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