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Art. VII.-On the Kawi Language in the Island of Java, with
an Introduction on the Difference of Structure observable in the Languages of Mankind, and its influence on the Intellectual Development of the Human Race. By WILLIAM VON HUMBOLDT. 3 Vols. Berlin, 1836. (The INTRODUCTION is reprinted in the Collected Works of WILLIAM VON HUMBOLDT. Vol. 6. Berlin, 1848.)
The comparative study of language is of quite modern date. It was hardly known in Europe thirty years ago; for that unscientific comparison of single words, without principle or analogy, which made itself so often ridiculous in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, does not deserve the name. We will just mention two reasons for its tardy appearance amongst the number of the sciences. In the first place, it requires the possession of a considerable amount of materials drawn from the most various sources, and these, either from want of opportunity of collecting them, or want of interest in the pursuit, have not been very long within our reach. It implies, secondly, a particular temper of mind.
The Roman Empire included under its vast dominion people speaking an immense number of different languages, but their scientific men felt very little interest in these languages, just because they felt very little interest in the men by whom they were spoken. The great difficulty of intercommunication partly produced this result, but not altogether. The Romans had a clear idea of what is high and noble in the individual character, and a full appreciation of it; but the idea of looking with interest upon men, and what concerned them, on the grounds of a cominon humanity, had not risen before them with any distinctness, still less had it convinced them of the duty of endeavouring to raise their fellow-men with themselves. In their colonies, the Romans rather drove back the original inhabitants than mixed themselves up with them. We may see, however, from the well-known anecdote, of the effect produced in the theatre by Terence's glorious sentiment, that the idea of which we speak was not wholly wanting amongst the Romans. It was absorbed, however, in the strong feeling of their own nationality. The nearest approach to the wider contemplation of man, in the writers of the ancient world with which we are acquainted, is to be found in the introduction to the history of Polybius. That author there speaks of nations as being constituted like the members of a body, and declares his opinion, that the history of one nation cannot be understood without taking that of others into account.
The Idea of Humanity.
199 Christianity first gave the conviction of the real value of man as an individual, and implanted the idea of humanity as distinct from nationality. It therefore most pointedly recognises the value and existence of individual character and national character, whilst it provides means for the true development of each, so that both persons and nations may form members of one great whole. The endeavour after a false uniformity, the cowardly fear of following out their individual vocation, this seems to have been the sin of the builders of Babel, who would not go out and replenish the earth; but their self-devised material unity fell to pieces under God's own hand, as a witness that such unity never could continue, and the nations were forced to pursue their proper course of development, in order that they might eventually be gathered into a higher and spiritual unity in the Kingdom of Christ.
But though this is the true spirit of Christianity, we cannot say that it has hitherto pervaded either our plans of colonization, or those departments of science in which man and his works are the objects of research. The Church of the middle ages regarded the individual too little. The Reformation restored his rights to the individual, stimulated the mind to search into man and nature, and awakened the feeling of the sacredness of the national tongues, but its effects on science were long one-sided. It required the true Catholic spirit, the perception of unity amidsi difference, to induce a large survey and a bold and hopeful comparison of things which seem at first sight to have nothing in common. There are, however, many indications in the expressions and writings of the present age of a more correct feeling in this respect. The experience of the last few years has taught us, that as the world grows old, the feeling of race and the distinctions of race are not extinguished, but are perhaps more strongly felt than ever, and that as races rise in the scale of humanity, their peculiar characteristics are magnified also : at the same time, we trust (and we would take the Exhibition of the works of industry and art of all nations this year as a proof of it) that the nations, though they feel their distinctness most as they exercise their peculiar gifts most successfully, are not on that account more separate, but more deeply assured that they are complementary to each other, that they are designed to work together as an organic whole.
That the universal is manifested in the particular, and cannot be realized apart from it, is perhaps the leading principle of the higher philosophy of our day. By encouraging the exercise of critical analysis in a hopeful and reconciling spirit, it has been most useful in its application to the study of the Languages of mankind. The concurrence indeed of this critical philosophy,
with the increased stock of materials which the spread of the Saxon race (in the English nation especially) has brought within our reach, is the proximate cause of the rise of that linguistic school which reckons the illustrious William von Humboldt as one of its chief leaders, if not its head.
No nation has done so much as the English in the way of amassing materials for the comparative study of language. Our widely extended colonies and commerce have afforded us great opportunities, and the spirit of intelligent and faithful observation which characterizes our nation, has led us to make the most of them. Merchants and missionaries, soldiers and civilians, as well as men of science, have all rendered good service in this work; and our literary and philological societies established at home, have sifted the materials collected, and stored them up for use. But if we want to see what scientific use may be made of these materials, what methods of scientific comparison must be followed, what general results may be deduced from them for the understanding of language as a whole, we hardly know where to look at home either for a manual or an orderly collection. For these we must turn especially to our German neighbours, and the names of Bopp and Grimm, of Pott and-last, but not least-Humboldt, rise before our minds.
