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The Oryanic Unity of a Language.
cession of individualities, each bearing a certain character, which becomes more definite as we descend in the scale. It is not, however, Humboldt's purpose to inquire into the origin of nations, and of national character, but into the causes and effects of the actual differences which may be observed in their languages. He finds men gathered into communities, bound together by other ties than mere juxtaposition, and, above all, united by using the same language as a means of understanding themselves and communicating with one another. He justly regards this common language as the most telling mark of a nation, as a proof that a peculiar cast of mind belongs to it, of which the language itself is the clearest exponent.
But the questions naturally arise, what is a language ?-how is it distinguished from the dialect on the one side, and the family or stock of languages on the other?—what constitutes its identity amidst the changes which time introduces ? Now, to describe the character of a language, so as to present it as an individual, is just as difficult as to describe an individual man. No mere measuring of parts nor description of outlines can convey an impression of him to another. It depends principally upon the expression of the countenance, upon the mind which is revealed more or less distinctly in those outward forms. It is this that gives unity to the whole. So, in the delineation of a language, we cannot indeed be too particular in noting individual peculiarities; we must mark the different forms of words, and the rules which determine their application; but we must, above all, get at the law of the formation of the language itself, at that constitutive idea which moulds it from within. To perceive the form of each language (as Humboldt terms this, as distinguished from its grammatical forms) will alone enable the linguist to appreciate the varieties of human language, and save him from bewilderment amidst the endless stock of materials which demands his attention.
Now, all form implies materials, and the materials of a language, corresponding to the above comprehensive sense of the word form, lie beyond the limits of language itself, consisting on the one side of sound in general; on the other, of all that is or can be presented to the mind as the object of thought. The formative power of speech peculiar to the nation knits these two elements together, according to its own laws, into a unity, and it is this organic unity which renders a language capable of being transmitted from generation to generation, and of preserving its identity at different periods. The form, too, of a language, decides to what stock or family it belongs; since the forms of several languages may be collected under some more general form, and this again under one still more comprehensive. For “nowhere," observes Humboldt, “is individual character of different degrees, within the bounds of universal correspondence, so remarkable as in the languages of the earth, so that one may say with equal justice, that mankind speak but one language, and that every man has a language of his own.”
In order that we may trace the sources as well as the degrees of these differences, and the ground of this correspondence, it is necessary that we should understand the relation of the two materials of language, already mentioned, to each other, as well as their separate effects. The vocation of man is to be the mediator between mind and matter, and his nature is constituted to answer this end. As by his body he is brought into contact with the material world, so by his mind and spirit he can subdue this to himself, hold converse with minds and spirits akin to his own, and even maintain communion with the Creator of the universe. As an embodied spirit man cannot but embody whatever his mind receives or produces. Thoughts must find an utterance, an outward expression, and find it in several ways. But there is no mode of utterance so universal, so immediate, so directly proceeding from the man, and appealing to the man, as language. None finds him at greater depths, because none proceeds from greater depths of his own being. The outward mode of conveying his thoughts is symbolical of the inwardness of the source of language, and the comprehensiveness of its possible effects in the world. Man moulds the breath of life into the expression of his thoughts, and makes the all-embracing atmosphere to vibrate with his mind. We cannot view the connexion between mind and speech as too close and necessary. Speech is as much a function of thinking man as breathing. It is necessary to him not merely for communication with others, but as a means of understanding himself. Man is set amidst a world of sights and sounds and objects pressing upon the senses in various ways. But these objects do not pass before the mind as images before a mirror. The mind is not a mere passive recipient. The man compares what he sees and passes judgment upon it. He observes that the objects before him have some marks that belong only to themselves, and learns to distinguish. He perceives that they have marks in common, and learns to combine. The mere outward object is converted in the living mirror of man's mind into an inward picture. But the instinct of utterance, inseparable from thought in man, impels him to give a body to this inward representation. It is already to him a new object, because it bears the stamp of mind—“hues of its own, fresh borrowed from the heart;" but he desires to increase its objectivity, to connect it once more with matter, without suffering it to lose the stamp of mind. The means are at hand. The voice admits of an indefinite number of modifications, suscepSocial Character of Language.
tible of combination without confusion, of difference without discord. The mental effort finds a way for itself through the lips, and the inward picture assumes an outward form in sound. The outward object is translated in language into a new object, bearing the stamp of the subject, in the shape of words. How important this act of utterance is to our minds we inay judge from the fact, that we never really think without unspoken words, and that we sometimes speak to ourselves in order to give increased objectivity to our thoughts and to enable us to analyze them better. Thus man surrounds himself with a world of sounds corresponding to the world of things and persons, but bearing the impress of mind, and therefore forining a link between mind and matter.
