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Now here the advantage of what I shall call in future the Synergastic theory will at once become evident. If, as we know, people in a primitive state accompany most of their common acts by sounds, then the clamor concomitans of these acts is not the sign of a single act, but the inseparable accompaniment of our consciousness of our many repeated acts as one action. Here we see the first dawn of conceptual thought. If this is once clearly perceived, it will likewise be perceived that the difference between this theory of the origin of conceptual language and the old onomatopoetic theories is not one of degree, but of kind, and marks a greater advance in the Science of Language than the Copernican theory did in the Science of Astronomy. Here lies Noiré's real merit. He was the first who saw that the natural genesis of concepts was to be found in the consciousness of our acts. I was able to give the proof of it by showing that nearly all roots in Sanskrit were expressive of our acts. Those who do not see the difficulties which have to be explained when we ask for the origin of our conceptual roots, may consider the old Pooh-pooh and Bow-wow theories quite sufficient. To the true philosopher the Synergastic theory is the only one which approaches or touches the hem of the problem that has to be solved, namely, how concepts arose, and how concepts were expressed.
One question only we are unable to answer, namely, why the clamor concomitans of the different acts of men, the consciousness of which constituted their first concepts, should have been exactly what it was. Why in crushing they should have uttered MAR, in carrying VAH, in stretching TAN, in scattering STAR, is beyond our ken. All we can say is that the possibilities in uttering and still more in fixing these sounds were almost unlimited, and that though we may imagine that we perceive some reasonableness in some of them, we very soon come to the end of such speculations.
Who does not imagine that there is some similarity between the root VÂ, to blow, and the sound of our own breathing, or, if we adopt the mimetic theory, the sound of the wind? But if that is so with VÂ, what shall we say to DHAM, to blow, and SVAS, to breathe? That there should be in some cases some vague similarity between the sound of a root and the sound produced by the work which it accompanies is intelligible, and so far the speculations on the supposed inherent meaning of certain letters, which begin as early as Plato's Cratylos, are not without some value. Possibly, if we could go back to an earlier stage in the formation of roots, his speculations might seem still better founded. But we must here too learn to be satisfied with what is within the reach of historical knowledge, or, if we must needs stretch our powers of vision beyond, follow the example of Plato and not assume too serious a countenance.
A few quotations from Plato will serve to make my meaning clear.
Now the letter R,' he says, ' appeared to the imposer of names an excellent instrument for the expression of motion ; and he frequently used the letter for this purpose: for example, in the actual words pelv and poń he represents motion by r; also in the words tpóuos, trembling, tpaxús, rugged ; and again, in words such as Opaúelv, to crush, kpoúelv, to strike, épelkelv, to bruise, OpÚTTELV, to break, kepuaričelv, to crumble, púußeiv, to whirl: of all the sorts of movement he generally finds an expression in the letter R, because, as I imagine, he had observed that the tongue was most agitated and least at rest in the pronunciation of this letter, which he therefore used in order to express motion.'
1 Cratylos, p. 426.
Let us consider these remarks for one moment. Nothing would be easier than to produce an equal number of words in which r occurs, and which express not motion, but rest; for instance, páxus, rib, bone, spine ; páxos, a hedge ; płyéw, to freeze ; pića, & root ; ρυτόν, rein; ρώννυμι, to strengthen ; ρώστας, pillar, &c. Secondly, in several of the words mentioned by Plato the meaning of motion can easily be shown to be secondary, not primary. If kepuari(elv, for instance, means to crumble, to cut into small slices, this is because képua means a small slice, and it does so because it is derived from keipw, to shave, having been called originally a chip.
But I doubt whether a serious refutation of these remarks is justified. They are useful only as showing what latitude there is and must be in this subject. While modern speculators see an imitation of the blowing of the wind in the root VÂ, Plato sees or rather hears an imitation of what is windy in the sound of the letters o, y, o, and 5 (1. c., pp. 427, 434), because their pronunciation is accompanied by great expenditure of breath. When Socrates considers
further that the closing and pressure of the tongue in the utterance of d and t was an expression of binding and rest, that I expressed smoothness, g clamminess, n inwardness, we must not forget that Hermogenes is made to reply immediately: O Socrates, Cratylos mystifies me; he says that there is a fitness of names, but he never explains what fitness is.'
This is the right spirit in which such guesses should be treated. There may be some truth in them here and there, but even if there is, it is beyond our reach. Custom is so strong that we all imagine we perceive a certain appropriateness in a root STA meaning to stand or stop, in a root MAR meaning to rub, in a root TUD meaning to strike. There may be some truth in that fancy, but if we take a more comprehensive view of radical sounds and radical meanings, not only in the Aryan but likewise in the Semitic and Turanian languages, we soon find that our fancy is as often contradicted by the facts as it is confirmed by them. There seems to be neither necessity nor absolute freedom in the choice of the sounds expressive of our acts. Even those who imagine that they can detect some reasonableness in them, must confess that they have no means of testing or proving it. We can well understand that among the concomitant clamours of thought the struggle for existence must have been intense, though we have hardly any opportunities left for watching that struggle. If some scholars imagine they can know, or feel, why SAR expressed our consciousness of moving on, while VABH expressed our consciousness of weaving, we need not contradict them, but we could easily show that in other families of speech the same sounds have a totally different meaning. Take, for instance, the root SAR in FinnoUgric. It means ",
(1) to sprout forth, to bubble up, to rise; to be long, to be slim, to be straight;
(2) to stir, to awake, to be busy ;
(4) to stir, to mix; to make variegated, to grind, to defile;
(5) to push away, to squeeze, to narrow, to break, to split, to wound; to suffer, to be oppressed, to shrink, to die;
(6) to speak, to narrate.
Though Professor Donner, the highest authority on Finnish philology, treats all these meanings as modifications of one central concept, he would probably be willing to admit that possibly such meanings as to speak or to narrate might flow from an independent source, and have nothing in common with such concepts as sprouting, bubbling, stirring, and all the rest ; but other scholars might insist on babbling being but a modification of bubbling, and spouting of sprouting. Here, if anywhere in the study of language, much latitude must be allowed to personal dispositions and idiosyncrasies. We may be able to form a general idea how what we call roots survived in a conflict of ever so many possibilities, but we shall never be able to discover anything like necessity in the character of those historical roots which have been discovered by an analysis of real languages or families of language.
The conceptual foundation of Language. But what is no longer a theory or a mere dream, 1 Donner, Vergleich. Wörterb. der Finnisch-Ugrischen Sprachen, ii. p. 1.