Oriental Religions - China/2/3

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IT is one of the highest achievements of modern science to have rescued Language from the domain of Language theology, and traced its continuous evolution by the natural faculties of man. History, however,

Language not a revelation nor an invention, but a natural growth.

reminds us that this line of study was foreshadowed by Epicurus and his school, and especially by Lucretius; who wholly denied that speech was either a special invention or a divine communication, and indicated the steps of its gradual birth in such instinctive expressions as the cries of animals and the unconscious gestures of infants. After nearly two thousand years of supernaturalism, we are brought back with new experience to this old trust in natural laws.

A prolonged depreciation of the human faculties had resulted in the last century in two extremes of theory on the subject. One of these was expressed in the phrase that speech was too amazing a product to have been wrought out by man's " unaided powers." The other proceeded from that reaction to excessive self-confidence, which, especially in France, felt itself raised up for the reconstruction of the world by immediate human forces; and this philosophy of patent machinery naturally enough referred language to the genius of some great inventor. Both the miracle and the mechanism are now set aside for good and sufficient reasons. On the one hand, that transition of inarticulate tongue-gestures into distinct words, in which language begins, no more needs a special inven tor than the organic necessity of self-expression, out of which these primitive movements were born. And, on the other hand, the theory of a revelation in aid of the natural faculties breaks down on the fact that there can be no revelation except the manifestation of these faculties themselves, by whose stable processes alone we can know or act. Edkins, a zealous Orientalist, thinks that " the Biblical account of man's naming the animals proves the divine origin of language." But nomenclature belongs to the sphere of scientific research, not of theological dogma. The truth folded in that Hebrew legend is the natural sovereignty of man as mind. Human intelligence does, in fact, give names to all creatures and forms by its own necessary and sovereign laws of expression. And then science analyzes the process, thus poetically signified as a whole, into its natural stages. In the same way we may allow the theory that speech is an "invention," if we divest it of individdal meaning; since humanity everywhere reaches the use of its own powers by a continuous discovery, which is of the nature of creation. This theory, therefore, like the other, attains an imperfect sense of the spontaneity of spiritual forces as affirming themselves in natural law. The progress of knowledge consists in the degrees of perception that the highest of these forces are essential to the evolution of all beneath them, the whole to every part. Behind the various schemes of invention, inspiration, its psycho- revelation, evolution, thus pointing to a common truth, lies the fact that language is ultimately referable to the necessary unity of essence with manifestation, and the consequent law that every mental act is also a bodily movement. The highest law of the uni- verse works in the lowest stages of growth. What has been calle$ an invention, or a revelation, is in fact given in the very existence of mind. Whatever may have been the nature of the first articulate sounds, they belong to the same organic and unconscious stages of expression with the still earlier language of gesture and feature. Vowels and consonants are not mere products of analysis. They must have been instinctively uttered in the infancy of man, long before they were combined into positive words. The "click languages" of Southern Africa represent a still more primitive expression. Through all such stages runs the one law that every bodily motion is the reverse side of a mental act. The inscrutable cosmic law of mind is essential to the growth of every germ of speech.

The capability of such primitive atoms of expression for development into conscious methods of communicating ideas Gesture and feature language. is seen in the great ingenuity of deaf-mutes in holding intercourse by means of gestures before being taught to converse by strict system; and in the preponderance of sign language in the eloquence of savage tribes. Such germs of speech, whether in gesture, facial change, emphasis, or tone, are retained through the whole course of human progress, and form important elements in the highest kinds of art.

Language, however, in its technical sense, begins in the use of sounds for the more or less conscious purpose Mystery of a beginning. of being understood. It is an ideal attraction. It involves social relations; it is a form of that profound desire of communion which animates all human growth. Here again we are thrown back on a remoteness so far beyond recall, that Rousseau might well confess himself unable to decide whether a social order already formed was more necessary for the construction of language, than was a language already discovered for the construction of society. Such the eternal irony that defeats our science in every search into the mystery of origin. But while we should gain nothing by resorting to a miraculous beginning, we should thereby make all science vain.

The phantasmal character of speech in these nebulous

Continuity of evolution

stages is in striking contrast with the immense periods of time which they undoubtedly involve. It is no more practicable to fix the moment when man became aware of using words for the purpose of being understood, than to find the same moment in the consciousness of a child. Yet it is certain that the organs of speech are long unconsciously directed towards that result.

Renan has emphasized the fact that these processes differ with different races.[1] But they are always preparatory to that epoch in the growth of every race when it conceives its own language as a whole, and deliberately sets about adapting it to its moral purposes : the birth-time at once of nationality and literature. And between the infancy of words and this entrance on their higher function of carrying arts, sciences, and faiths, evolution is continuous ; and in certain great respects the same for all races, however different the details, or numerous the points of growth.

Systems have been devised to show that an organic relation exists between each of the simplest pho

Theories of organic relations.

netic elements and a special form of emotion, or

c i ass o f conceptions.[2] But the beginnings of language could hardly have dealt in states of mind so simple and clear as this correspondence requires. More probably they expressed a confused mingling of emotions which no analysis of ours can possibly unravel. 