But by the faculty of speech man is declared not only to be a thinking being, but a social being. Speaking implies hearing, as well as understanding, on the part of others. It follows, of course, that the individual is limited in the choice of his words, for, unless persons represent to themselves the same things by the same words, mutual understanding is impossible. Moreover it is necessary to dwell upon what we may call the objective character of language for other reasons. The formed and uttered word is a new object, bearing the stamp of man's mind, yet not of man merely as an individual, but of man as the member of a certain nation. The word which the individual utters belongs to him, inasmuch as it has proceeded from him, (and then it may be far more full of meaning to him than to his immediate hearer,) but it belongs likewise to the nation, because it has proceeded from the heart of the nation. It is this which renders language not merely a means of communication with others, but a spiritual bond of union, and in itself a means of education, connecting the individual with the past and the future, laying upon him a restraint, but a restraint which, like all true law, limits only his license, and secures his freedom. “All speech,” says Humboldt, “from the very simplest, is a connexion of that which is felt individually with the common nature of humanity." We can imagine times of less developed individuality, when the brighter consciousness of some great man might flash into word whilst his fellow-men were silent, and this vocal act be so distinctly felt as the utterance of the intellectual wants of the community, as to be at once quietly but unanimously adopted into the language of the people. In the ante-historical times, in which the original languages had their formation, we can imagine this to have been the usual course. But this seer and poet (for such he would be) could only be borne on by the conviction that he was understood by those to whom he spoke, that he was bringing to the birth that which was struggling in their minds. The feeling that he was a member of a body would prompt his utterance. We would go further, and say, that in every fresh word brought into the language there would be a proof that that God who brought the animals to Adam, to see what he would call them, was awakening the consciousness of men to understand the world and themselves. The work of the formation of language would be, therefore, a continually repeated act of introduction of words on the part of individuals, who, from understanding the unspoken thoughts of their brethren, were best fitted to be their spokesman, and of adoption on the part of those whose hearts and minds responded to them. The same thing takes place now, though new words are introduced but seldom, and only gradually find their way into use ; for still it is true that that word only lives which bears the stamp of the nation and age, and not of the individual.
In nothing that we have said above, do we wish to imply that there is such a thing as concert in the formation of language. Language is a birth, and not a production. Concert implies consciousness, and there is no act of consciousness interposed in language between the distinct mental view and the appropriate word. We do not believe that in our selection of words out of the common stock any conscious act intervenes. Men are eloquent from clearness of insight, and the power of realizing the connexions of things, and not by forethought or memory. No doubt language is a most wonderful example of combined effort; but those engaged in it were unconscious of working on any plan, towards any end to be attained in the far future. If, then, we observe amongst the languages of the earth some more advanced than others, we must not attribute their pre-eminence to any high ideal which the people set before themselves, but to the harmonious development of their powers of thought and utterance. We cannot overlook the fact that there is a plan and also a progress towards an end, but the plan and progress are in higher hands than man's. As Humboldt has well said in another place—“ Universal history implies a Governor of the universe.”
Since all language is in direct connexion with man's restless mind, it can never stand still, at least in nations which play any part on the stage of history. “ There is no time,” says Humboldt, “ in which it is not undergoing some change, though it may be imperceptible. But the more advanced a language is in its grammatical structure, the less is choice admissible, the more does the word-creating power slumber, the more does the mass of extant matter restrain the individual and the age.” In considering the development of a language, therefore, both the subjective stamp of the national mind, by which the original direction was determined, and the mass of materials produced, (the objective
Languages and the Physical Peculiarities of Nations. 207
independent power of language,) must be taken into account. The sum of former effects, which may have been one-sided, exerts, so to speak, a vis inertiæ in the present, which the vigour of a single generation can seldom overcome. Humboldt lays great stress upon this objective power in many passages of his work, and we think justly. “But since all and each,” he says, “ work uninterruptedly on the language, every generation produces on it some effect, not always obvious. For the change does not always lie in words or forms, but in the use that is made of them, and where writing and literature are wanting, it is difficult to discover this."
After having treated these general and abstract questions connected with national languages, Huinboldt proceeds to his more immediate subject. Since the differences in languages depend on the physical and mental peculiarities of the nations to which they severally belong, he examines these two points separately. He treats first of the vocal element or the forms which sound takes. That the peculiar sounds which man utters can be formed by him at all, is a proof of his intellectual nature. Homer justly considered the epithet péportes, “ dividing the voice into parts,” as containing the chief outward characteristic of man. Man would never have had the power of uttering articulate sounds, (i.e., sounds capable of forming the members of an organic whole,) if he had not possessed also the inward faculty of distinguishing objects from one another, and combining them-perceiving their points of difference and their relations to one another as portions of the universe.* The power of articulation rests, in fact, on the power of the mind to subdue the organs of speech to its own purposes. The number of sounds which different nations are able to produce varies within very narrow limits. The sounds themselves, although on the whole alike, differ in quality and distinctness; and, not unfrequently, secondary sounds, such as the aspirate, sibilant, and nasal, lose the subordinate character which they possess in languages of a higher class. The objects for which sound is to be employed in language generally determine the relative excellencies of alphabets. f In order, therefore, that a system of articulate sounds may be perfect, the sounds must admit of accurate distinction, and complete combination with others without losing their independence. Not
* The tendency to articulate observable in deaf and dumb persons, which has never been awakened by hearing the sounds corresponding to the motion of the organs of speech, is a remarkable proof of this.
+ Alphabets are the result of analysis ; syllables are really the units of sound. The Chinese, and, we believe, the Mandschur, have really only syllabaries, the former significant, and the latter phonetic as well.