Page images


perfect system of it was all at once given to LE C T. man. It is much more natural to think, that God taught our first parents only such Language as suited their present occasions ; leaving them, as he did in other things, to enlarge and improve it as their future necessities should require. Consequently, those first rudiments of Speech must have been poor and narrow; and we are at full liberty to enquire in what manner, and by what steps, Language advanced to the state in which we now find it. The history which I am to give of this progress, will suggest several things, both curious in themselves, and useful in our future disquifitions,

If we should suppose a period before any words were invented or known, it is clear, that men could have no other method of communicating to others what they felt, than by the cries of passion, accompanied with such motions and gestures as were farther expressive of passion. For these are the only signs which nature teaches all men, and which are understood by all. One who saw another going into some place where he himself had been frightened, or expofed to danger, and who fought to warn his neighbour of the danger, could contrive no other way of doing so, than by uttering those cries, and making those gestures, which are the signs of fear: juft as



LECT. two men, at this day, would endeavour to

make themselves be understood by each other, who should be thrown together on a desolate i land, ignorant of each other's Language. Thofe exclamations, therefore, which by Grainmarians are "called Interjections, uttered in a strong and passionate manner, were, beyond doubt, the first elements or beginnings of Speech.

When more enlarged communication became neceffary, and names began to be af. signed to objects, in what manner can we suppose men to have proceeded in this assignation of names, or invention of words ? Undoubtedly, by imitating, as much as they could, the nature of the object which they named, by the found of the name which they gave to it. As a Painter, who would repretent grass, must employ a green colour; so, in the beginnings of Language, one giving a name to any thing harsh or boisterous, would of course employ a harsh or boisterous found. He could not do otherwise, if he meant to excite in the hearer the idea of that thing which he fought to name. To suppose words invented, or names given, to things, in a manner purely arbitrary, without any ground or reason, is to suppose an effect without a cause.

There must have always been some motive which led to the assignation of one



name rather than another; and we can con- LE C.T. ceive no motive which would more generally operate upon men in their first efforts towards Language, than a desire to paint, by Speech, the objects which they named, in a manner more or less complete, according as the vocal organs had it in their power to effect this imitation.

WHEREVER objects were to be named, in which found, noise, or motion were concerned, the imitation by words was abundantly obvious. Nothing was more natural, than to imitate, hy the sound of the voice, the quality of the sound or noise which any external object made ; and to form its name accordingly. Thus, in all Languages, we find a multitude of words that are evidently constructed upon this principle. A certain bird is termed the Cuckoo, from the found which it emits. When one sort of wind is said to whistle, and another to roar ; when a serpent is said to biss; a fly to buz, and falling timber to crash; when a stream is said to flow, and hail to rattle ; the analogy between the word and the thing signified is plainly discernible.

In the names of objects which address the fight only, where neither noise nor motion are concerned, and still more in the terms appropriated to moral ideas, this analogy appears to VOL. I.




LE C T. fail. Many learned men, however, have been

of opinion, that though, in such cases, it becomes more obscure, yet it is not altogether loft; but that throughout the radical words of all Languages, there may be traced some degree of correspondence with the object sig. nified. With regard to moral and intellectual ideas, they remark, that, in every Language, the terms fignificant of them, are derived from the names of sensible objects to which they are conceived to be analogous; and with re. gard to sensible objects pertaining merely to sight, they remark, that their most distinguishing qualities have certain radical sounds appropriated to the expression of them, in a great variety of Languages. Stability, for instance, Huidity, hollowness, smoothness, gentleness, violence, &c. they imagine to be painted by the found of certain letters or fyllables, which have some relation to those different ftates of visible objects, on account of an obscure resemblance which the organs of voice are capable of assuming to such external qualities. By this natural mechanism, they imagine all Languages to have been at first constructed, and the roots of their capital words formed *.


* The Author, who has carried his fpeculations on this subject the fartheft, is the President Des Broffes, in his “ Traité de la Formation Mechanique des Langues.


As far as this system is founded in truth, LECT, Language appears to be not altogether arbi


[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Some of the radical letters or fyllables which he supposes to carry this expressive power in most known Languages aré, St, to fignify itability or rest; Fl, to denote fluency : Cl, a gentle descent; R, what relates to rapid motion ; C, to cavity or hollowness, &c. A century before his time, Dr. Wallis, in his Grammar of the English Language, had taken notice of these fignificant roots, and represented it as a peculiar excellency of our Tongue, that, beyond all others, it expressed the nature of the objects which it names, by employing sounds Marper, softer, weaker, stronger, more obscure, or more stridulous, according as the idea which is to be suggested requires. He gives various examples. Thus; words formed upon St, always denote firmness and strength, analogous to the Latin fo; as, stand, stay, staff, stop, stout, steady, stake, stamp, stallion, stately, &c. Words beginning with Str, intimate violent force, and energy, analogous to the Greek orgavus ; as, strive, strength, strike, stripe, stress, struggle, ftride, ftretch, ftrip, &c. Thr, implies forcible motion; as, throw, throb, thrust, through, threaten, thraldom. Wr, obliquity or distortion; as, wry, wrest, wreath, wrestle, wring, wrong, wrangle, wrath, wrack, &c. Sw, filent agitation, or lateral motion; as, sway, swing, swerve, sweep, swim. Si, a gentle fall or less obfervable motion ; as, lide, slip, sly, flit, Now, slack, sling. Sp, dissipation or expansion; as, spread, sprout, sprinkle, split, (piil, spring. Terminations in Alh, indicate something acting nimbly and sharply; as, crash, gah, rash, flash, lath, flifh. Terminations in Ush, something acting more obtusely and dully; as, cruth, brush, hush, guíh, blush. The learned Author produces a great many more examples of the fame kind, which seem to leave no doubt, that the analogies of found have had come 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.

K 2


« PreviousContinue »