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site elements of necessity and free will. Though the individual seems to be the prime agent in producing new words and new grammatical forms, he is so only after his individuality has been merged in the common action of the family, tribe, or nation to which he belongs. He can do nothing by himself, and the first impulse to a new formation in language, though given by an individual, is mostly, if not always, given without premeditation, nay, unconsciously. The indiridual, as such, is powerless, and the results apparently produced by him depend on laws beyond his control, and on the co-operation of all those who form together with him one class, one body, or one organic whole.
But, though it is easy to show, as we have just done, that language cannot be changed or moulded by the taste, the fancy, or genius of man, it is very difficult to explain what causes the growth of language. Ever since Horace it has been usual to compare the growth of languages with the growth of trees. But comparisons are treacherous things. What do we know of the real causes of the growth of a tree, and what can we gain by comparing things which we do not quite understand with things which we understand even less ? Many people speak, for instance, of the terminations of the verb, as if they sprouted out from the root as from their parent stock. But what ideas can they connect with such expressions? If we must compare language with a tree, there is one point which may be illustrated by this comparison, and this is that neither language nor the tree can exist or grow by itself. Without the soil, without air and light, the tree could not live; it could not even be conceived to live. It is the same
i Castelvetro, in Horne Tooke, p. 629, note.
with language. Language cannot exist by itself; it requires a soil on which to grow, and that soil is the human soul. To speak of language as a thing by itself, as living a life of its own, as growing to maturity, producing offspring, and dying away, is sheer mythology; and though we cannot help using metaphorical expressions, we should always be on our guard, when engaged in inquiries like the present, against being carried away by the very words which we are using. .
Now, what we call the growth of language comprises two processes which should be carefully distinguished, though they may be at work simultaneously. These two processes I call,
1. Dialectical Regeneration. 2. Phonetic Decay.
I begin with the second, as the more obvious, though in reality its operations are mostly subsequent to the operations of dialectical regeneration. I must ask you at present to take it for granted that everything in language had originally a meaning. As language can have no other object but to express our meaning, it might seem to follow almost by necessity that language should contain neither more nor less than what is required for that purpose. It would also seem to follow that if language contains no more than what is necessary for conveying a certain meaning, it would be impossible to modify any part of it without defeating its very purpose. This is really the case in some languages. In Chinese, for instance, ten is expressed by shi. It would be impossible to change shă in the slightest way without making it unfit to express ten. If instead of shi we pronounced tši, this would mean seven, but not ten. But now, suppose we wished to
express double the quantity of ten, twice ten, or twenty. We should in Chinese take eúl, which is two, put it before shi, and say eúl-shi, twenty. The same caution which applied to shi, applies again to eúl-sha. As soon as you change it, by adding or dropping a single letter, it is no longer twenty, but either something else or nothing. We find exactly the same in other languages which, like Chinese, are called monosyllabic. In Tibetan, chu is ten, nyi two; nyi-chu, twenty. In Burmese she is ten, nhit two; nhit-she, twenty.
But how is it in English, or in Gothic, or in Greek and Latin, or in Sanskrit ? We do not say two-ten in English, nor duo-decem in Latin, nor dvi-dasa in Sanskrit. We find 1 in Sanskrit vinsati.
in Greek eikati.
in English twenty. Now here we see, first, that the Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin, are only local modifications of one and the same original word ; whereas the English twenty is a new compound, the Gothic tvai tigjus (two decads), the Anglo-Saxon tuêntig, framed from Teutonic materials ; a product, as we shall see, of Dialectical Regeneration.
We next observe that the first part of the Latin viginti and of the Sanskrit vin'sati contains the same number, which from dvi has been reduced to vi. This is not very extraordinary ; for the Latin bis, twice, which you still hear at our concerts, likewise stands for an original dvis, the English twice, the Greek dis. This dis appears again as a Latin preposition, meaning a-two ; so that, for instance, discussion means, origi
1 Bopp, Comparative Grammar, 320. Schleicher, Deutsche Sprache, s 233.
nally, striking a-two, different from percussion, which means striking through and through. Discussion is, in fact, the cracking of a nut in order to get at its kernel. Well, the same word, dvi or vi, we have in the Latin word for twenty, which is vi-ginti, the Sanskrit vin-sati.
It can likewise be proved that the second part of viginti is a corruption of the old word for ten. Ten, in Sanskrit, is dasan ; from it is derived dasati, a decad; and this dasati was again reduced to sati ; thus giving us with vi for dvi, two, the Sanskrit visati or vin'sati, twenty. The Latin viginti, the Greek cikati, owe their origin to the same process.
Now consider the immense difference — I do not mean in sound, but in character — between two such words as the Chinese eúl-shž, two-ten, or twenty, and those mere cripples of words which we meet with in Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin. In Chinese there is neither too much, nor too little. The word speaks for itself, and requires no commentary. In Sanskrit, on the contrary, the most essential parts of the two component elements are gone, and what remains is a kind of metamorphic agglomerate which cannot be understood without a most minute microscopic analysis. Here, then, you have an instance of what is meant by phonetic corruption; and you will perceive how, not only the form, but the whole nature of language is destroyed by it. As soon as phonetic corruption shows itself in a language, that language has lost what we considered to be the most essential character of all human speech, namely, that every part of it should have a meaning. The people who spoke Sanskrit were as little aware that vin'sati meant twice ten as a Frenchman is that vingt contains the remains of deux and dix. Language, therefore, has entered into a new stage as soon as it submits to the attacks of phonetic change. The life of language has become benumbed and extinct in those words or portions of words which show the first traces of this phonetic mould. Henceforth those words or portions of words can be kept up only artificially or by tradition ; and, what is important, a distinction is henceforth established between what is substantial or radical, and what is merely formal or grammatical in words.
For let us now take another instance, which will make it clearer, how phonetic corruption leads to the first appearance of so-called grammatical forms. We are not in the habit of looking on twenty as the plural or dual of ten. But how was a plural originally formed ? In Chinese, which from the first has guarded most carefully against the taint of phonetic corruption, the plural is formed in the most sensible manner. Thus, man in Chinese is ĝin ; kiai means the whole or totality. This added to ĝin gives ĝin-kiai, which is the plural of man. There are other words which are used for the same purpose in Chinese ; for instance, péi, which means a class. Hence, i, a stranger, followed by péi, class, gives 2-péi, strangers. We have similar plurals in English, but we do not reckon them as grammatical forms. Thus, man-kind is formed exactly like i-péi, stranger-kind; Christendom is the same as all Christians, and clergy is synonymous with clerici. The same process is followed in other cognate languages. In Tibetan the plural is formed by the addition of such words as kun, all, and tsogs, multitude,
1 Foucaux, Grammaire Tibetaine, p. 27, and Preface, p. x.