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MAX MÜLLER'S SECOND SERIES.
WE have here the Second Series of Lectures which Max Müller (for all the world writes simply Max Müller, without any prefix-a sign, we take it, of general friendliness and respect) has delivered before the Royal Institution of Great Britain on the science of language. No one could reasonably expect that it would equal in interest the first series, which naturally took possession of the salient topics and the wide theoretical views now connected with the scientific study of language. But though, on this account, necessarily inferior to their predecessors, these Lectures will, we are sure, be greedily seized upon by that omnivorous person, the General Reader, who is avid of instruction when conveyed in a clear and intelligent manner. They are some what miscellaneous in their character, and the observations they may suggest to us will be of the same miscellaneous description.
The study of languages by those who wish to enjoy or fully to comprehend the various literatures of the world, ancient or modern, and the study of language itself, or articulate speech, as the pre-eminent gift or faculty of the human race, are two very different things. The ordinary scholar who delights in his Horace, and fights over again the battles of Homer, may be as ignorant of all that pertains to this latter study as the mere English reader, left benighted, as it is generally supposed, or relegated to such limited culture as he can extract from the literature of one modern language. Even our fortunate scholar, our model student, educated after that manner which all Europe seems at present to approve, which presents words as the chief object of knowledge, and inducts us into thinking by a litera
ture obscured to the youthful mind by a thousand difficulties,—even he may at length be able to detect the most delicate shades of meaning in a Greek or Latin epithet, and yet may never have dreamt of that laborious and ingenious study which the scientific etymologist is now engaged in. It has long been a favourite theme of the speculative philosopher to describe what might have been the origin and progressive development of human speech. Well, the scientific etymologist undertakes, by collating all the languages of the earth, and all the histories of those who speak or have spoken them, to solve the same problem. The psychologist, arguing from the nature of human thought and the order of human knowledge, forms his theory, and it is well and necessary that he should do so; but his theory remains a mere speculation till it is verified by the analysis and the history of the actual languages which have been spoken by man. Do not let the rapid speculator, content with his, perhaps, too facile method of deduction-his inferences from broad psychological principleslook with contempt upon the slow labours of those who proceed by the historic or etymological method; nor let these last, confident in what seems to them the secure basis of fact, despise the bold generalisations of those who take their stand on the philosophy of mind: the two classes of thinkers are necessary to each other. The philologist would never have given a useful direction to his labours if he had not been also in some measure a psychologist; and it is above all things gratifying to observe that some of the most important conclusions arrived at by the speculative philosopher have been con
'Lectures on the Science of Language, delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain.' By Max Müller, M. A. Second Series.
firmed by those who have carefully analysed the various languages of mankind, and (so far as this is possible) traced their course historically.
Nothing is more easy than to dabble in etymology, and no study is more laborious than that of the veritable philologist. Thus it happens that as all persons are capable of amusing themselves, or pestering their neighbours, by fantastic derivations, and as very few are able or willing to pursue those studies that would enable them to discriminate between these etymologies of the ear and such as are sanctioned by general principles (deduced from a wide examination of the changes which language undergoes), there grows up a popular incredulity as to the results obtained by the philologist. In general, the ignorant man is too credulous here it is a hasty incredulity which the unscientific person has to guard himself against.
"I do not wonder," says Max Müller, speaking of another branch of his subject—namely, of the marvellous feats which have been performed in the interpretation of hieroglyphics and of other ancient inscriptions
"I do not wonder that the discoveries due to the genius and persevering industry of Grotefend, Burnouf, Lassen, and last, not least, of Rawlinson, should seem incredible to those who only glance at them from a distance. Their incredulity will only prove the greatest compliment that could have been paid to these eminent scholars. What we at present call the Cuneiform inscriptions of Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, Artaxerxes, &c. (of which we now have several editions, translations, grammars, and dictionaries)--what were they originally? conglomerate of wedges, engraved or impressed on the solitary monument of Cyrus in the Murgháb, on the ruins of Persepolis, on the rocks of Behistun, near the frontiers of Media, and the precipice of Van in Armenia. When Grotefend attempted to decipher them, he had first to prove that these scrolls were really inscriptions, and not mere arabesques or fanciful ornaments. He had then to find out whether these magical characters were to be read VOL. XCVI.-NO. DLXXXVIII.
horizontally or perpendicularly, from right to left or from left to right. Lichtenberg maintained that they must Grotefend, in 1802, proved that the letters followed each other, as in Greek, from left to right. Even before Grotefend, Münter and Tychsen had observed that there was a sign to separate the words. Such a sign is, of course, an immense help in all attempts at deat once the terminations of hundreds of ciphering inscriptions, for it lays bare words, and, in an Aryan language, supplies us with a skeleton of its grammar. Yet consider the difficulties that had yet to be overcome before a single line could be read. It was unknown in what language these inscriptions were tic, a Turanian, or an Aryan language. composed; it might have been a SemiIt was unknown to what period they belonged, and whether they commemorated the conquests of Cyrus, Darius, Alexander, or Sapor. It was unknown whether the alphabet used was phonetic, syllabic, or ideographic. It would detain us too long were I to relate how all these difficulties were removed one
be read in the same direction as Hebrew.