For similar reasons I hesitate to accept the current opinion that the earliest form of words is the mono-

Primitive syllabic,

syllabic. Primitive speech must have been mainly emotional or imitative. There seems to be no good reason for excluding polysyllabic forms from the earliest interjections; and it is impossible that sounds, imitations of animals should be other than for the most part polysyllabic. In every case, the length of the word would depend on the nature of the sound to be imitated, or the feeling to be expressed. African languages contain many imitative words in seven syllables. 1 Many of the agglutinated sentences of the Red Race represent an ear- lier stage of language than the monosyllabic. The simplest words may have resulted from analysis, or they may be the scattered debris of complex wholes. In a masterly essay on the Origin of Language, Bleek has developed the state- ment that an interjection was the product of an entire state of mind ; each of these primitive words being a complex of what may be called grammatical germs, which after- wards, by analysis, appear as elements of the sentence, or " parts of speech." It is certainly natural that the mind should at first see things as wholes, and itself act as a whole ; that verb, noun, qualifying particles, subject and object, should all be commingled in each effort at expres- sion. The rude instinct does not act as a body of distinct relations, but in instantaneous flashes of feelings, habits, perceptions, which the later reason cannot analyze. How natural that it should agglutinate the syllables that spring to birth out of the mysterious correspondence which unites the organs of speech with the movements of mind ! Even the more abstract mental processes are involved in this rudimentary period of language : for the crud- Compre _ est gestures and signs are evidently interpreted by hensivness the hearers as expressive of divers classes of emo- 1 Bleek, Origin of Language. 26 tions. The contents of such facial changes as physiognomical science is now tracing in the more advanced races indicate that an emotion, simple as it may seem, sways every feature to a special language, and combines these several syllables of expression in its single impulse. And why should not the language of the vocal organs have been equally complex with that of the facial ? Some analogous actions must have produced that agglutinative form of words which opens the history of language in the proper sense of the word.

It has been fully shown by Tylor that "the two great methods of stating verbal relations namely, by metaphor and by syntax belong to the infancy of expression, and are as much at home in the language of savages as in that of philosophers." l

Thus the definition of languages as the u living product of the whole inward man " 2 is true even of the earliest, whose complex units of speech contain in germ all the generic forces that are to be unfolded in the future structures of grammatical science. 3

"Roots" not the beginning of language, but a product.

The derivation of languages from the simplest verbal forms, or "roots," so general in modern linguistics, is therefore likely to mislead us. "Roots" can hardly have been the first forms of speech, which properly begins in such combinations as are necessary for the communication of feeling. It is extremely doubtful if any of the root syllables to which we reduce a language belonged to the primitive stock of actual words. They are either products of analysis, reached by stripping off prefixes and suffixes, and by other systematic methods of reducing words to an ideal nucleus which was probably never in use by itself; or else they result from

Primitive Culture.


This must hold equally of the ethical element. Yet Goldziher (Hebr. Mythol.) attempts to trace, not only distinct words, but even mythology as a whole, to an epoch in which he affirms this element to have been as yet non-existent. the fusion of earlier polysyllabic forms (like the Saxon lord from hlaford, or the English won't from will not). It is probable that the verbal deliquescence which we observe in later stages of inflected languages, dissolving out the pronouns and particles, tense and mood signs, that are imbedded in their grammatical forms, was equally active in melting down the combinations that made up the primitive words. Even such positively agglutinative structures as the Tartar and North American dialects mark distinctions between the syllables by emphasis, gesture, and tone, which are properly the beginning of disintegration. On the other hand, inflection also is but a finer and closer kind of agglutination, peculiar to certain race-qualities, and belongs probably to a much earlier stage than we are wont to suppose : nor is it necessarily preceded by a monosyllabic formation. Thus the disintegrative and constructive processes, so readily recognized in later stages of linguistic growth, probably go on side by side in very early ones. Man, the centre of polarities, at once destroyer and builder, is true to his functions even in these infantile motions of his thought. Mind and body are but sides of one and the same incessant interchange of waste and repair; the dual movement whence harmony issues, the Yin and Yang of progress.

Formation of "roots" by separation and fusion.

Such processes of separation and fusion, going on together, would obviously result in shortening words - from polysyllabic concretions into simple condensed forms, with breathing spaces, as it were, separation between them. It is probably in this way that many of the monosyllables were produced which we have agreed to call roots.

Doubts as to the usual division of languages.

Is there sufficient ground for dividing languages into a monosyllabic, an agglutinative, and an inflected stage? Do even the Aryan tongues afford the evidences of such a process? Humboldt has indeed pointed out certain Australian dialects as originally monosyllabic; and, not content with stating that a great many African tongues are so, adduces the Shemitic to show that such simplest roots usually express the most primitive ideas and relations.^ But these data, so far as they are real, may be explained by the emphasis naturally given to such relations, which would tend to keep these terms apart from others, or more rapidly to concentrate their elements by fusion.

Languages, supposed to represent the monosyllabic stage, are either found fully capable of combining syllables of sound; or their extreme simplicity proves to be a secondary result, instead of an original quality ; or else their monosyllabism, however stiff, is far from belonging to a low stage of linguistic progress.

Evolution of speech a matter of race.

In fact, the steps by which speech shall be evolved Evolution in any people are in many important respects a question of race. A slow and difficult utterance, of confined to articulations incapable of organic relation and devoid of grammar, would prove a race to be endowed only with crude instincts but little above the brute. But such incapacity is hardly to be found in any language; and the Chinese, which has been supposed to approach it most nearly, is, as we shall see, altogether out of the category.

