صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

sides articulate sounds and the language of signs, we have another means by which we often, involuntarily and unconsciously, communicate, or rather betray, if not facts, at least the state of our own minds, our thoughts and feelings, prompted by known or supposed facts. I refer here to the spontaneous action of the muscles of the face, and sometimes of the whole frame, when we are excited by powerful emotions, or åre specially interested in the topic of a conversation which we hear or participate in. That much practice may enable any one to control, in a great degree, this involuntary expression, is undoubtedly true; but an acute observer of the human face can, in very many cases, read what is passing in the breast of another, in spite of the most strenuous efforts to conceal it. So much more truth-telling than words, in fact, are these self-speaking muscles to those who have studied their dialect, that it is a current adage, that language was given us to enable us to conceal our thoughts.

Ferdinand returned to Naples after the revolutionary movements of 1822, he ! made an address to the lazzaroni from the balcony of the palace, wholly by signs, which, in the midst of the most tumultuous shouts, were perfectly intelli. gible to his public. He reproached, threatened, admonished, forgave, and finally dismissed the rabble as thoroughly persuaded and edified by the gesticulations of the royal Punch, as an American crowd by the eloquence of a Webster. The system of semeiology, if I may coin a word for the occasion, is even more perfected in Sicily, and it is traditionally affirmed that the famous conspiracy of the Sicilian Vespers was organized wholly by facial signs, not even the hand being employed. The general use of signs in Italy has grown, in a great measure, out of the fact that their swift expressiveness is often better suited to the rapid com. munication required by an impassioned people than the slow movement of articulate phrase, But there is another reason for the employment of a sign-language in the States of the Church, in Naples, and other despotic countries, Every man knows that he is constantly surrounded by spies, and it is therefore safer to express himself by gestures, whose application is unintelligible to a lis. tener not already acquainted with the subject to which they refer, and which, besides, cannot be so readily recorded or repeated, even when understood.

There is a familiar class of words called imitative, or, to use a hard term, onomatopoetic, where there is an evident connection between the sound and the sense. These are all, or nearly all, words descriptive of particular sounds, or acts accompanied by characteristic sounds, such as buzz, crash, gurgle, gargle, hum, whiz, coo, howl, bellow, roar, whistle, whine, creak, cluck, gabble; and, in conversation, we often allow ourselves to use words of this class not to be found in the largest dictionaries. The remark of a contemporary of Dr. Johnson, that much of the effect of his conversation was owing to his bow-wow way," will be remembered by every

A great modern English poet, following the authority of' Sidney, has even introduced into verse a word borrowed from the voice of the sheep, when, speaking of certain censurable follies, he calls them “baaing vanities.” That these resemblances are in many instances imaginary, appears from the fact that different nations sometimes express the same sound by different imitative words. Thus, we represent the report of fire-arms by the word bang! the Germans by puff, or paff!; and Sylvester, in his translation of Du Bartas published two centuries and a half since, uses pork, pork, instead of the modern caw, caw, as an imitation of the note of the There has been much ingenious and plausible speculation upon the natural significance of articulate words; and it is at least established, that certain elementary sounds are very extensively, if not universally, employed to express certain primary conceptions. The subject has not, however, yet been prosecuted far enough to bring us to very precise results ; but we are probably authorized to say that, as a general law, there does exist, or has existed, a natural connection between the sound and the thing signified, and consequently, that the forms of language are neither arbitrary or conventional on the one hand, nor accidental on the other, but are natural and necessary products of the organization, faculties, and condition of man. Nay, some philologists maintain that the laws of the germination and growth of these forms are so constant, that if the structure and powers of the organs of speech, and all modifying outward conditions affecting the internal or external life of a particular race, could be precisely known, their entire language might be predicted and constructed beforehand, with as much certainty as any other result of the action of human faculties. Hence it would follow that a resemblance between particular radicals or grammatical forms in different languages does not prove that one is derived from the other, or that both are historically referable to any one original source; but the likeness may be simply an instance of a similarity of effect from the operation of similar causes. It would therefore, be conceivable that words identical in form, yet absolutely new, might even now spring up simultaneously or successively in nations between which there is no communication, and no connection but that which is implied in unity of species and of organization. When, therefore, we find in the language of the Tonga Islands the verb maté, to kill, we are not authorized to infer an affinity between that speech and the Spanish, which uses matar in the same sense, or the Latin which has mactare, also of the like signification. We must either refer such cases to some obscure law of universal humanity, or agree with an old writer, who remarks that



A passage, cited by Suidas from Cratinus, imitating the bleating of sheep, has been appealed to as a proof that the pronunciation of the modern Greeks is erroneous, because according to their orthoepy, the syllables in question would be sounded not ba, ba, but ve, ve. On the other hand, it might be ob. served, that perhaps the Grecian sheep in the time of Cratinus were of breeds whose bleat was as distinct from that of the modern European stock, as the croaking of what Tassoni calls the “syrens of the ditch,” in Western Europe, is from that of their aquatic brethren of Athens, whose song, as every observing traveller in Greece can testify, the βρεκεκεκεξ κοάξ κοάξ of the Aristophanie comedy so well represents.

The judicious behold these as no regular congruities, but casual coincidences, the like to which may be found in languages of the greatest distance, which never met together since they parted at the confusion of Babel ; and we may not enforce a conformity between the Hebrew and the Eng. lish because one of the three giants, sons of Anak, was called A-hi-man."

The origin of language is shrouded in the same impenetrable mystery that conceals the secrets of our primary mental and physical being. We cannot say, with some, that it is of itself an organism, but we regard it as a necessary, and, therefore, natural, product of intelligent self-conscious organization. Yet we do not believe that the rage of the naturalistic school of philosophy for detecting law and principle, where our limited human faculties must be content to accept ultimate fact, will ever succeed in pointing out the quo modo, the how, of its germination and early development. We know no language in a state of formation. So far as observation goes, its structure is as complete among the most unlettered savages, and in the remotest periods, as in the golden age of Hellenic literature. The history of its changes we can but imperfectly trace; the law of its being lies beyond our reach. Its contemporary mutations, even, elude us, and to most of our inquiries into the rationale of its forms we find no more satisfactory answer than that one given by the quaint author of the Religio Medici, in the seventh of his Miscellany Tracts,

Why saith the Italian, Signor, si! the Spaniard, Si Señor!
Because the one puts that behind, the other puts before.

But though the faculty of articulate speech may be considered natural to man, it differs from most other human powers, whether organic or incorporeal, in this : that it is a faculty belonging to the race, not to the individual, and that the social condition is essential, not to its cultivation, but to its existence. Hence, its exercise is not spontaneous, or in any sense self-taught, as are all purely organic processes. Nevertheless, considered in its mode of action, the use of the mother-tongue may be regarded as an instinctive function, because it is acquired through the promptings of natural impulses, and without any conscious, calculating effort. We retain no recollection of the process by which we learned to understand and employ our maternal speech, at least as respects that portion of it which is mastered in infant life, and not taught in the artificial form it assumes in books. In actual speaking, the movement, both physical and intellectual, is as completely automatic and unconscious as the action of the nerves, muscles, and tendons, by whose instrumentality the hand is raised or the foot thrown forward. We will the result, and it follows, mechanically in both cases, so far as any conscious operation of our volition upon the material agencies is concerned. It is, therefore, no abuse of words to call the mother-tongue, as the unlearned often do, our natural language.

Speech, fully possessed and absolutely appropriated, is purely subjective, but it becomes inorganic and foreign when we make it matter of objective study, observation, or con

« السابقةمتابعة »