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such cases, it becomes more obscure, yet it is not altogether lost; but that throughout the radical words of all Languages, there may be traced some degree of correspondence with the object signified. With regard to moral and intellectual ideas, they remark, that, in every Language, the terms significant of them, are derived from the names of sensible objects to which they are conceived to be analogous; and with regard to sensible objects pertaining merely to sight, they remark, that their most distinguishing qualities have certain radical sounds appropriated to the expressions of them, in a great variety of Languages. Stability, for instance, fluidity, hollowness, smoothness, gentleness, violence, &c. they imagine to be painted by the sound of certain letters or syllables, which have some relation to those different states of visible objects, on account of an obscure resemblance which the organs of voice are capable of assuming to such external qualities. By this natural mechanism, they imagine all Languages to have been at first constructed, and the roots of their capital words formed. *
The Author, who has carried his speculations on this subject the farthest, is the President Des Brosses, in his “ Traité de la « Formation Mechanique des Langues.” Some of the radical letters or syllables which he supposes to carry this expressive power in most known Languages are, St, to signify stability or rest ; F1, to denote fluency; Cl, a gentle descent ; R, what relates, to rapid motion; C, to cavity or hollowness, &c. A century before his time, Dr. Wallis, in his Grammar of the English Language, had taken notice of these significant roots, and represented it as a peculiar excellency of our Tongue, that, beyond all others, it expressed the nature of the objects which it named, by employing sounds sharper, softer, weaker, stronger, more obscure, or
As far as this system is founded in truth, Language appears to be not altogether arbitrary in its origin. Among the ancient Stoic and Platonic Philosophers, it was a question much agitated, “ Utrum nomina “ rerum sint naturâ, an impositione? quran ni besi ;” by which they meant, Whether words were merely conventional symbols ; of the rise of which no account could be given, except the pleasure of the first inventors of Language? or, Whether there was some principle in nature that led to the assignation of par. ticular names to particular objects ? and those of the Platonic school favoured the latter opinion. *
more stridulous, according as the idea which is to be suggested requires. He gives various examples. Thus; words formed upon St, always denote firmness and strength, analogous to the Latin sto; as, stand, stay, staff, stop, stout, steady, stake, stamp, stallion, stately, &c. Words beginning with Str, intimate violent force, and energy, analogous to the Greek otpwwwopes; as, strive, strength, strike, stripe, stress, struggle, stride, stretch, strip, &c.
Thr, implies forcible motion; as, throw, throb, thrust, through, threaten, thraldom. Wr, obliquity or distortion; as, wry, wrest, wreath, wrestle, wring, wrong, wrangle, wrath, wrack, &c. Sw, silent agitation, or lateral motion; as, sway, swing, swerve, sweep, swim. Sl, a gentle fall, or less observable motion; as, slide, slip, sly, slit, slow, slack, sling. Sp, dissipation or expansion; as, spread, sprout, sprinkle, split, spill, spring. Terminations in Ash, indicate something acting nimbly and sharply; as, crash, gash, rash, flash, lash, slash. Terminations in Ush, something acting more obtusely and dully; as crush, brush, hush, gush, blush. The learned Author produces a great many more examples of the same kind, which seem to leave no doubt, that the analogies of sound have had some influence on the formation of words. At the same time, in all speculations of this kind, there is so much room for fancy to operate, that they ought to be adopted with much caution in forming any general theory.