Onomatopœia not the source of words

The derivation of speech from imitative processes alone -has recently been argued ingeniously by Mr. F. W. Farrar. Onomatopœia is offered, in accordance of with Aristotle's dictum that "names are imitations," as the source of all those "sensible images" by which thoughts are named. Certain practical objections to the theory are admitted in his argument, and especially the impossibility of ascertaining what words are originally imitative and what are not; the same animal cry or other

See Benlœw, Aper(7t, &c. , pp. i6, 17. sound being, as we constantly see, expressed by very different vocables for different minds. But a further difficulty lies in the fact that onomatopoeia is so often the result of a conscious word-building, which belongs to the latest instead of the earliest phenomena of language. It is a curious commentary on the theory before us, that words of imitative origin are actually less frequent in languages admitted to be very old than in others that are young, living, and productive. It abounds in German, and is scarcely discernible in Chinese. The lively Greeks used it most in ancient times, the older Shemites least. Benlœw, after an extended comparison of tongues in this respect, even concludes that this feature is a pure result of civilization. For my own mind no theory can possibly be adequate which so imperfectly recognizes the nature and resources of spontaneity in the formation of words, as to refer them wholly to a mimetic tendency. But granting a fair amount of influence to this tendency in primitive speech, we find in it no evidence of monosyllabic origins; the sounds of animals and natural phenomena being for the most part unsuited for human imitation in such simple ways.[3] As a part of the natural effort to express thoughts and things by suggestive representations or images, so to speak, addressed to the ear, while words are as yet lacking, the mimetic tendency corresponds to picture-writing for the eye, and testifies to the primitive powers of imagination and creative art.


Supposed inorganic nature of the Chinese.

Such peculiarities of the Chinese language as its rigid monosyllabism, admitting only a vowel preceded by supposed a consonant, and sometimes followed by a nasalization;[4] the absence of distinctions of number, gender, or mood in the structure of the words, and their grammatical homogeneousness and convertibility, hinting of the lowest forms of organic life, have led to a general belief that it represents a primitive stage in the evolution of speech.[5] Even Renan, who doubts the precedence of monosyllabism to agglutination, declares that the Chinese absolutely lacks a grammar, and that the only thing it has in common with Sanscrit, that perfection of inflected speech, is the end to be attained. The comparative fewness of words,[6] supplemented by varieties of tone, and the great number of meanings for which many of them are obliged to do duty, have been regarded as so many distinct proofs that we have here a language crystallized in its first stages, and transmitted unchanged. " The self-isolating quality of its sounds resists all attempts at combination, derivation, formal distinction of the parts of the sentence, or of the signs of grammatical relations."[7] Edkins believes that an original monosyllabic language, common to all mankind, preceded the "dispersion of tongues," and that the Chinese migration retained these older forms.

It is not primitive. The roots show this.

That, even apart from Biblical deductions, the above it is not theory of the Chinese language will be confirmed by modern science, can by no means be regarded as certain. Its very monosyllabism has been strongly disputed. Remusat denied it, and Meadows[8] asserts that nearly the whole spoken language consists of compound words. Each element of the composition is, it is true, a pure word ; but this aptness for combination at least allows the supposition that the elements themselves may have been fused from more complex forms. The language abounds in verbal coalescences, and in many the original words are not easily distinguished. 1 Bazin, the pupil of Julien, at one time maintained that literary Chinese was the contraction of a polysyllabic vulgar tongue. Whatever estimate be put on these opinions, there are many reasons which make it difficult to believe that the actual root-sounds represent an early epoch of speech. There is nothing primitive about them. 2 With few exceptions they neither suggest imitation of natural sounds nor typical relations of the human organs to special forms of natural feeling. 3 It is perhaps true that it would require a more subtle physiology than we now possess to trace such relations in Chinese words. But, on the other hand, instead of proving that to every elementary sound a special meaning is prescribed by organic law, the facts of language seem almost to indicate that every sound may become the symbol of every idea. " Why should the Chinese express greatness by the syllable fa, the Aryan by ma, the Semite by ga ? " 4 To all appearance, certainly, the Chinese roots are as artificial as can well be conceived, and their simple and regular structure strongly suggests elaboration for purposes of compact and terse expression. 5 Such expression is a marked trait of the national mind, and its influence is everywhere visible in the history of the language as a whole. There is no reason why words should not share the impulse. Their uniformity is the strongest evidence that they are a product of national art. So strikingly do the supposed " roots " differ from the earliest vocables of other races, that they form a positive instance of that specialism in races, which is likely to be substituted for

Bastian, Peking, p. 54.

Edkins ascribes the defect of consonantal endings to the falling off of certain final mutes during the last twelve hundred years in the North and West of China, which he finds still extant in Kwan-tung and Fo-kien, and in the old national poetry. (Internat. Congr. of Orientalists ; London, 1874.)

St. Denys is, I think, peculiar in his views of the abundance of imitative forms. (Poesies des T'ang, p. 95.)

See Benlaw, p. 118.

