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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 nominarerum sint natura, an impositione? Púceun dégei;” 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 particular names to particular objects? and those of the Platonic school favoured the latter opin
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 shown 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 things 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
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.
swerve, sweep, swim. Si, 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 fortuito, sed quadam vi et “ ratione naturæ facta esse, P. Nigidius in Grammaticis Commentariis docet; rem
sane in philosophiæ dissertationibus celebrem. In eam rem multa argumenta " dicit, cur videri possint, verba esse naturalia, magis quam arbitraria. Vos, in" quit, cum dicimus, motu quodam oris conveniente, cum ipsius verbi demonstra" tione utimur, et labias sensim primores emovemus, ac spiritum atque animam “porro versum, et ad eos quibus consermocinamur intendimus. At contra cum "dicimus Nos, neque profuso intentoque flatu vocis, neque projectis labiis pro“nunciamus; sed et spiritum et labias quasi intra nosmet ipsos coercemus. Hoc “sit idem et in eo quod dicimus tu, et ego, et mihi, et tibi. Nam sicuti cum adnui"mus et abnuimus, motus quodam illo vel capitis, vel oculorum, a natura rei quam “significat, non abhorret, ita in his vocibus quasi gestus quidam oris et spiritus “naturalis est. Eadem ratio est in Græcis quoque vocibus quam esse in nostris " animadvertimus."
A. Gellius, Noct. Atticæ, lib. x. cap. 4.
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 showed, or passionate exclamations, were the first elements of speech: Men laboured to communicate their feel. ings 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, in: termixed 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 accompanying their tones with the most significant gesticulations 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 shown, that language was originally constructed, upon resemblance or 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 sumed as a principle, that the pronunciation of the earliest languages was accompanied with more gesticulation, and with more and greater inflections 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, hy 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 ex plain themselves so much by actions and gestures. In like manner, among the northern American tribes, certain motions and actions were found to be much used as explanatory of their meaning, on all
their great occasions of intercourse with each other; and by the belts and strings of wampum, which they gave and received, they were accustomed to declare their meaning, as much as by their discourses.
With regard to inflections of voice, these are so natural, that to some nations, it has appeared easier to express different ideas, by varying the tone with which they pronounced the same word, than to contrive words for all their ideas. This is the practice of the Chinese in particular. The number of words in their language is said not to be great; but in speaking, they vary each of their words on no less than five different tones, by which they make the same word: signify five different things. This must give a great appearance of music or singing to their speech. For those inflections of voice which, in the infancy of language, were no more than harsh or dissonant cries, must, as language gradually polishes, pass into more smooth and musical sounds; and hence is formed, what we call the prosody of a language.
It is remarkable, and deserves attention, that, both in the Greek and Roman languages, this musical and gesticulating pronunciation was retained in a very high degree. Without having attended to this, we shall be at a loss in understanding several passages of the classics, which relate to the public speaking, and the theatrical entertainments of the ancients. It appears from many circumstances, that the prosody both of the Greeks and Romans, was oarried much farther than ours; or that they spoke with more and stronger inflections of voice than we use. The quantity of their syllables was much more fixed than in any of the modern languages, and rendered much more sensible to the ear in pronouncing them. Besides quantities, or the difference of short and long, accents were placed upon most of their syllables, the acute, grave, and circumflex; the use of which accents we have now entirely lost, but which, we know, determined the speaker's voice to rise or fall. Our modern pronunciation must have appeared to them a lifeless monotony. The declamation of their 'orators, and the pronunciation of their actors upon the stage, approached to the nature of recitative in music; was capable of being marked in notes, and supported with instruments; as several learned men have fully proved. And if this was the case, as they have shown among the Romans, the Greeks, it is well known, were still a more musical people than the Romans, and carried their attention to tone and pronunciation much farther in every public exhibition. Aristotle, in his poetics, considers the masic of tragedy as one of its chief and most essential parts.
