Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/120

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Origin and Early History of the Language.

are briefly described by an early author. Poetry, he says, is emotional thought expressed in language. The feelings are moved within man and find vent in words. The deficiencies of the latter are supplied by ejaculations and sighs, the defects of which call for utterance long drawn out in song, and, this not sufficing, the hands wave and the feet move to and fro.[1] As we know, the cries and gesticulations of children and animals are the spontaneous expression of their emotions when stirred. From such cries arose rhythmical vocal utterances which afterwards developed into poetry. In general, writes Han Wen-kung, objects produce sound only when disturbed. Plants and trees are mute until they are agitated by the wind, when they yield sound, and so is it with water. Metal and stone are mute, but they give sound when struck, and it is the same as to man with speech. When he cannot get his own way he speaks; he sings his anxiety and weeps his sorrow. All the utterances which proceed from his mouth are the result of his being disturbed. Speech is the quintessence of human sounds, and literary composition is the quintessence of speech.[2] It was perhaps from the perception of the emotional nature of early speech that some Chinese writers were led to the theory that their spoken language had its origin in music. By this, however, nothing more may be meant than that man's emotions expressed themselves first in inarticulate musical cadences, and that from these he gradually proceeded to articulate significant utterances.[3] One author, at least, states the above theory without bringing forward any argument in its support, but others base it on arguments derived from tradition and probability. With it we may compare that of Darwin on the origin of spoken language, stated in his wonted clear and suggestive manner. In the "Descent of Man" he writes, "I cannot doubt that language owes its origin to the imitation and modification, aided by signs and gestures, of various natural sounds, the voice of other animals, and man's own instinctive cries.

  1. "Shi-ching," preface; Legge, C. L., iv., p. 34 of Prolegomena.
  2. Collected Works, chap. xix.
  3. See, e.g., the 正音辨徹, Int.; cf. also the 古韻標準, Int.