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ing of? we can only do it by saying to ourselves or to others, Dog. It is perfectly true that canis, chien, Hund would do as well, and we need not even pronounce any of these words while remembering a certain dog, or while hearing the barking of a number of dogs about us. But though we may suppress the sound or recollection of a word after we have once heard it, or replace it even by another word taken from another language, we cannot possibly become conscious to ourselves of what we are thinking, without having the word in reserve, or, as the Italians say, in petto, or, as some savages say, in the stomach.
Thinking in German or English. If any doubt still remains in your mind on the impossibility of real thought without language, ask yourselves what you mean in asking a foreigner who has long lived in England, whether he thinks in German or in English? What would you say, if he were to answer, In neither. You would, I believe, think, and think rightly, that he was a fool.
Why we cannot think without words. But if that is so, if thought, in the properly restricted sense of that word, is impossible without language, you may well ask, why that should be so. Many people suppose that we first form our thoughts, or as they call it our ideas, and that afterwards we go in search of certain sounds, which we attach to our ideas, and which we retain because we find them very useful for the purpose of communication. Now I ask you, is such a process possible or conceivable ? Do we ever find ourselves in possession of a concept, but without a name for it, unless indeed we have for
gotten, and know that we have forgotten, the name which we formerly possessed? Or is there anywhere in the whole world a place where we could find empty sounds, such as father and mother, meaning nothing as yet, but ready for use when wanted ? I know some people speak of inexpressible thoughts, but they mean feelings ; others say they may have a clear concept of a plant, without knowing its name; they speak of that plant, Oh, what do you call it? But is not plant a name, is not vegetable a name, is not object a name, is not it a name, is not even What do you call it, a name?
We often do not know the exact or right name, but in that case we always know the more general name. If we had never seen or heard of an elephant, we should not know its name, but we should know that it was an animal and call it so; we should know that it was a quadruped, and call it so. If we did not know whether what we saw was an inanimate lump, or a plant, or a bird, fish, or mammal, we should have no name for it beyond the name thing. We could not name it further, because we know no more about it, because we could not bring it under any more definite conceptual name. We may see, hear, and touch the elephant, we may have a more or less exact image of it, but until we can predicate or name some distinguishing feature of it, we could neither name nor know it, in the true sense of that word.
To suppose, as is done by most philosophers, that we first find ourselves in command of an army of naked concepts, and that we afterwards array them in verbal uniforms, is impossible for two very simple reasons; first, because there is no magazine which
could supply these verbal uniforms, and secondly, because we never meet with naked concepts ; or, to put it more strongly still, because we never meet with a rabbit without a skin, or an oyster without a shell.
The reason why real thought is impossible without language is very simple. What we call language is not, as is commonly supposed, thought plus sound, but what we call thought is really language minus sound. That is to say, when we are once in possession of language, we may hum our words, or remember them in perfect silence, as we remember a piece of music without a single vibration of our vocal chords. We may also abbreviate our words, so that such expressions as, ' If Plato is right,' may stand for a whole library. We may in fact eliminate the meaning of the word so that the word only remains as a symbol1; we may even substitute algebraic signs for real words, and thus carry on processes of reckoning or reasoning which in their final results are perfectly astonishing. But as little as we can reckon without actual or disguised numerals, can we reason without actual or disguised words. This is the last result to which the Science of Language has led us, and which has changed the Science of Language into the Science of Thought. "We think in words' must become the charter of all exact philosophy in future, and it will form, I believe, at the same time the reconciliation of all systems of philosophy in the past.
Communication, not language. But surely, it is said, men communicate, and animals too communicate, without language. Yes,
Science of Thought, p. 35.
they certainly do, we all do, some more, others less successfully. The Polynesians, as Chamisso ? tells us in his charming Voyage round the world (1815-1818), are sparing of words, and a wink often takes the place of a long speech. Perhaps it does so even among less savage races. They do not even say Yes, when they can help it, but only move their brow. It is only to a stranger that they will say Inga, yes. But such communication is not thought, if we use our words properly.
I go even a step further, and maintain that we are so made that, whether we like it or not, we must show by outward signs what passes within us. There are few people who can so repress their emotions as not to let others see when they are angry or happy. We blush, we tremble, we frown, we pout, we grin, we laugh, we smile, and what can be more tell-tale, and sometimes more eloquent, than these involuntary signs? I have no doubt that animals betray their feelings by similar signs, and that these signs are understood by their fellow-creatures. You have only to disturb an ant-hill, and see what happens. A number of ants will run away on their beaten tracks, they will stop every ant they meet, and every ant, after having been touched and communicated with, will run to the ant-hill to render help with the same alacrity with which a member of the fire-brigade runs towards the place of conflagration after hearing the bugle in the street. We cannot understand how it is done, but that little head of an ant, not larger than the head of a pin, must have been able to express terror and implore help, even as a dog will run up to
Chamisso's Werke, vol. i. p. 357.
you and express in his face terror, and by his motions implore your help. But when will people learn that emotions are not thoughts, and that if we call anger or joy thought, we simply muddle our own thoughts and confound our own language ?
I believe that some of these involuntary manifestations of our feelings may in time lead to intentional gestures; and we know from pantomimes, also from communications that are said to take place in America and Australia between tribes speaking different languages, that this gesture-language may be brought to a very high degree of perfection. But we must not forget that in all cases where this communication by means of gestures has been observed, the parties concerned are each in possession of a real language, that in fact they think first in their own conceptual language and then translate their thoughts back into pantomimel.
The subject, however, is curious, and deserves more study than it has hitherto received. We imagine we can understand why a person kneeling down is supposed to implore mercy, why another shaking his fist is supposed to say, Stand off! But these gestures, as used in different countries, have not always the same meaning, and even the expressive
1 In the island of Gomera, one of the islands of the Canary Archipelago, people communicate by means of a whistling language. The island is traversed by many deep ravines and gullies which run out in all directions from the central plateau. They are not bridged, and can often only be crossed with great difficulty, so that people who really live very near to each other in a straight line have to make a circuit of hours when they wish to meet. Whistling has therefore become an excellent means of communication, and has gradually assumed the proportions of a true substitute for speech. But what they whistle is their own language.