Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/128

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Origin and Early History of the Language.

of these virtues, for their germs existed in him from the beginning. But it was not until the germs were developed in thinking men that terms like the above were invented. These and the correct names of objects generally, say the Chinese, were fabricated by the first teachers of mankind, by those kings and sages who taught in the first uncertain twilight of human life. The Chinese theory on this subject is well expressed by Renan when he says, "It is certain that we do not understand the organisation of language without une action d'hommes d'elite, exercising a certain authority around them and capable of imposing on others what they believed best. The aristocracy of sages was the law of nascent humanity; the leaven which produced civilisation could ferment at first only in a number almost imperceptible of predestined heads." In some native treatises we find the work of "correct naming" ascribed to the semi-mythical Huang Ti, who is supposed to have lived about B.C. 2600. He is said to have observed and studied the heavens and earth and all the then-existing objects and institutions, and so elaborated the real names of things, the modes of expression which corresponded with the actualities of nature and the mind. But more usually the glory is given to old sages generally, the "enlighteners of the people." In either case the correct language thus made was produced by degrees and as the result of observation and study. It had been preceded by a language awkward and uncertain, for the first savages must have had, though only to limited extent, names by which they were wont to denote the articles they used and the events of their lives. But this language of theirs was neither correct nor fixed, and it was very meagre, for the rude forefathers of humanity had few wants and little thought. Hence the founders of social order had to seek out and communicate a fuller and more perfect phraseology; they invented, or rather discovered, set forms of language by which they could give a symbolical character to the sounds of their voice, their thoughts and feelings—"verba quibus voces sensusque notarent nominaque invenere." Chinese authors will have us believe that all this was done with a view to the introduction of good and settled government, and the