The case was parallel with regard to gestures; for strong tones, and animated gestures, we may observe, always go together. Action is treated of by all the ancient critics, as the chief quality in every public speaker. The action, both of the orators and the players in Greece and Rome, was far more vehement than what we are accustomed to. Roscius would have seemed a madman to us. Gesture was of such consequence upon the ancient stage, that there is reason for believing, that on some occasions, the speaking and the
acting part were divided, which, according to our ideas, would forni a strange exhibition; one player spoke the words in the proper tones, while another performed the corresponding motions and gestures. We learn from Cicero, that it was a contest between him and Roscius, whether he could express a sentiment in a greater variety of phrases, or Roscius in a greater variety of intelligible significant gestures. At last, gesture came to engross the stage wholly; for, under the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, the favourite entertainment of the public was the pantomime, which was carried on entirely by mute gesticulation. The people were moved, and wept at it, as much as at tragedies; and the passion for it became so strong, that laws were obliged to be made, for restraining the senators from studying the pantomime art. Now, though in declamations and theatrical exhibitions, both tone and gesture were doubtless carried much farther than in common discourse; yet public speaking, of any kind, must, in every country, bear some proportion to the manner that is used in conversation, and such public entertainments as I have now men. tioned could never have been relished by a nation, whose tones and gestures, in discourse, were as languid as ours.
When the barbarians spread themselves over the Roman empire, these more phlegmatic nations did not retain the accents, the tones, and gestures, which necessity at first introduced, and custom and fancy afterwards so long supported, in the Greek and Roman languages. As the Latin tongue was lost in their idioms, so the character of speech and pronunciation began to be changed throughout Europe. Nothing of the same attention was paid to the music of language, or to the pomp of declamation and theatrical action. Both conversation and public speaking became more simple and plain, such as we now find it; without that enthusiastic mixture of tones and gestures, which distingaished the ancient nations. At the restoration of letters, the genius of language was so much altered, and the manners of the people had become so different, that it was no easy matter to understand what the ancients had said, concerning their declamations and public spectacles. Our plain manner of speaking in these northern countries, expresses the passions with sufficient energy, to move those who are not accustomed to any more vehement manner. But, undoubtedly, more varied tones, and more animated motions, carry a natural expression of warmer feelings. Accordingly, in different modern languages, the prosody of speech partakes more of music, in proportion to the liveliness and sensi . bility of the people. A Frenchman both varies his accents, and gesticulates, while he speaks, much more than an Englishman. An Italian, a great deal more than either. Musical pronunciation and expressive gesture, are to this day the distinction of Italy.
From the pronunciation of language, let us proceed, in the third place, to consider the style of language in its most early state, and its progress in this respect also. As the manner in which men first uttered their words, and maintained conversation, was strong and expressive, enforcing their imperfectly expressed ideas by cries
and gestures ; so the language which they used, could be no other than full of figures and metaphors, not correct indeed, but forcible and picturesque.
We are apt, upon a superficial view, to imagine, that those modes of expression which are called figures of speech, are among the chief refinements of speech, not invented till after language had advanced to its later periods, and mankind were brought into a polished state; and that, then, they were devised by orators and rhetoricians. The contrary of this is the truth. Mankind never employed so many figures of speech, as when they had hardly any words for expressing their meaning.
For, first, the want of proper names for every object, obliged them to use one name for many; and of course, to express themselves by comparisons, metaphors, allusions, and all those substituted forms of speech which render language figurative. Next, as the objects with which they were most conversant, were the sensible, material objects around them, names would be given to those objects long before words were invented for signifying the dispositions of the mind, or any sort of moral and intellectual ideas. Hence, the early language of men being entirely made up of words descriptive of sensible objects, it became of necessity extremely metaphorical. For, to signify any desire or passion, or any act or feeling of the mind, they had no precise expression which was appropriated to that purpose, but were under a necessity of painting the emotion or passion which they felt, by allusion to those sensible objects which had most relation to it, and which could render it, in some sort, visible to others.
But it was not necessity alone, that gave rise to this figured style. Other circumstances also, at the commencement of language, contributed to it. In the infancy of all societies, men are much under the dominion of imagination and passion. They live scattered and dispersed ; they are unacquainted with the course of things; they are, every day, meeting with new and strange objects. Fear and surprise, wonder and astonishment, are their most frequent passions. Their language will necessarily partake of this character of their minds. They will be prone to exaggeration and hyperbole. They will be given to describe every thing with the strongest colours, and most vehement expressions; infinitely more than men living in the advanced and cultivated periods of society, when their imaginations are more chastened, their passions are more tamed, and a wider experience has rendered the objects of life more fa miliar to them. Even the manner in which I before showed that the first tribes of men uttered their words, would have considerable influence on their style. Wherever strong exclamations, tones, and gestures, enter much into conversation, the imagination is always more exercised ; a greater effort of fancy and passion is excited:Consequently, the fancy kept awake, and rendered more sprightly by this mode of utterance, operates upon style, and enlivens it more.
These reasonings are confirmed by undoubted facts. The style of all the most early languages, among nations who are in the first