after the other; how the proper names of Darius, Xerxes, Hystaspes, and of their god Ormusd, were traced; how from them the values of certain letters were determined; how, with an imperphered which clearly established the fect alphabet, other words were decifact that the language of these inscriptions was ancient Persian; how then, with the help of the Zend, which represents the Persian language previous to Darius, and with the help of the later Persian, a most effective cross-fire was opened; how even more powerful senal of the ancient Sanskrit; how outordnance was brought up from the arpost after outpost was driven in, and a practical breach effected, till at last the fortress had to surrender, and submit Language." to the terms dictated by the Science of
It would be a poor return for such knowledge, ingenuity, and such almost heroic patience, for perseverance, to treat their results with a smile of incredulity. Yet here, as elsewhere, an intelligent public, aware that discoverers must have enthusiasm as well as patience, will often hold itself in a state of suspended judgment. Our system of interpretation of Egyptian hieroglyphics, for instance, may admit of revisal or improve
ment; Max Müller, in one passage of these lectures, seems to think that it is still incomplete; and even discoveries of another kind, of which he speaks more confidently, may not yet have assumed their final shape. It is unhesitatingly proclaimed to be the "great discovery" of the modern science of language that Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Celtic, and other languages of ancient Europe, are related to some prior and unknown language, to which the name of Aryan has been given, in precisely the same manner in which the modern languages, French, Italian, and Spanish, are related to the Latin. This may be so; but if there was an Aryan language, the parent of Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Celtic, Teutonic, Slavonic, just as Latin was the parent of French and Italian, there must have been an Aryan people and an Aryan civilisation that have departed without leaving any traces of their existence-that are utterly unknown to history. It is difficult, in short, to frame a history of these Aryans that shall correspond with the part their language is said to have played. One may here acknowledge a perplexity without being rashly sceptical. The study of Sanskrit is a comparative novelty; first impressions may not endure; another generation of scholars, aided by the labours of their predecessors, may stand on a vantage-ground which we do not occupy; the 'Rig-veda,' the oldest form of Sanskrit, and reputed to be the oldest book in the world, is not yet translated; it is not unreasonable, under such circumstances, to give a certain qualified assent to this theory of an Aryan people, from whom so many other peoples are to be derived. One may rather accept it as the best hypothesis which enlightened men can at present form than the last discoverable truth.
"No sound scholar," writes Max Müller, "would ever think of deriving any Greek or Latin word from Sanskrit. Sanskrit is not the mother of Greek
and Latin, as Latin is of French and Italian. Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin are sisters, varieties of one and the same type. They all point to some earlier stage, when they were less dif ferent from each other than they now are, but no more. All we can say in favour of Sanskrit is, that it is the eldest sister; that it has retained many words and forms less changed and corrupted than Greek and Latin. The more primitive character and transparent structure of Sanskrit have naturally endeared it to the student of language, but they have not blinded him to the fact that in many points Greek and Latin - nay, Gothic and Celtic-have preserved primitive features which Sanskrit has lost."
The readers of the First Series of these Lectures will remember that some rather bold hypothesis was put forth on the origin of language. Discarding what he called the Bowwow and Pooh-pooh theory-the hypothesis that interjections and the imitations of the cries of animals, or the sounds made by inanimate objects, would form the first rude speech of man—the lecturer had recourse to the bold expedient of supposing that there was some occult connection between certain roots, or primitive words, and the things signified. In the Second Series the same idea is put forth, but with still more vagueness and vacillation. The lecturer was at perfect liberty to discard, in what terms he pleased, the Bow-wow theory it is the unintelligible nature of the hypothesis he substi tutes that we should quarrel with. Analysing the oldest dialects of human speech which remain for our examination, we eliminate, as our simplest elements, certain roots, primitive words, or what to us are representatives of primitive words; and the meaning of such words was apparently determined, just as the meaning of any word we now use, by custom and tradition. No analysis and no historical investigation enables us to rise to the origin of language, to explain why any object about which men had occasion to speak should have been associated with any one of these
syllables more than with another. If, therefore, we are resolved to frame any theory upon this subject, it must be from conjecture, from a balance of probabilities. We try to put ourselves in the position of men who had a language to form, who had the need and desire to communicate with each other, and found themselves in the possession of a sound-producing organ, an organ which, in one way or the other, they as spontaneously used as any of their limbs; for a child cries as readily as it kicks, and all through boyhood noise is as delightful as motion. We try to fancy what would be the steps of their progress. It must be a matter of conjecture; only let the conjecture be intelligible.
Max Müller says:
"I believed, and still believe, that in the science of language we must accept roots simply as ultimate facts, leaving to the physiologist and the psychologist the question as to the possible sympathetic and reflective action of the five organs of sensuous perception upon the motory nerves of the organ of speech.'
