Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/116

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CHAPTER III.

CHINESE OPINIONS ABOUT THE
ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE LANGUAGE.

Let us now go on to consider some of the views held by the Chinese about the first beginnings of their language. And the question of the origin and development of their own language is for most native writers that of the origin and development of human speech generally. Now it must be owned that, so far at least as their literature is known to us, Chinese philosophers have not treated this subject with any degree of full or accurate thought. Yet it were rash to say, as some have said, that the problem of the origin of speech never occurred to them, for we have reasons neither few nor slight for thinking that it did occur to them, and that they have had on it, at times at least, decided opinions. On the one hand we know that the Chinese hold their own language in very high esteem, and on the other that they have composed, as we have seen, many works treating of the history, structure, sound, and meaning of its written characters. Thus there is at least a certain amount of probability in favour of the assumption that the question of the origin of speech had also occurred to them. And not only this, but moreover we do actually find scattered here and there in Chinese literature various and independent statements of opinion on the subject, though there is not, so far as the present writer knows, any treatise devoted to it specially. It is the aim of the present chapter to bring together a few of these native statements of opinion about the birth and early growth of language spoken and written, and specially such as may be compared with the theories of western authors on the same subject.