The work whose title stands at the head of our present Article is no doubt known to most of our professed linguists; for in spite of its want of method, and the occasional obscurity of the diction, which render it exceedingly difficult to understand, there is in it a depth of research, a range of information, a felicity of illustration, a subtlety of analysis, a boldness of connexion, and a poetic glow of language and thought, which render it as instructive and suggestive as it is stirring and delightful. But it is because its results are capable of a practical application, and afford hints for guidance in many branches of human endeavour and scientific research, that we wish to bring it before a larger class of readers, and to give an account of it which we hope will convince them, that the comparative study of language is not only useful but interesting. We will briefly mention one or two points of view in which we regard that study as of deep practical importance.
Such a study, or at all events an acquaintance with the results which it brings ont, can alone convince us practically of the intimate connexion that exists between the character of a nation and its language, and help us to understand the former from the latter. For the language of a people reveals depths of individual character to an exercised and reflective mind, which even their practical works, their institutions and customs, cannot unfold. If, therefore, the Christian missionary desires to follow the example Motives to the Comparative Study of Language.
of the great apostle, St. Paul, and to meet the heathen nations whom he wishes to convert to the faith of Christ, as St. Paul met the Athenians, upon their own standing ground, in order to destroy the falsehoods they have built up thereon without cutting all grounds of belief from under their feet,-so that he may apply wisely that one remedy for human sin and woe with which he is entrusted,-surely it is desirable that he should have, not a mere empirical acquaintance with their language, but such an acquaintance with it as will enable him to understand those hereditary modes of thought and feeling and contemplation, which discover themselves by the peculiar modes of their expression in language. If the warm-hearted and benevolent man who goes out into foreign lands not merely to secure room for himself to work and thrive, but also to benefit his fellow-men by raising them in the scale of humanity and civilisation, desires to produce something more than a tame uniformity, and seeks to preserve the institutions of the country in which he finds himself by giving them as much efficiency as possible, (as it is evident the excellent Sir J. Brooke wishes to do,) as well as to cultivate and develop in a right direction the individuality which he values, because he regards it as the stamp of God, ought he not to appreciate a study which may lead to results enabling him more fully to penetrate into the spirit of the nation which he wishes to improve? Again, if that philosophical method which belongs especially to Englishmen, which is founded upon a reverence for facts and a reference of them to a higher law in which they find their meaning, their reason, and their unity, is to find its consistent application to man's mind and spirit; if the philosophy of Bacon and Butler is to be developed amongst us, surely it is important that we should pay the utmost attention to a branch of study which presents us with a collection of facts belonging to that region of man where mind and body especially manifest themselves as one, with the products of the inmost laboratory of man's being. For it is only by the comparison of these facts that we can understand and weigh any one of them accurately. We cannot help thinking too, that human language is a main witness to the truth, that there is an order for man which he does not make for himself, but in which he finds himself, that he cannot live out of this order, that in conformity to it lies the secret of his strength and of his freedom. For it is by using the language of the nation in which God has placed him, that man learns to know his brethren and himself, as well as to understand the world around him. But to this we must return, as it may perhaps throw light upon some of the great social questions of the day.
Now in this scientific study of language the work of Humboldt
presents us with most valuable rules and land-marks. To use the words of Chevalier Bunsen, his successor in the Prussian legation at Rome, “it claims an eminent rank as the concentration of the thoughts and researches of a man of excellent judgment, and profound learning, who had dedicated a great part of his active life, partly to speculations on language in general, partly to a critical and detailed analysis of a variety of tongues. Its researches belong to the calculus sublimis of linguistic theory, and it places Wilhelm von Humboldt's name in universal comparative ethnologic philology, by the side of that of Leibnitz," — who, ire may add, possessed the philosophic spirit, but not the supply of materials for such a work.
Humboldt's mind, like that of his illustrious brother, is marked by a great reverence for facts. His method in this is like that of the Father of our English philosophy. Bacon teaches us to wrest from nature her secret by observing her operations in general, and then to use her secret as the standard or the rule by which to measure her particular effects. Man is not merely to be the observer, but the judge of facts, and is to deduce from them a method by which to try them again. And it is only in so doing that he fulfils his vocation, which is to look not merely at, but through the phenomena of the universe, by the power of his mind, and this reverently, because he believes that God has ordained them as means for his education. We find Humboldt constantly applying this principle, and sometimes enunciating it.*
The course of Humboldt's investigations we will now endeavour to trace, in as much detail as our limits will permit, sometimes presenting his meaning, sometimes giving his words in a translation, and sometimes adding our own observations and illustrations from other sources. Our readers must pardon us if the train of thought and research along which we desire to conduct them is necessarily sometimes intricate, or not very clearly marked, for in this article we are pursuing principles rather than details.
Nations considered as members of the human race differ just as members of the saine family differ, that is, within certain Jimnits; and these limits expand as we rise from the tribe to the nation, and from the nation to the stock. We have thus a suc
* In his essay, entitled, “ Die Aufgabe des Geschichtschreibers," he says, “ All that the historian can do in order to bring with him the form under which the complicated incidents of history can appear in their only true connexion, (Hegel's creative pure thought,) is to extract that form from them.” Again, "He must take especial care not to attach his own independently formed ideas to the facts, or even in seeking the connexion of the whole to sacrifice anything of the living riches of the particular; for nothing is entirely separate from the general connexion." This tendency makes one of his Hegelian commentators observe," It is a great pity that such a man as Humboldt should shudder and shrink when he approaches the snvu-line of pure thought."