The English language illustrates this tendency to simplify and shorten words. the application of a single formula of evolution to all varieties of human speech. That the demands of so vast a civilization should have produced so scanty a vocabulary needs some other explanation than a supposed entire dependence on its primitive resources alone.[9]

The Gram-mar not inorganic

Quite as far as the vocables of the Chinese from an inorganic condition, are its grammatical forms. Whether we accept or reject the prediction of Mr. Lay,[10] it will very soon be matter of surprise that any one should ever have doubted the identity of its structure with that of other tongues ; it is certain that in many of its apparent peculiarities this language bears witness to the universality of those logical processes to which we are wont to refer the laws of grammatical science. The use of one word for a great variety of meanings is common in the Sanscrit and Egyptian, and well known to all modern languages. Syntactical forms are

Grammat-ical ex-pedients.

Wanting to thc Chinesc, being represented by the position of words in the sentence, and the tones of the voice. Even if it might seem that delicate shades of feeling and thought were not as expressible by such means as by inflection in other languages, we must remember that the national mind has here created an instrument suited to its own genius, and that it has perhaps left all the more room for the action of such powers as inference and association in interpreting its rigid words. But this is by no means the whole. These expedients of position and tone are well known to linguistic types of a high order. The English readily marks in these ways the different uses of the same word for noun and verb: as in pronouncing the phrase, with réason do we reàson thus; or for noun and adverb thus, he does wéll who opens a wēll; or for infinitive, imperative, and indicative, as in learn how to leárn, by resolving that you will leàrn. The English also indicates by position whether a noun is subject or object in a sentence.

It is a law familiar to grammarians that the inflectional stage of language is transient, and develops into another in which the structure of a sentence depends no longer on the mere forms of words, but on the logical relations of the ideas which they represent. Thus, in the later English, inflection has been reduced to a minimum: a word is invariable, its special meaning and force being shown by its position, according to the natural syntax of the idea of which it forms a part. This structure, which so closely resembles the Chinese, is in modern languages the sign of advanced intellectual growth; and, as a result of the adaptation of speech to the growing demands of civilization, it enables us to comprehend how large a scope of expression may be secured by the uninflected syllables of that apparently inorganic tongue. We may easily exaggerate the importance of inflection in the expression of the relations of thought. Some agglutinative languages, like the Quichua, are said to accomplish this by means of particles simply added to words, with more precision and compactness than the inflected European.[11] Even the gesture-language of deaf-mutes, which has no "grammar," conveys ideas of relation with surprising ease. Speech is everywhere but the instrument of a force beyond itself, and all grammatical forms hasten, as if gifted with insight, to subserve the spiritual demands for communion and growth, of which they are the product.

The Chinese has special auxiliary words that mark its tenses. It distinguishes cases by prepositions, has a full supply of pronouns, three ways of denoting numerals, and a special sign for the plural, as well as the device of doub- ling words for the same purpose.[12] For some of these objects it has transformed certain verbs and nouns into particles or qualifying signs, thenceforth called "empty" words, in distinction from these which retain their independent force, and are hence called "full."[13]

How ambiguities are checked

It knows how to check the ambiguities arising from multifold meanings of the same word. Many terms have distinctive force; particles that always give a negative, or a possessive, or a verbal sense to the word they qualify,—particles transitive or copulative. Even the pauses and end of a sentence are marked by words or sounds, analogous to our rising and falling accents.

The special sense in which a word is to be understood is further indicated by combining a general term with the special one whose meaning is to be defined; by bringing together synonyma to direct the mind to their common meaning, or by symbolic compounds, neither of which alone could express the idea,—as "head-eye" (overseer), "forest-king" (tiger). All these ways are familiar to English use. Determinatives are added to specify classes. Numbers are affixed to designate wholes; as "the four seas;" "the hundred grains;" "the hundred families," or whole nation. These are all products of grammatical elaboration, and show how very far the language is from primitive and inorganic.

Uses of the "tones."

Among such products we may count the expedient of determinative tones, by which the four hundred and fifty monosyllables are multiplied threefold, and materials afforded for combination to the extent of supplying with sounds the fifty thousand signs in the Kang-hi Lexicon. This remarkable expedient stands almost alone among linguistic constructions, if we regard the nature of the attempt, or the scale on which it is applied. Such an immense and varied use of intonations which in other races are expressive of emotions, purely for phonetic needs, belongs, of course, to China alone. It is difficult to accept any exact period for its beginning.[14] We should say of the Chinese tone-language that neither Shemitic alphabet nor Aryan inflection is a more positive mark of continued culture than this artificial interweaving of the principle of separating tone from feeling with the whole speech of a people. Observe how entirely it is in accordance with the national genius for minute detail in all kinds of сonstruction. There are eight or nine of these tones in the Southern dialects, and five in the Mandarin. A natural expedient of monosyllabism, and generally found connected with it, tones are here worked out in so systematic a form as scarcely to suggest such simple relations; and the result is a monument at once of national receptivity and art.

Divination of meaning

Finally, the hearer supplies defects of grammatical construction by inference and association, based on a common stock of traditions and customs. This is of made necessary by an elliptical style deficient in conjunctive particles, which are the articulation of the body of speech. Thus linguistic divination has been elaborated to an extent which shows what a magnetic force may be reached by mutual understanding in a great and ancient people. Scholars like Julien admit the absolute necessity of minute acquaintance with national habits and history to enable them to interpret a sign-language which does but hint its meaning. There can be no evidence of maturity in a language more striking than the instinctive supply of its unexpressed logical connections, by long practice, out of the associations of the popular mind. Humboldt has ingeniously suggested that the very meagreness of the grammar increases the keenness of instinct in recognizing these connections ; while a more elaborate ayntax may tend to mystify or deaden such a sense.

