Page:Language and the Study of Language.djvu/356

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334
[LECT.
CHARACTER OF THE

of belles-lettres, as poetry, romance, the drama, the Chinese have produced in abundance what, tried even by our own standard, is worthy of high respect and admiration. No race, certainly, outside the Indo-European and Semitic families, nor many races even of those families, can show a literature of equal value with the Chinese.

Not very much requires to be said in explanation of the structure and history of a language so simple—a language which might be said to have no grammatical structure, which possesses neither inflections nor parts of speech, and which has changed less in four thousand years than most others in four hundred, or than many another in a single century. So restricted, in the first place, is its phonetical system, that its whole vocabulary, in the general cultivated dialect (which has lost the power of uttering final mutes, still preserved and distinctly sounded in some of the popular patois), is composed of only about four hundred and fifty different vocables, combinations of sounds: these, however, are converted into not far from three times that number of distinct words by means of the tones of utterance, which in Chinese, as in some other languages of similarly scanty resources, are pressed into the service of the vocabulary, instead of being left, as with us, to the department of rhetoric and elocution. As a necessary consequence, the several words have a much greater range of signification than in more richly endowed tongues; each seems to unite in itself the offices of many distinct words, the tie of connection between its significations being no longer traceable. External development, the formation of derivative words to bear the variety of derived meanings into which every root tends to branch out, is here almost or quite unknown: internal, significant development has been obliged to do the whole work of linguistic growth. Of course, then, not only the grammatical form, but also the radical significance, is often left to be pointed out by the connection. And here, again, the Chinese finds its nearest parallel, among inflected tongues, in the numerous homonyms (words identical in sound but different in meaning) of our own English; for example, in our three different meet's (meet, mete, and meat), and bear's (bear, verb, bear, noun,