Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/32

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Some Western Opinions.

sion, but poor in the mental poverty and weakness of those who should wield them."[1] So, also, a living authority on Chinese, Herr Georg von der Gabelenz, speaks of it as one of the most highly developed languages of our world, and as having given the greatest and best literature of all Asiatic countries. Chinese, he considers to be not only the most important representative, but also par excellence the ripest fruit of the Isolating class of languages.[2] On the other hand, however, we find it not seldom stated that the Chinese language is poor in its stock of words, and that as a means of expression it is rude and awkward in management. It has been declared by several of our Western scholars to be specially wanting in terms to express abstract and spiritual ideas, and the requirements of a high civilisation generally. A Jesuit missionary of the last century, who had studied Chinese among the people, writes from Canton that there is not, perhaps, in all the world a language poorer in expressions. He gives this opinion as the result of study, and he proceeds throughout a large part of the letter to dilate on the failings of the language.[3] Farrar and others have used similar phrases of depreciation, and Sayce has called Chinese a time-worn and decaying form of speech. No one, however, has decried it in such bitter, scathing language as M. Renan. Though this savant owns that Chinese attains its ends as well as does the Sanskrit, he says, "Is not the Chinese language, with its inorganic and imperfect structure, the reflection of the aridity of genius and heart which characterises the Chinese race? Sufficing for the wants of life, for the technicalities of the manual arts, for a light literature of low standard, for a philosophy which is only the expression, often fine but never elevated, of common sense, the Chinese language excluded all philosophy, all science, all religion, in the sense in which we understand these words. God has no name in it, and metaphysical matters are expressed in it only by round-about forms of speech."[4]

  1. "Language and the Study," &c., p. 336, and see p. 367.
  2. "Chinesische Grammatik," S. 5.
  3. "Lettres Edifs." T. xxxvii., p. 311.
  4. De L'Origine du Langage," p. 195 (4th Ed.) Compare also p. 216.