* Vid. Plat. in Cratylo. “ Nomina verbaque non posita for“ tuito, sed quadam vi & ratione naturæ facta esse, P. Nigidius in
This principle, however, of a natural relation between words and objects, can only be applied to Language in its most simple and primitive state. Though, in every tongue, some remains of it, as I have shewn above, can be traced, it were utterly in vain to search for it throughout the whole construction of any modern Language. As the multitude of terms increase in every nation, and the immense field of Language is filled up, words, by a thousand fanciful and irregular methods of derivation and composition, come to deviate widely from the primitive character of their roots, and to lose all analogy or resemblance in sound to the thing signified. In this state we now find Language. Words, as we now employ them, taken in the general, may be considered as symbols, not as imitations; as arbitrary, or instituted, not natural signs of ideas. But there can be no doubt, I think, that Language, the nearer we remount to its rise among men, will be found to partake more of a natural expression. As it could be originally formed on nothing but imitation, it would, in its primitive state, be more picturesque; much more barren, indeed, and narrow in the circle of its terms, than now; but as far as it went, more expressive by sound of the thing signified. This, then, may be assumed as one character of the first state, or beginnings of Language, among every savage tribe.
« Grammaticis Commentariis docet; rem sane in philosophiæ “ dissertationibus celebrem. In eam rem multa argumenta dicit,
cur videri possint verba esse naturalia, magis quàm arbitraria. “ Vos, inquit, cum dicimus, motu quodam oris conveniente, cum
ipsius verbi demonstratione utimur, et labias sensim primores
emovemus, ac spiritum atque animam porro versum, & ad eos “ quibus consermocinamur intendimus. At contra cum dicimus “ Nos, neque profuso intentoque flatu vocis, neque projectis labiis “ pronunciamus ; sed et spiritum et labias quasi intra nosmet “ ipsos coërcemus. Hoc sit idem et in eo quod dicimus, tu, &
ego, & mihi, & tibi. Nam sicuti cum adnuimus & abnuimus, “ motus quodam illo vel capitis, vel oculorum, a natura rei quem “ significat, non abhorret, ita in his vocibus quasi gestus quidam “ oris et spiritus naturalis est. Eadem ratio est in Græcis quoque 66 vocibus quam
A second character of Language, in its early state, is drawn from the manner in which words were at first pronounced, or uttered, by men. Interjections, I shewed, or passionate exclamations, were the first elements of speech. Men laboured to communicate their feelings to one another, by' those expressive cries and gestures which nature taught them. After words, or names of objects, began to be invented, this mode of speaking, by natural signs, could not be all at once disused. For Language, in its infancy, must have been extremely barren ; and there certainly was a period, among all rude nations, when conversation was carried on by a very few words, intermixed with many exclamations and earnest gestures. The small stock of words which men as yet possessed, rendered these helps absolutely necessary for explaining their conceptions; and rude, uncultivated men, not having always at hand even the few words which they knew, would naturally labour to make themselves understood, by varying their tones of voice, and accom. panying their tones with the most significant gesticu. lations they could make. At this day, when persons attempt to speak in any Language which they possess imperfectly, they have recourse to all these supplemental methods, in order to render themselves more intelligible. The plan too, according to which I have shewn, that Language was originally constructed, upon resemblance and analogy, as far as was possible, to the thing signified, would naturally lead men to utter their words with more emphasis and force, as long as language was a sort of painting by means of sound. For all those reasons this may be assumed as a principle, that the pronunciation of the earliest Languages was accompanied with more gesticulation, and with more and greater inflexions of voice, than what we now use ; there was more action in it; and it was more upon a crying or singing tone.
To this manner of speaking, necessity first gave rise. But we must observe, that, after this necessity had, in a great measure, ceased, by Language becoming, in process of time, more extensive and copious, the ancient manner of Speech still subsisted among many nations; and what had arisen from necessity continued to be used for ornament. Wherever there was much fire and vivacity in the genius of nations, they were naturally inclined to a mode of conversation which gratified the imagination so much; for an imagination which is warm is always prone to throw both a great deal of action, and a variety of tones into discourse. Upon this principle, Dr. Warburton accounts for so much speaking by action, as we find among the Old Testament Prophets; as when Jeremiah breaks the potter's vessel, in sight of the people; throws a book into the Euphrates; puts on bonds and yokes; and carries out his household stuff; all which, he imagines, might be significant modes of expression, very natural in those ages, when men were accustomed to explain themselves so much by actions and gestures. In