Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/221

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203
IMITATIVE SOUND-WORDS.

happens that there are available sources of such evidence, which, when thoroughly worked, will give to the theory of imitative words as near an approach to accuracy as has been attained to in any other wide philological problem. By comparing a number of languages, widely apart in their general system and materials, and whose agreement as to the words in question can only be accounted for by similar formation of words from similar suggestion of sound, we obtain groups of words whose imitative character is indisputable. The groups here considered consist in general of imitative words of the simpler kind, those directly connected with the special sound they are taken from, but their examination to some extent admits of words being brought in, where the connexion of the idea expressed with the sound imitated is more remote. This, lastly, opens the far wider and more difficult problem, how far imitation of sounds is the primary cause of the great mass of words in the vocabularies of the world, between whose sound and sense no direct connexion appears.

Words which express human actions accompanied with sound form a very large and intelligible class. In remote and most different languages, we find such forms as pu, puf, bu, buf, fu, fuf, in use with the meaning of puffing, fuffing; or blowing; Malay puput; Tongan buhi; Maori pupui; Australian bobun, bwa-bun; Galla bufa, afufa; Zulu futa, punga, pupuza (fu, pu, used as expressive particles); Quiché puba; Quichua puhuni; Tupi ypeû; Finnish puhkia; Hebrew puach; Danish puste; Lithuanian puciu; and in numbers of other languages;[1] here, grammatical adjuncts apart, the significant force lies in the imitative syllable. Savages have named the European musket when they saw it, by the sound pu, describing not the report, but the puff of smoke issuing from the muzzle. The Society Islanders supposed at first that the white men blew through the barrel of the gun, and they called it accordingly pupuhi, from the verb puhi to

  1. Mpongwe punjina; Basuto foka; Carib phoubäe; Arawac appüdün (ignem sufflare). Other cases are given by Wedgwood, 'Or. of Lang.' p. 83.