Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/255

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237
EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF LANGUAGE.

produced language, so far as they are understood, are notable for that childlike simplicity of operation which befits the infancy of human civilization. The ways in which sounds are in the first instance chosen and arranged to express ideas, are practical expedients at the level of nursery philosophy. A child of five years old could catch the meaning of imitative sounds, interjectional words, symbolism of sex or distance by contrast of vowels. Just as no one is likely to enter into the real nature of mythology who has not the keenest appreciation of nursery tales, so the spirit in which we guess riddles and play at children's games is needed to appreciate the lower phases of language. Such a state of things agrees with the opinion that such rudimentary speech had its origin among men while in a childlike intellectual condition, and thus the self-expressive branch of savage language affords valuable materials for the problem of primitive speech. If we look back in imagination to an early period of human intercourse, where gesture and self-expressive utterance may have had a far greater comparative importance than among ourselves, such a conception introduces no new element into the problem, for a state of things more or less answering to this is described among certain low savage tribes. If we turn from such self-expressive utterance, to that part of articulate language which carries its sense only by traditional and seemingly arbitrary custom, we shall find no contradiction to the hypothesis. Sound carrying direct meaning may be taken up as an element of language, keeping its first significance recognizable to nations yet unborn. But it may far more probably become by wear of sound and shift of sense an expressionless symbol, such as might have been chosen in pure arbitrariness — a philological process to which the vocabularies of savage dialects bear full witness. In the course of the development of language, such traditional words with merely an inherited meaning have in no small measure driven into the background the self-expressive words, just as the Eastern