Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/122

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108
Origin and Early History of the Language.

there is a continuous change in language it is not in the power of any man either to produce or prevent it. We might think as well of changing the laws which control the circulation of our blood, or of adding an inch to our height, as of altering the laws of speech, or inventing new words according to our own pleasure. As man is the lord of nature only if he knows her laws and submits to them, the poet and philosopher become the lords of language only if they know its laws and obey them.[1]

Chinese opinions differ as to what is the first articulate sound made by the human baby. Some tell us that it is huang-huang, but this is only an a priori theory. To each of the five elements a certain sound is assigned. Thus water has a ssŭ sound, and that of metal is huang (鍠). Now in man's constitution the element metal is represented by his voice, and hence an infant, as soon as it can, cries huang-huang.[2] But other native writers tell us that the first sound uttered by a human being is a or ya. Hence the letter called a is said to be rightly placed at the head of Western alphabets, and some even go so far as to declare that in every sound uttered by man's opened mouth there is an a element. It is considered, however, that a sounds are natural to male, and ei or i sounds to female infants, and that the distinction continues in after years. This, according to the Chinese, is the spontaneous result of the human constitution. Our forefathers seem to have had similar notions about the distinctions made by male and female babies in their first utterances, though they accounted for the fact of the distinction in a different manner. In an old poem—Hampole's "Pricke of Conscience"—we read that a child as soon as born begins to "goule and cry." The author says that by the cry may be known

"Whether it be man or weman,
For when it es born it cryes swa;
If it be man, it says 'a, a',
That the first letter es of the nam
Of our forme-fader Adam.

  1. 李氏音鑑, chap. i.; 庭訓格言, p. 50; "Lectures on the Science of Language," vol. i., p. 40 (9th ed.) With Professor Müller's teaching compare the criticism on it by Professor Whitney in his "Language and the Study of Language," Lecture ii.
  2. See, e.g., the 唱道眞言, chap. ii. The character is also writen 喤 with the same sounds as 鍠.