Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/247

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229
CHILDREN'S LANGUAGE.

expressiveness. It is true that children are intimately acquainted with the use of emotional and imitative sound, and their vocal intercourse largely consists of such expression. The effects of this are in some degree discernible in the class of words we are considering. But it is obvious that the leading principle of their formation is not to adopt words distinguished by the expressive character of their sound, but to choose somehow a fixed word to answer a given purpose. To do this, different languages have chosen similar articulations to express the most diverse and opposite ideas. Now in the language of grown-up people, it is clear that social consensus has worked in the same way. Even if the extreme supposition be granted, that the ultimate origin of every word of language lies in inherently expressive sound, this only partly affects the case, for it would have to be admitted that, in actual languages, most words have so far departed in sound or sense from this originally expressive stage, that to all intents and purposes they might at first have been arbitrarily chosen. The main principle of language has been, not to preserve traces of original sound-signification for the benefit of future etymologists, but to fix elements of language to serve as counters for practical reckoning of ideas. In this process much original expressiveness has no doubt disappeared beyond all hope of recovery.

Such are some of the ways in which vocal sounds seem to have commended themselves to the mind of the word-maker as fit to express his meaning, and to have been used accordingly. I do not think that the evidence here adduced justifies the setting-up of what is called the Interjectional and Imitative Theory as a complete solution of the problem of original language. Valid as this theory proves itself within limits, it would be incautious to accept a hypothesis which can perhaps satisfactorily account for a twentieth of the crude forms in any language, as a certain and absolute explanation of the nineteen-twentieths whose origin remains doubtful. A key must unlock more doors than this, to be