Inorinorganic elements.

After all these expedients, there remains a large inorganic element in the stiff isolation of Chinese words. It is in contrast with the social fusibility of the race, and their defective individuality ; but it corresponds with the measured uniformity of their mental action, and the habit of seeing things in detail more than in wholes. It illustrates the tendency of mechanical routine to atomize the mind, substituting the mere succession or repetition of forms for the perception of relations. The ways in which this defect is counteracted being so purely matters of national feeling and education, our acquaintance with the literature must be of slow and difficult growth. We have already noticed the imperfection of the Chinese Lack of sensQ oi soiiud. On that mystic world, intermediate interest in between thought and concrete form, the Hindu pauses, allured by its far reaches and hints of the infinite. Notwithstanding his dislike of analysis, he has pressed to its ultimate elements and constructed his wonderful alphabetic speech. But the Chinese skips such spheres in his haste for the written sign. His interest in sound is confined to its moral uses on the one hand, and its concrete materials on the other. No people has so earnestly preached the educational uses of music, nor sought so indefatigably to make effective actual music. The number of instruments mentioned in their old books is astonishing.2 In this ethical direction is their ideal attraction. Yet the study of the art and science itself is in its rudiments.

  • See also Bastian's Peking, p. 532.

2 Dennys's lecture in Journ. 0/ N, Ch. Br, of R, A. S., No. viii. Causes the

Sound has fared in its literary precisely as in its musical relations. The instrument, whether as written sign or musical invention, has received all attention; while sound itself has never been resolved into to its elements, either as words or as tones. Vocal analysis has never reached an alphabet ; ^ though the words can hardly be called syllables in our sense, since they are not combinations of primary sounds. In what way they are associated with the meanings they bear, we as yet have little or no knowledge. The origination of words is far more obscure than that of written signs. Such primitive relations have been mainly effaced in the present language of the Chinese.^

signs com-

As in their speech the imitation of natural tones is no longer to be recognized, so in their writing the rude picture of the object has mainly vanished through successive changes of form. Yet the meaning of these " ideographs " remains fixed ; they stand not for mere sounds, though so extensively employed as phonetics, but for realities also ; and every new idea requires a new combination of strokes, or compound figure, as it would require a new alphabetic compound with us. While therefore every old type holds its identity, subject only to such changes as art or convenience may dictate, great numbers have been added from time to time.^ This is the secret of their immense quantity as compared with the deficiency of words. It is harder for a Chinese to make new words than to paint new characters, partly because of his special propensity to hand-work, partly because the play of his organs of speech is limited more narrowly than those of most other races, and partly because the rigidity of the signs began at an early period to check that fusion

The Buddhist alphabet for transcribing Sanscrit words is a special instrument for that purpose, and is not in general use. (De Rosny, Chinese Grammar, p. 45.) Edkins has made interesting researches in this direction. See his Introduction. Williams's great Dictionary (1874) contains 12,000 characters. and combination of the sounds they represented, by which alone the vocabulary could have been enlarged. To devise a new picture was a simple matter; but the art of forming new monosyllables was a lost one. Therefore, with the exception of a certain amount of the fusion above mentioned, he takes merely the old stock of words to express the new conceptions. The word chi is employed for 212 signs, ching for 113, and fou for 138. This defect of syllables is wonderfully compensated, as we shall hereafter see, by the extended uses of a written language of endless resource.


The Written Signs.

Before indicating these uses, I proceed to trace, as far as I may, the universal laws and processes to which Chinese graphic system invites our attention.

Origin of art of writing; early stages of imitation. The ideograph.

The wonderful art of communicating thought by written signs has three stages,—the ideograph, the rebus, the alphabet. This process is a pressure of materials from below, through attractions to an ideal above. It begins in the instinctive use of the nearest means for bringing thoughts to the eye. The savage not only cuts figures on bark to inform his tribe of his doings; he tattoos himself with images of his totems, from the mere love of reproducing that for other eyes of which his own mind is full. On the Siberian rocks are found rudely-cut pictures of men, animals, arrows, huts, with other sprawling signs, some of which appear like a looped and cursive writing, though of no known class, while others, equally unrelated, are curiously enough mixed with Arabic numerals and Roman letters.[15] This last fact renders their antiquity very suspicious. More significant are the rude pictures of expeditions or exploits painted on buffalo robes by the North American tribes, which are real forms of inventive symbolism, and point to an instinct of interpretation akin to the fine scent and keen logic of the Indian senses.[16] These are the hieroglyphics of the wild; some of them as well done as the Egyptian, and far better than the old Chinese picture-signs. To these goes the complex experience of the nomad in definite wholes, familiar to his fellows.[17] These are his simple science and his intuitive poetry: their metaphoric meaning is his natural history, raised into the language of feeling and imagination, and the morality of fable. He has done more than picture objects: this is dramatic combination. To find mere copying without conscious symbolism, we must, perhaps, go back to the "Stone Epoch," in which quite respectable figures of animals are found, though wanting afterwards in the "Bronze."[18] It is at least a poetic, if not positively historic, theory of the origin of the Gaelic alphabet, the letters of which were named from plants or trees, that these characters represented symbolical knots and ties formed from branching twigs, by which knowledge was conveyed, and which had been the mystic hieroglyph of the druid and the bard.[19] Many have questioned the opinion of Oppert, that all the cuneiform signs (as well as the Egyptian and Chinese) are transformed ideograms, on the ground that this would leave no room for the element of arbitrary invention; but there is quite evidence enough to prove that, as a whole, ideographic evolution is the main factor in the written languages of mankind.

