Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/251

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233
EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF LANGUAGE.

our minds again and again, where Sokrates describes the etymologists who release themselves from their difficulties as to the origin of words by saying that the first words were divinely made, and therefore right, just as the tragedians, when they are in perplexity, fly to their machinery and bring in the gods.[1] Now I think that those who soberly contemplate the operation of cries, groans, laughs, and other emotional utterances, as to which some considerations have been here brought forward, will admit that, at least, our present crude understanding of this kind of expression would lead us to class it among the natural actions of man's body and mind. Certainly, no one who understands anything of the gesture-language or of picture-writing would be justified in regarding either as due to occult causes, or to any supernatural interference with the course of man's intellectual development. Their cause evidently lies in natural operations of the human mind, not such as were effective in some long-past condition of humanity and have since disappeared, but in processes existing amongst us, which we can understand and even practise for ourselves. When we study the pictures and gestures with which savages and the deaf-and-dumb express their minds, we can mostly see at a glance the direct relation between the outward sign and the inward thought which it makes manifest. We may see the idea of 'sleep' shown in gesture by the head with shut eyes, leant heavily against the open hand; or the idea of 'running' by the attitude of the runner, with chest forward, mouth half open, elbows and shoulders well back; or 'candle' by the straight forefinger held up, and as it were blown out; or 'salt' by the imitated act of sprinkling it with thumb and finger. The figures of the child's picture-book, the sleeper and the runner, the candle and the salt-cellar, show their purport by the same sort of evident relation between thought and sign. We so far understand the nature of these modes of utterance, that we are ready ourselves to express thought after thought by such

  1. Plato, 'Cratylus' 90.