Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 7.djvu/161

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149
ARE LANGUAGES INSTITUTIONS?

planet, that of intended, but palpably insufficient description; in Uranus and Neptune, of learned and reflective selection, under government of the same regard for analogy which controls also the most unconscious and popular choice of appellations; and in decimal, no one has yet been skillful enough to find out what. But, known or unknown, sufficient or insufficient, learned or popular, it is all one, so far as regards the practical uses of speech; when once established in use, the name, from whencesoever derived, is good enough for its office. It were vain indeed to be particular about the source, when the use is going to depend, with each new learner, on an artificially-formed association alone.

Now, how should it enter into the mind of any one to regard words thus won, thus kept in life, thus liable to alterations of every kind in the mouths of their speakers, as any thing more than the instruments, the outward equipment, of thought? Thought is the action of the mind, in apprehending, comparing, inferring; every word is an act of the body, and of the body only; performed, indeed, as all the voluntary acts of the body are, under the direction of the mind, but no more the work of the mind than are crooks of a finger, or brandishings of an arm, or kicks with a foot. There is no more immediate connection of the apparatus of thought with the muscles of utterance than with those of facial expression or of gesture. Talking is just as much thought as dancing is; not one whit more. All the arguments used to show the impossibility of mind-work without speech are, so far as I can see, such as would also prove the impossibility of manual work without tools and machines, of mathematical work without written signs.

If it be asked how the mind comes to equip itself with this instrumentality, the answer is ready and easy: it does so under the impulse to communication. That language should owe its origin and maintenance to a cause so extraneous to the soul, and so superficial, is repugnant to the prejudices of many; yet I do not see how the truth of the doctrine can be successfully controverted. It is in accordance with all that we know of the history and present use of language, and, not less, with all that we know of the development of man's powers in other departments. Through all its existence, speech is primarily and above all a social possession, its unity made and preserved by mutual intelligibility, all its items and their changes requiring the adoption of a community before they become language at all. Those who, by isolation or physical defect, are cut off from communication with their fellows, do not speak, and have no inclination to speak. And, especially, communication is the only inducement to which every human being, at every grade of culture, is fully accessible. The great majority, even of speaking, civilized men, do not realize that language is any thing to them but a means of communication; and to ascribe to the uncultivated man a power to foresee that expression will furnish