Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/123

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
109
Origin and Early History of the Language.

And if the child a woman be,
When it es born, it says 'e, e,'
E es the first letter and the hede
Of the name of Eve that began our dede."

It is a pity that the Chinese do not know the historical explanation of this interesting fact. But a different explanation is given by Webbe, who did not take notice of the sexual distinctions. He, it will be remembered, thought that Noah settled in China after the flood, and he says:—"Wherefore it is not unobservable that the very first utterance that an Infant at his birth yeeldeth is ya, ya, ya; as if the Lord had ordained, either that we should be born with his name Jah in our mouths, which name is generally ascribed to him, when some notable deliverance or benefit, according to his former promise comes to pass, because he is the beginning and Being of beings, and giveth to all, life, and breath, and all things — Acts 17. v. 25 — or else, that in our swathling clothes we should have something of the Primitive Language, till afterwards confounded, as we are taught to speak. But, by ya the Chinois intend Excellens.[1]

This may not give the true explanation of the first utterances of all babies over all the world. The Chinese own that these utterances are only cries, and of a class with those of birds and beasts. The infant has no language but a cry, and in this respect it is not better than other animals, perhaps not so well supplied as other creatures. Nor is the capacity for uttering articulate sounds the possession of man alone among mortal beings. The ape-like Sing-sing and several other animals, according to Chinese opinion, are able to talk and understand human speech. As regards the Sing-sing, the statement that it can speak is doubted by some and denied by others, while of those who agree to it not a few think that the animal has the power of speaking only when it is drunk. That it can laugh and cry, however, seems to be the opinion of all authorities. It is a creature of uncertain appearance, and is described as having a body like that of a pig, or as like a dog, a badger, or an ape. The last is the form in which it is usually represented in pictures, but the face is always

  1. Essay, etc., p. 62.