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Rise and Progress of Language and of Writing.

our country. May the Great Spirit allow us to rest in tranquility upon our mats, and never again dig up the axe to cut down the tree of peace! Let the earth be trodden hard over it, where it lies buried. Let a strong stream run under the pit, to wash the evil away out of our sight and remembrance. The fire, that had long burned in Albany, is extinguished. The bloody bed is washed clean, and the tears are wiped from our eyes. We now renew the covenant chain of friendship. Let it be kept bright and clean as silver, and not suffered to contract any rust. Let not any one pull away his arm from it."

As language in its progress, grew more copious, it gradually lost that figurative style, which was its early character. The vehement manner of speaking by tones and gestures became less common. Instead of poets, philosophers became the instructors of men; and in their reasoning on all subjects introduced that plainer and more simple style of composition, which we now call Prose. Thus the ancient metaphorical and poetical dress of Language was at length laid aside in the intercouse of men, and reserved for those occasions only, on which ornament was professedly studied.


WHEN We examine the order in which words are arranged in a sentence, we find a very remarka

Rise and Progress of Language and of Writing.

ble difference between ancient and modern tongues. The consideration of this will serve to unfold farther the genius of LANGUAGE, and to shew the causes of those alterations, it has undergone in the progress of society.

To conceive distinctly the nature of this alteration, we must go back, as before, to the earliest period of Language. Let us figure to ourselves a Savage beholding some fruit which he earnestly desires, and requests another to give him. Suppose him unacquainted with words, he would strive to make himself understood by pointing eagerly at the object desired, and uttering at the same time a passionate cry. Supposing him to have acquired words, the first word which he would utter would be the name of that object. He would not express himself according to our order of construction, "Give me fruit ;" but according to the Latin order, "Fruit give me," "Fructum da mihi," for this plain reason, that his attention was wholly directed toward fruit, the object desired. Hence we might conclude a priori, that this was the order in which words were most commonly arranged in the infancy of Language; and accordingly we find in reality that in this order words are arranged in most of the ancient tongues, as in the Greek and Latin; and it is said likewise in the Russian, Sclavonic, Gaelic, and several American tongues.

The modern languages of Europe have adopted a different arrangement from the ancient. In their prose compositions very little variety is admitted in the collocation of words; they are chiefly fixed to one order, which may be called the Order of the Understanding. They place first in

Rise and Progress of Language and of Writing.

the sentence, the person or thing, which speaks or acts; next, its actions; and lastly, the object of its action. Thus an English writer, paying a compliment to a great man, would say, "It is impossible for me to pass over in silence so distinguished mildness, so singular and unheard of clemency, and so uncommon moderation, in the exercise of supreme power." Here is first presented to us the person who speaks, "It is impossible for me;" next, what the same person is to do, "to pass over in silence ;" and lastly, the object which excites him to action," the mildness, clemency, and moderation of his patron." Cicero, from whom these words are translated, reverses this order. He begins with the object; places that first, which was the exciting idea in the speaker's mind, and ends with the speaker and his action. "Tantam mansuetudinem, tam inusitatam inauditamque clementiam, tantumque in summa potestate rerum omnium modum, tacitus nullo modo præterire possum.' Here, it must be observed, the Latin order is more animated; the English more clear and distinct.

Our language naturally allows greater liberty for transposition and inversion in poetry, than in prose. Even there however this liberty is confined within narrow limits, in comparision with the ancient languages. In this respect, modern tongues vary from each other. The Italian approaches the nearest in its character to the ancient transposition; the English has more inversion than the rest; and the French has the least of all.

Writing is an improvement upon Speech, and consequently was posterior to it in order of time.

Rise and Progress of Language and of Writing. Its characters are of two kinds, signs of things and signs of words. Thus the pictures, hieroglyphics, and symbols employed by the ancients, were of the former sort; the alphabetical characters, now employed by Europeans, of the latter.

Pictures were certainly the first attempt toward writing. Mankind in all ages and in all nations have been prone to imitation. This would soon be employed for describing and recording events. Thus, to signify that one man had killed another, they painted the figure of one man lying on the ground, and of another standing by him with a hostile weapon in his hand. When America was first discovered, this was the only kind of writing with which the Mexicans were acquainted. It was however a very imperfect mode of recording facts; since by pictures external events only could be delineated.

Hieroglyphical characters may be considered as the second stage of the Art of Writing. They consist of certain symbols, which are made to stand for invisible objects on account of their supposed resemblance of the objects themselves. Thus an eye represented knowledge; and a cirele, having neither beginning nor end, was the symbol of eternity. Egypt was the country where this kind of writing was most studied, and brought into a regular art, By these characters all the boasted wisdom of their priests was conveyed. They pitched upon animals to be the emblems of moral objects, according to the qualities with which they supposed them to be endowed. Thus imprudence was denominated by

Rise and Progress of Language and of Writing.

a fly; wisdom, by an ant; and victory, by a hawk. But this sort of writing was in the highest degree enigmatical and confused; and consequently a very imperfect vehicle of knowledge.

From hieroglyphics, some nations gradually advanced to simple arbitrary marks, which stood for objects, though without any resemblance of the objects signified. Of this nature was the writing of the Peruvians. They used small cords of different colours; and by knots upon these, of different sizes and variously ranged, they invented signs for communicating their thoughts to one another. The Chinese at this day use written characters of this nature. They have no alphabet of letters or simple sounds, of which their words are composed; but every single character, which they use, is expressive of an idea; it is a mark which signifies some one thing or object. The number of these characters must consequently be immense. They are said indeed to amount to seventy thousand. To be perfectly acquainted with them is the business of a whole life e; which must have greatly retarded among them the progress of every kind of science.

It is evident that the Chinese characters, like hieroglyphics, are signs of things, and not of words. For we are told, that the Japanese, the Tonquinese, and the Coreeans, who speak different languages from each other, and from the inhabitants of China, use however the same written characters with them, and thus correspond intelligibly with one another in writing, though mutually ignorant of each others' language. Our arithmetical figures, 1, 2, 3, 4, &c. are an example of

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