What does he in this, and other like passages, mean? What is the question he leaves to the psychologist and the physiologist? If we had the first articulate words uttered by man before us, we might perhaps frame some question for the physiologist; we might ask him what connection there was between uttering such sounds and the impression of certain objects. But no one pretends that in Sanskrit roots, or in any other roots, we have the first articulate syllables that man made use of for the communication of his wants or his commands.
That cries, shouts, interjections of all kinds, form a part of human speech, is plain enough; and many of the animals about us share in this rude species of language, if language it is to be called. But how are we to describe the passage from this inarticulate language to the articulate speech of man? Man being an imitative creature, it has at all times been a favourite sup
position that his first words would be coined by an imitation of the cries of animals-that out of these cries he would make names for them. Such naming, however, could only form the commencement of a language-give an example, so to speak, of what might be done with this admirable pipe, this throat, these lips, ever breaking forth in some sound or other.
Max Müller admits that such imitations may carry us to a certain point on our road, but how are we to account, he asks, for words of objects which emit no sound, and are not immediately associated with such as do? He seems to think it impossible that men, after having framed, accidentally so to speak, a certain number of vocal signs, and having found the utility of them, should purposely frame other signs by a mere variation of those they already possessed. Yet such a stage in the process does not appear to us very difficult to imagine. Having some words and wanting others, one can imagine these other words coined by some variation of those already in use. Our lecturer puts the case thus :
"That sounds can be rendered in
language by sounds, and that each language possesses a large stock of words imitating the sounds given out by certain things, who would deny? And who would deny that some words originally expressive of sound only, might be transferred to other things which have some analogy with sound? But how are all things which do not appeal to the sense of hearing-how are the ideas of going, moving, standing, sinking, tasting, thinking, to be expressed?"
We will not long detain our readers over a matter on which they have probably come to the conclusion that nothing quite satisfactory can be said. The early stages by which the first people framed a language, are as irrecoverable as those early stages in each man's individual consciousness by which he advanced to the complete use of his senses. The suggestions which we would offer to bridge over
the passage from the inarticulate language of animals to the articulate speech of man, are briefly these: 1st, That the imitation of the cries of animals, or of other natural sounds made for the purpose of designating the objects connected with them, would, owing to the very structure and play of the human organs, assume the form of an articulate sound. If a man imitates the sound of a bird, he, from the very configuration of his larynx, mouth, lips, makes a very different sound from the bird. It is a man's imitation of the bird. It would only be after repeated trials that he would eliminate, so to speak, the human element, and produce a truly bird-like sound. If he calls a bird from its cry a pee-wit, he puts consonants in his imitation that were not really pronounced by the bird. Thus the imitation of the inarticulate cry becomes, by the spontaneous play of the human organs, an articulate sound or word. It may, indeed, be said, that it is from the habit of using consonants that we put them in our imitations; and we readily admit that, when a nurse tells a child to say ba to a sheep, or moo to a cow, these are but nursery words; there is very little effort of imitation in them of the bleating of a sheep or the lowing of a cow. But without questioning at all that the habit of using articulate speech would render an imitation of the inarticulate still more difficult, we think it may be safely asserted that, from the difference in his organisation, the first imitations that a man would attempt, would not be such artistic, perfect imitations, as he afterwards learns to make, but would be a human rendering of an animal sound. He would frame a word out of a cry. And, 2d, That when a few words were thus produced, others would be formed, not only in the manner Max Müller points out, by transferring these words to "things which have some analogy with sound," which is rather to increase the meanings of words than to add to the stock of
them; but in the much more simple manner of varying the sounds already produced, so as to produce
new vocal sign for the new emergency. This process, as it could only be wanted, so also it could only take place, in the earliest stages of the formation of a language. If a people in possession of a considerable vocabulary want a name for a new object, they fix, as Max Müller shows, on some quality of that object, for which quality a name already exists, and thus the object readily obtains a name. In this manner wheat may have been named from its whiteness, because there was already a word for white. But if there were no name for whiteness, or any other marked quality of wheat, by what process could men name it, but by varying some articulate sounds already used as a name, and applying the new variety of sound to the object to be named? If they had already called something bi-bo, they must call this other thing bo-bi or fo-fi.
This operation appears improbable to us only from its great simplicity, and because it is an operation we can scarce be called upon to perform: we coin words from other words, guided entirely by the meaning of those other words; but there must surely have been a time when men coined new words, after the pattern of other words, by altering, transposing, combining the syllables of which they were composed.
We shall all agree with Max Müller in discarding the idea of a solemn convention, at which it was agreed that certain chosen sounds should be used as signs for certain objects or actions. Before such a convention could take place, language must already have advanced to such a stage as not to need it. If we really wish to form a conception how language might have arisen, we must transport ourselves to the family group, or the tribe consisting of several family groups. The intimate nature of the union of such groups, and the comparatively few objects, and the often-repeated