Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/17

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Some Western Opinions.

cussion, and various and conflicting theories arose about its origin, kindred, and history. For a long time, however, little was done to bring it practically within the knowledge of Western scholars. But within the last fifty or sixty years the relations of China with European nations have undergone great changes, and one result of these changes has been that the study of the language and literature of the country has been taken up and pursued, almost with enthusiasm in some cases, by European students. Hence we find that within this period the production of Manuals for learning Chinese, Grammars, Dictionaries, Translations of Chinese books, and other works of a miscellaneous character on the language and literature, by European scholars, has increased very quickly. Of these books, many have been compiled to meet practical wants, and not a few, being merely mechanical reproductions of others, have little value for the student. But the Science of Language has lately taken up Chinese, and men trained in that Science have tried to fix the place and worth of Chinese among the languages of the world. Consequently, new and more liberal ways of studying it have begun to be followed, and already there are good results and hopeful prospects.

Hitherto our Western scholars who have discussed this language have held about it varying and often conflicting opinions. These opinions differ according to the point of view from which the subject was contemplated by the investigators, and according to their learning and the influence of their prejudices. They vary in value, some being the result of careful research skilfully conducted, and others being only theories with little or no attempt at verification. We have now to make a short and summary review of some of these opinions and judgments, and in doing so it will be convenient to arrange them in three classes. The first comprises those which concern the origin and kindred of the Chinese language; the second those which have regard to its formal structure and character; and the third class contains some of the judgments on the language as to its material contents, its capacity to express the thoughts and feel-