Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/117

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103
Origin and Early History of the Language.

To begin at the beginning, the theory that the first human beings who lived on this earth were speechless does not seem to have ever prevailed in China. The books and common traditions of the country generally represent those unknown creatures as a turpe, but seldom or never as a mutum pecus. They are supposed to have herded together in dens or caves, living on the natural fruits of the earth, knowing nothing and caring little about anything beyond their daily round of wants as they arose and were satisfied. They were not, however, like the beasts among which they lived and which they hunted for food and clothing, mere dumb animals. On the contrary, most native authors who have written on the subject expressly maintain that man spoke from the beginning, that speech arose when human life began in the world.[1] Han Wên-kung, however, says that people, that is the Chinese, were at first like birds, and beasts, and barbarians. They did not know how to grow grain, and build houses, to love their parents and honour their superiors, to nourish their living and bury their dead, until sages arose to teach them.[2] Here we find barbarians classed with birds and beasts which have not the faculty of speech. But from all time the Chinese seem to have regarded foreigners as little above the brute creatures, and some authors expressly state that barbarians — the I and Ti (夷狄) — are as birds and beasts. Hence we find the character for Dog often used as the classifier of characters which represent the names of foreign tribes. The speech of these also is compared to the shrill scream of the shrike and the calls of other birds. The people of Yang-shan in Kuangtung were said by Han Wên-kung to have the speech of birds and the faces of barbarians, and they were to him barbarians. In like manner to other nations, for example the ancient Greeks, the speech of foreigners sounded like the utterances of birds and beasts. Herodotus explains the legend of the doves at Dodona by the supposition that Egyptian

  1. See e.g. the Preface to the 檢篇韻貫珠集; cf. also Sung Lien's Preface to the "Hung-wu-chêng-yun."
  2. Collected Works, chap. xx. This opinion is found also in the works of other authors and is based on semi-historical legends.