The quipus or knotted cords, used in primitive China, and at a more advanced stage in Peru, are an appeal to colors for picturing thought; of all methods of expressing grammatical relations the most imperfect, but curiously combining with its limitations a species of arbitrary selection which allies it even with the phonetic stage of written speech. We note in these earlier expedients of language the large function and discipline required of the memory, as well as of the imagination.

Transition to phonetics. The Rebus.

The transition from imitative to phonetic signs is a very great and rapid step : since it opens the use of the sign in the pure service of sound; that is, as written speech in the proper sense; thus proving that the whole communicable life of man can be represented to the eye. This step, however continuous as respects the use of materials, is animated by a force of tendency for which no materials can account. It involves aspirations to a fresh ideal, and it is taken very early. In the New World, as in Egypt, it begins in the use of images of things to represent syllabic portions of personal names, for which of course no direct imitative signs were possible. Mexican picture-writing abounds in this element: figures of animals, flowers, stones, plumes, are placed beside a human head, their names yielding the syllabic sounds required to designate the person intended.[20] They are true rebuses: picture-signs for sound, as ideographs are picture-signs of thoughts. Ruder than the rudest playing cards, and not unlike them, they reach the widest scope of polysyllabism and the largest mnemonic uses.

This step is perhaps involved in the growth of individuality to a demand for those means of personal designation which mere object-writing cannot supply. Sound, the harbinger of fame, requires its own special servitors. It would be worth inquiry, whether, as in Mexico and Egypt, so also in China, where individuality is so feeble, the phonetic sign began in these personal requirements. It began at all events very early to be associated with the ideographic, as determinative of its special sound in the given case.[21]

Combination of phonetic with picture-signs.

All the great ideographic systems, when they first appear in history, already contain a mixture of the two kinds of picture-writing. To the Egyptian, Japanese, and Chinese, we must now add the older (Anarian) cuneiform characters of Western Asia,[22] as a wonderfully transformed system of picture-signs, with phonetic adaptations. It reached the same stage with the Chinese, having a syllabary, but not an alphabet ; an interesting fact when connected with the possible origin of this system also in the Mongoloid, sometimes called "Turanian," races.[23] The proper name for these transitional systems would seem to be ideo-phonetic. What monuments of man's patient endeavor to combine and develop, as well as interpret, the forms of Nature for the clothing of his inner life!

Transition to alphabet

The third grand step in written language, from phonetic signs to alphabetic, consists in reducing the great variety of such images to a select few, each appropriated to a special elementary sound. All upward movement involves ideal attractions. Man has listened to the instrument of his thought till he has caught its ultimate component parts, and must combine them freely for himself. 1 His selection of signs corresponds with the analytic nature of the process by which those ultimate elements have been reached; its principle being to use a sign of whose existing name the sound to be represented forms simply the initial or the end.[24] This " acrological " process, by which the ideogram loses all of its correspondent sound but the opening or the close, has an intermediate stage before reaching the pure alphabet. Thus the Japanese, Mexicans, Assyrians, stripped it of its termination only, leaving the opening consonant and vowel, and forming syllabaries mixed with alphabetic sounds; while the Egyptian and Shemitic languages struck away all but the simple initial—what we should call the letter sound—and formed alphabets proper.^ Yet all alphabets have not been the

Sanscrit and Shemitic alphabets.

result of this natural evolution. To the Sanscrit, which is the product of an educated class, it has no application. Of the Shemitic, too, it has been strongly denied, yet by no means with equal force. Whether those mysterious Phoenician signs, mothers of the Hebrew and of so many other alphabets of the civilized world, are derived, as the most competent scholars now assert,^ from the Egyptian hieratic (or simplified picture-signs), or were invented by some one or in some way not now known,* they were at least acrologically " baptized." They have received the initial sounds of the names by which they are known ; and these names represented objects, of which the sign was either the altered image or the fancied resemblance.^ Renan goes further, and thinks that "the fact of the forms of these letters representing what their names signify is sign of a proceeding analogous to that of the hieroglyphic writings.

See Congris Iniernat. (ff Oriental, (1873), II. 106-115; also, De Rosny, Ecrit. Figur.

3 See Lenormant, Anc. Hist, of the East, II. 208; Maspero, p. 600; De Roug^, Acad. FranQ. 1874 ; Ebers, Egypten und die Bilcher Moses, pp. 146-151 ; Ewald, Gesch. d. Volks Israel, I. 78.

Wuttke, Zeitschr. der D. M. G., 1857.

Gesenius, Hebrew Grammar; Furst's Hebrew Lexicon.

