Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/118

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104
Origin and Early History of the Language.

women had at one time been brought over. The speech of these was unknown to the Greeks, to whom the strangers appeared to be chattering like birds — talking like doves. When the women learned to talk Greek they were said to utter human speech. The same author says of the swift-footed, reptile-eating Troglodytes, that they did not use a language like any other but cheaped like bats. So also Æschylus makes the Greek Clytemnestra say of her words to the Trojan Cassandra, "But if she has not, like a swallow, an unknown barbarous voice, I, speaking within her comprehension, persuade her by speech." We are told, moreover, that the Greeks, to whom also all foreigners were "barbarians," did not speak of the "dialects" of barbarians but only of their "tongues."[1]

The chief reason, perhaps, why Chinese philosophers have not discussed the origin of speech in special treatises and of set purpose, is that they regard the faculty of speech as the natural result of man's existence, as inherent in his constitution. What may be considered as the orthodox and national opinion on the subject is that man speaks, just as he eats, and drinks, and sleeps, and loves, and fears, from an instinct which forms part of his nature. "That man speaks is nature's work," the Chinese would repeat. There is nothing divine or superhuman in the fact, nor anything which shews that the faculty was one attained by slow degrees and after many vague attempts. One native philosopher describes man as speaking by breathing forth the air contained in the mouth and throat by movements of the lips and tongue. The act of speaking is like playing a flute. Man's mouth and throat are the musical instrument, and the movements of the tongue are the play of the fingers on the holes. The power of speaking grows and fails with the growth and decay of man's vital powers, and these need food and drink for their maintenance. Hence it cannot be that the dead speak or that ghosts wail and cry by night.[2] Another philosopher explains sound as

  1. Herod., B. ii. 55, 57; B. iv. 183; Æsch. Agam. 1. 1017-9; Clem. Alex. Str., L. i., chap. xxi., sec. 142.
  2. Wang Chung in the 論衡, chap. xx.