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The primitive tones of the human voice, which nature has impressed upon us, and which we utter instinctively, are, without doubt, the rudiments and ground-work of speech. The tones of grief, anger, fear, and surprise, are the same in a savage as in civilized man, and his 'howl at the appearance of
danger, his joy at the sight of his prey, reiterated 'or varied with the change of objects, was probably 'the origin of language in the early ages of the
human race.'* By the curious structure of the vocal organs, man is capable of making a greater variety of tones than any other animal, and has at his command the power of expressing every emotion.
Children have no difficulty in expressing their wants, their pleasures, or pains, long before they can speak, or understand the meaning of a word. In the dawn of society, ages may have passed away with little more converse than what these efforts would produce; but as the mind developed, and our wants increased, means would be suggested, by the articulating powers, to break these instinctive tones into particles of imitative sound; and in all proba
* Booth’s Analytical Dictionary.
bility the first words that were uttered bore some resemblance to the things described, as the boisterous roar of the sea would call for a boisterous expression.* The limited number of these sounds would at first lead men to describe many things with different degrees of force; and these varieties, added to an animated gesture, would render the primitive language a sort of musical declamation. From all that has been handed down to us, it is evident that the most ancient languages were composed of simple sounds, I as a simplicity of thought produces a simplicity of expression. Two or more simple impressions would form a complex idea, which would lead to the joining of two sounds together. As these combinations increased, the necessity of recording them would soon appear, and symbols or letters would be resorted to as the means of retaining them. The spontaneous sound of the vowel Ah! the sign of which is placed at the beginning of all the known alphabets, would
* The very word Roar, when forcibly pronounced, carries with it the imitative sound. The same may be said of most of our primitive words, as splash, scrape, crack, crush, and the like.
† Dr. Blair observes, that the Chinese, in speaking, vary each of their words in five different tones, by which they make the word to signify five different things. Sheridan goes farther, and asserts that sixty different meanings are given to some words in this way.
# Sir Joseph Banks found the South Sea Islanders so purely vocal, that they could not pronounce any English word loaded with consonants. The nearest approach they could make, in sound, to his name, was-Opano. As a specimen of their language, we may mention the name of one of their kings being Ta-ma-ha-ma-ka.
be the first sound to be recorded; and what is more natural than that the form of the letter should aim at depicting the form of the mouth requisite for the production of this sound?
Though the original shapes of the letters are lost and forgotten, yet we can trace some remains of them in the alphabets of modern times. Our letter A probably represented the figure of the mouth when open ; and the bar across it, the line which the teeth would form in appearance while uttering this sound.
The upper part of the small lettere would represent the figure of the mouth as but just opened, and which would give the true sound of this vowel.
The vowel o accurately represents the circular form of the mouth for that sound.
The letter V, probably, in its original form, was an exact representation of the scooped figure of the tongue in uttering that sound.
We might hazard a similar conjecture upon the consonants. The two semicircles in the letter B represent the lips as closely pressed together in the act of forcing that explosive sound; and the consonant P, having but one curve, would intimate a slighter effect of the same kind.
These delineations were probably the first attempts at representing sounds by written characters. The assembling of them together would be analogous to the recording of musical sounds by notes.
When once registered and made objects of sight, the uniting them in various ways, so as to form words, would be an easy and natural expedient.*
Language then, like music, is partly an imitative art, and has its origin in an effort to express the names of things by sounds. Its force will depend upon the use of the primitive tones, and its beauty upon the order in which various sounds are arranged. The present object is to speak of the English language, the basis of which is formed upon sounds of the most distant origin, but stamped with great meaning and force.
If we acknowledge there is a beautiful effect in a certain series or disposition of speaking sounds, and that some words are more euphonious than others, perhaps no circumstance has disfigured our language so much as the introduction of words coined from the Latin and Greek. These words retair. none of their primitive beauty or force. Had they not lost the sound with which they were originally spoken, they would have mingled with our native tones, and not have remained as dead expressions in our language. That the Latin was at one time the spoken language of Italy is an opinion that has
* In the Eastern world, the Chinese dialects are chiefly, or entirely, monosyllables, being so in the greatest degree as we advance eastward. These languages are all characterized by extreme simplicity of structure; they are destitute of inflections, they have not less than thirtyseven consonants, fourteen vowels, six diphthongs of elemental sounds, and the entire effects are brought about by the natural order of juxtaposition.-Edinburgh Review, No. LXXXIV.
never been doubted. But a musician, who is conversant with sounds, and who will take the trouble to examine its internal structure, must doubt the truth of this fact altogether. The very plan of it, in both sense and sound, is contrary to what nature would point out. That it may have been a modification of the mother tongue of Italy, systematically arranged by learned men for the purpose of expressing their thoughts in writing, is more than probable; but that it was the language or common speech of the people, its structure and contrivance at once refute. The formation of a language must, at all times, have been gradual and slow; nor could it, from the accidental way in which words arise, preserve any system or order; but as the human mind entered into subjects of deep research, language thus formed would be found' too cumbersome for literary purposes,' and art would suggest a grammatical contrivance. Hence, in the same country, we should have a written and a spoken language. China still retains both these ;* and why should we not suppose that Rome possessed the same? The system of classifying words, and giving them certain inflections and terminations, has led to such odd combiņations of sound as cannot naturally be performed by the mouth; and the idiom of the Latin is so contrary to that order in
* A person may be well acquainted with the Chinese language as spoken, and know nothing of the written one ; and many read it as it stands in books, and know nothing of the vernacular tongue.