Hist. des Langues Semitiques, I. p. 112. Of course the number of names suited for acrological use renders the choice somewhat arbitrary. It is

Continuous development of writing.

here that writing begins to be conventional rather than organic, and so falls into the position of a ready servant to thought, instead of a controlling mould for it. The estimate of the pictures as natural copies of things must have become measurably lost before the purely conventional signs we call alphabets got constructed arbi- trarily for linguistic purposes, without regard to imitation. Here the way opens for inventors, and alphabets have in fact been constructed for semi-civilized tribes by ingenious men.^ But this has usually been for a specific purpose. The formation of an alphabet without use of pre-existing forms must be rarer still, and its propagation extremely difficult.^ Ordinarily the alphabet is evolved from picture- signs. The primer tells their acrological secret : " A is an apple y' &c.

The whole art of writing is thus a continuous evolution, every stage of which as mystery of progress involves an upward, ideal attraction, — from the first tattooing or cut- ting of the human skin, to these fine products of analysis, the alphabets of civilized thought. As the phonetic stage continues in combination with the picture-signs, so it laps over into the alphabetic, as for a long period in Egypt ; but the tendency is for the latter to supplant it, as its perfected form.

Whether that step in analysis, of which alphabets are the result, is taken or not, the ideographs themselves ideograph- do not fail of development under the shaping hands ^ '^^^^"ges. of convenience or beauty. This can be checked only by an invention like that of printing, which would also tend to prevent the formation of a pure alphabet by holding fast

^ Mahaffy, Prolegont. to Anc. Hist.., p. 119. 2 The famous Mceso-Gothic characters of the Bible of Ulphilas were founded on Greek and Latin letters. the mind within the syllabic signs. The fact of such an invention may help to explain the failure of the Chinese to reach this final stage. But ideographic changes go on to a great extent, notwithstanding printing. The original figure gradually becomes effaced; just as words lose their primitive interjectional or mimetic forms, and pass into more or less conventional syllables, whose origin is inscrutable without deep historical research. Thus the Egyptian hieroglyph became first a hieratic, then a demotic or cursive script, the former being simply its characteristic part used for the whole, and the latter a still more radical transformation for rapid writing; and these changes took place in remote ages.[25] The Chinese cursive is analogous to the Egyptian hieratic, and, though much more complicated, sometimes even more fully effaces the rude ideograph than either of the later Egyptian styles efface the more elegant hieroglyph. The cuneiform writing is in a style analogous to the latest Chinese stage, but so utterly non-ideographic in form that, but for the recent discovery of some of the original picture-signs side by side with the nail-like images of them,[26] it would not be believed that the latter could have originated in this way. The time and manner of the change lie far back in some unrecorded mystery of human demand and supply.

Can be studied in the Chinese signs.

Chinese ideography, on the other hand, can be studied in all its phases: so distinctly has the national genius for graphic art expressed itself, and so little has it been checked, even by printing, in the transformation of its instruments.[27] The living language, too, with its literary treasures, makes all stages of past construction an open book. And we are spared the long series of patient and minute studies which the genius of Champollion and Rawlinson would have found inadequate to open Egypt and Assyria, but for the famous trilingual tablets of Rosetta and Behistun.

If the acquisition of such a language of symbols requires more time and labor than we can expend upon it, we can yet recognize the ingenuity implied in the six classes into which these figures have long been divided. They repre- sent forms of objects and symbols of abstractions. They combine these images to suggest other ideas and objects. They vary the attitudes of the same figure to convey contrasts of meaning ; and they lend themselves immeas- urably to phonetic uses, both with and without explanatory additions.

The startling discovery of this symbolism of a great civilization, two centuries ago, led Pere Amyot to Effect of call it "the picturesque alphabet of the arts and *^'^'^" ^ A ^ covery on sciences." Its uniqueness has grown more evi- Europeans. dent with time. Of purely native origin, it is a genuine triumph of the concrete genius of the Yellow Race ; yet there is scarcely a system of ideography in the world with which the identification of these signs has not been attempted.

The natural hope of connecting them with the oldest Egyptian proved a failure, in the fanciful analogies Theories of of De Guignes, Amyot, and Kidd.[28] The Chinese figures are more practical and less mythological; they have pure allegorical combinations, and none that unite animal and human forms; they are ruder than the hieroglyphics, where ideography is in its bloom. All these differences point to the fact that the one system came from the art-culture of a priestly caste, and that of the other from the practical needs of an industrial people; though it is probable that, in their more antique forms, the hieroglyphs were employed for the ordinary affairs of life.[29] The very few ideographic resemblances of Chinese and cuneiform afford little ground for comparison. The exclusive use of the wedge-shape is of itself a radical distinction.[30] The Chinese signs have been connected even with the Mexican, which have apparently more affinity with the picture-writings of Indian tribes. More marvellous still are the Christian antitypes traced by the Jesuit fathers in these old mysteries of the illumined pagans of Cathay. Fouquet treated the whole Shi-king as symbolical of the life of Christ, and even found the cross and nails figured in the signs. Cibot classified them in the same interest as dogmatic, ecclesiastical, typical, and prophetic. Amyot found the Trinity in the triangular sign for union, and Lucifer in that for evil, composed of two figures, meaning "lifted up" and "novelty;" a compound of mouth, eight, and a vessel referred to the number of persons in the ark; "to show" and "trees" meant the Adamitic trees of knowledge and life; "death" and a "woman" was an allusion to the sin of Eve. All this typical writing was of course invented (or revealed) before this Deluge, and transmitted by Noah and his sons direct to Egypt and China. The assured belief of the author is disturbed only by the fear that his theory will be assailed on the ground of the "confusion of tongues;" but not at all by any suspicion that the ideograph is too natural a form of primitive writing to require being traced to one centre for mankind, even though that centre be the all-sufficient family of "Noe."

