symbol. In our age, symbols have been regarded as the only language. That which has no symbolic value, is considered unworthy of our attention.
The importance of a symbol can hardly be overestimated. The wireless operator, on account of a universal agreement upon a symbol of three letters, can send out the vibrations which make known that a ship is in danger, thus saving thousands of lives.
It is through words as symbols, that knowledge and information have been embodied so that everyone may read and understand.
Symbols are conventional; they stand for ideas. By them men can convey their ideas and opinions. But, shall the importance of signs be overlooked?
The sign is natural; it is universal; it is direct; it is immediate. It is a simple emanation; it calls for no conventional agreement. It is a straight appeal to human instinct.
Signs appeal to both eye and ear at the same
time. The sign to the ear and the sign to the eye, the modulation of the tone and the action must agree in their testimony, or all expression is chaotic. This agreement is the most fundamental thing in all expression.
Can we not see that the sign is necessary to the interpretation of the symbol? Could there have been a symbol without a sign?
In all great poetry the symbol is used in a double sense, not only as a symbol but also as a sign. A great writer-a great master of style-uses words in such a way that they become more than mere symbols, and begin to live and breathe with something of the character of signs.
It is a fundamental law of all true expression that the sign must transcend the symbol, that a true symbol is always based on some kind of natural sign.
The symbol is intellectual. It is external, mechanical. The sign can manifest deeper conditions than words can symbolize.
How poorly do words express emotions! The sign at once reveals feeling and the deepest emotions in such a way that they are read by all men.
A symbol is the result of purely conventional agreement and is subject to grammatical rules.
While the sign is definite, and may stand for a specific idea, a specific impression, it reveals the attitude of the man, the elements of his impressions, his experiences.
The sign is natural and obeys Nature's laws and is filled with Nature's own life.
The smile in nature cannot be separated from the individual. It is never like that of the cat in Wonderland, left, while the cat itself vanishes. Words are symbols, on the contrary, or such
things as smiles with the cat gone. They may remain as a reminder only; but the sign must be full of life. The smile can never be separated from life, it never can be disconnected from its cause, it cannot be printed; art alone can truly suggest it. The smile always partakes of the life and spirit that manifests it. The smile may be vague in representing opinions or ideas; but it is not vague in its revelation of character of the human spirit. Its presentation is representative. It gives its meaning from no mere agreement among men; but by a universal law founded in the nature of things.
Have you never tried to comfort someone in sorrow-for example a mother who has lost her child? If, in the midst of your struggles to comfort by words, some neighbor should come in and grasp the sufferer in her arms, revealing her sympathy by natural signs, then you would feel like taking off your shoes, for the ground on which you stand is holy.
MAN'S ELEMENTAL LANGUAGES
We find that man's primary languages divide themselves into two groups, one appealing to the ear, and the other to the eye. Natural signs which appeal to the eye, we call action. The modulations of the voice, the inflection, the tone-color, movements or emotional modifications of rhythm, we call vocal expression. Some deny the dignity of languages to these two but each group discharges a distinct function as well as do words. By words we reveal our opinions and symbolize our ideas; by tone we reveal our feelings, our degree of conviction, our degree of earnestness, our point of view, the different shades and degrees of emotion. By action the character of the speaker himself is shown. Not only is the language of action the first language, it is also the language of conditions. If an action is wrong the tones of the voice cannot be right. Action reveals not the impression but the effect and the way we receive the impression. It, therefore, establishes the very conditions of the color of the voice, the modulations of tone. Action itself supports all the other languages. It is the language to which the appeal of the little child is made. It is the language by which all true earnestness is tested.
Human expression is, therefore, threefold. It consists of words, tones and action. The two natural languages, though appealing to totally
different senses, are vitally united to the words or symbols.
Observe closely the marvellous unity of these three languages. They are co-ordinated. They never can be separated completely without great loss. Each one reveals something different from the others. This is the reason why they coalesce into an organic unity,-one is strong where the others are weak. They are perfect only when united.
Thus, in the union of these signs,—“ By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word is established.”
These three languages show simultaneously what a man thinks, what he feels and what he is. We know his ideas, his opinions, his thoughts, best by his words. We realize his convictions, his emotions, his experiences best by the modulations of his voice, and we know his character and his motives best through his actions.
The smile belongs of course, to the language of action. It may be taken as a type of all action, because it is a primitive, elemental and universal characteristic of the human being. Although action has never been adequately explained, and though books written upon action are among the most unsatisfactory books written on any subject, yet, of all languages, action is the most directly and most easily read. It is an immediate appeal to instinct. Can we find a foreigner who is so foreign as not to know the meaning of a smile? The fact that language cannot symbolize ideas leads many to disparage it. For this very reason, however, when we look at it from its primitive character as a sign, we find it more full of meaning than any other language of