Our chief interest is to trace the finer aesthetic element that characterizes this art of expression by written signs in Page:Oriental Religions - China.djvu/453 Page:Oriental Religions - China.djvu/454 Page:Oriental Religions - China.djvu/455 Page:Oriental Religions - China.djvu/456 Page:Oriental Religions - China.djvu/457 Page:Oriental Religions - China.djvu/458 Page:Oriental Religions - China.djvu/459 Page:Oriental Religions - China.djvu/460 Page:Oriental Religions - China.djvu/461 Page:Oriental Religions - China.djvu/462 vast historical and religious records. And we are thus forced to ascribe to the Chinese,—in explanation of their fertility in every kind of literature in spite of such defects in their instrument,—even greater productive energies than those of that wonderful people to whom the civilization of the classical world, and the shaping of its great literary instrument, the alphabet, is now primarily referred.


  1. This is denied in Goldziher's Hebrew Mythology, ch. i. (1877), from the stand-point of cosmical mythology; but the argument appears quite insufficient to disprove special psychological distinctions.
  2. See Hegel's Theory of the Emotional Meaning of the Vowel Sounds, and Grimm's Scale of Sound and Color Correspondences, given in Benlœw's Aperçu de la. Science Compar. des Langues (1872), pp. 104, 105. Also the curious speculations in the Preface to Richardson's English Dictionary.
  3. The very large ground occupied by this source of words is shown in the Introductory Essay to Wedgewood's Dict. of Engl. Etymology.
  4. The only exception is singularly enough the word eul ("two," and "ear").
  5. Müller, Orig. of Lang., p. 287.
  6. Four hundred and fifty in the Mandarin (or general) dialect, though in special provincial ones old endings and quasi inflections increase the number to nine hundred. (De Rosny, Grammar, p. 45.)
  7. Schott, Chinesische Sprachlehre, p. 9.
  8. Notes on the Government and People of China (1847), p. 16.
  9. Legge says that the language has so changed since the age of the Tcheou that the Shu-king rhymes cannot now be found. Edkins has shown numerous "letter changes" in the pronunciation of the roots, both in ancient and modern times. The actual diversity of dialects in China indicates that the ingenuity of the people expends itself on these transformations rather than on inventing new words.
  10. Chinese as they Are, ch. xvii.
  11. Markham's Grammar.
  12. See Julien's Syntaxe Nouv. de la Langue Chin. (1869); Summers's Rudiments of the Chin. Lang. (London, 1864).
  13. Hooclacque, La Linguistique (1976).
  14. The Chinese ascribe its introduction to Buddhist monks in the time of the Tsi and Leang dynasties (Schott, p. 49); but we cannot suppose it to have been imposed at a given period by invention, and without root in the previous habits of the people.
  15. See De Rosny, Archives Palæographiques, I. 143.
  16. In the Indian petition to the President of the United States in 1849, the unity of purpose of the seven chiefs is expressed by lines passing from one to the others, and their persons by the animals from which their names were derived (Schoolcraft). Something similar is said to have been preserved in Egyptian inscriptions.
  17. Rude tribes of Central Africa communicate in this way. De Rosny, Écritures Figuratives, &c. (1870) p. 38.
  18. Lubbock, Prim. Cond. of Man, pp. 28-30 (Am. ed.).
  19. Logan, Scottish Gael.
  20. See De Rosny and Kingsborough.
  21. Champollion imagined that the "whole phonetic system of the East" was the invention of "some ingenious person, who thereby changed the face of the world and determined the destiny of mankind"! Probably the real relation to persons involved in phonetic signs was of a very different nature.
  22. Wrongly called "arrow-head," the wedge-shapes of which they are composed being simply the convenient stamp of the graver's tool. In the older rudimentary forms this shape does not appear. (Ménant, Épigr. Assyr. p. 48.) Maspero (Hist. Anc. de l'Orient, 1875) gives an interesting description of this writing.
  23. See Lenormant, Anc. Hist, of the East,, I. 433; Ménant; De Rosny, Écrit. Fig. The question of a "Turanian" origin is still open, and is being discussed with much warmth. See also Lenormant, Langue Prim. de la Chaldée (1875).
  24. This is true also of the Egyptian, the Persian, and even the Buddhist-Chinese for transcribing Sanscrit sounds.
  25. The demotic was in use in the time of Herodotus.
  26. Ménant, Épigr., p. 51.
  27. Lettre de Pekin, a rare old book (1773), in which odd theories are expounded, and specimens of all kinds of Chinese writing given.
  28. The Lettre de Pekin gives De Guignes's system. As he used the worthless authority of Horapollo, so Amyot trusted a similar witness in Kircher. See also Notes and Queries; Kidd's China, pp. 10, 68.
  29. Chabas in Lepsius's Zeitsch. für Aegypt. Spr., Juli, 1869.
  30. Pauthier worked out an old theory that the cuneiform signs were simply the Chinese, with their lines turned from the upright to the horizontal. (Jour. As. Ap., 1868.)