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The Utility of Science.


have been followed by many other works of great value; and the Science of Language promises to offer at least a reasonable solution of some of the most difficult and important problems of human history. A science,' as Bacon says, 'should be a rich 'storehouse for the glory of God and the relief of man's estate.'

Every true science has a real utility, and that of Language does not lose its usefulness when it advances from the Empirical to the Theoretical stage. As long as the higher theories of a science are being established, those who are occupied about them are not unfrequently men who have but little care for the material advantages of life, and derive but little profit from their pursuits. Devotion to abstruse inquiries evinces, in the judgment of the many, a want of common sense. But a subsequent age profits by the theories which have thus been established. Mining operations are carried on more successfully in the light of geology, and the captain of a ship would not be thought better qualified for his post by ignorance of astronomy. Professor Max Müller has well observed that

'No science and no art have long prospered and flourished among us unless they were in some way subservient to the practical interests of society. It is true that a Lyell collects and arranges, a Faraday weighs and analyzes, an Owen dissects and compares, a Herschell observes and calculates, without any thought of the immediate marketable results of their labours. But there is a general interest which supports and enlivens their researches, and that interest depends on the practical advantages which society at large derives from their scientific studies.'

The author claims a similar interest for the subject of these Lectures.

'I felt,' he says, 'that the researches into the history of language and into the nature of human speech which have been carried on for the last fifty years, in England, France, and Germany, deserved a higher share of public sympathy than they have hitherto received; and it seemed to me, as far as I could judge, that the discoveries of this newly-opened mine of scientific inquiry were not inferior, whether in novelty and [or] importance, to the most brilliant discoveries of our age.'

He therefore deemed the Science of Language 'worthy the 'attention of the philosopher, the historian, and the theologian, 'as a science which concerns them all, and which, though it pro'fesses to treat of words only, teaches us that there is more in 'words than is dreamt of in our philosophy.'

The subject is not so difficult for the general reader as may at first sight appear. It is not necessary to know all the languages of the world in order to understand the Science of Language. It is not even necessary to know more than one's own language in

order to gain some insight into the subject. There is a sufficient number of works now published in the English language out of which any student may select facts enough to enable him to comprehend and appreciate many of the most interesting phenomena of human speech.

But it has been objected that such studies must be unsatisfactory because language itself is an accidental thing. Words were created as they were wanted. As soon as gestures and cries were found insufficient, articulate sounds were adopted to suit the expression of the new feelings and thoughts which were acquired day by day. Language must therefore be the result of a mass of accidental impressions, varying with the ever-changing scenes of nature, and subject to the fitful impulses and arbitrary determination of individuals.

If language had come into existence in any such method, or rather want of method, as this, it would be impossible to treat it as a physical science. But what evidence is there of such being the case? Whenever did mankind thus add successively to the stock of their language? Where has an individual shaped a new impression in articulate sounds never heard before, and conveyed the ideas of his mind to others by words which the world hitherto had not known? It is not thus that language comes into being. A man of genius may give a national existence to a people before unknown, but he cannot give them a language. William the Conqueror might establish a new system of tenure, but he could not create a new word. Napoleon could give a new constitution to his country, but he had to do it in a language already known. Language is not the manufacture of man; it is the work of nature; it is the work of God. Like all the works of God, it presents unity in the midst of infinite variety, and a perfect concatenation of parts amidst seeming chance and confusion. Our author therefore treats this as a physical science and not as a historical science, because its subject-matter results from Divine action and not from human will.

Language is continually undergoing change; and in this it seems to resemble a historical science like that of government, rather than a physical science like that of astronomy. The Greek of Homer is very different from that of Aristophanes. The Romans who lived under the Emperors could not read the Latin which was written a few centuries before. What Englishman could take up the Anglo-Saxon poem of 'Beowulf,' and read it without studying it as a new language. The English poems of Chaucer, written but about five hundred years ago, would not be understood on a first reading by any but a scholar. Within half that period 388 words and meanings of words in the autho

Does Language belong to the Physical Sciences?


rized translation of the Bible have become obsolete, and this forms one-fifteenth of the whole. Such changes are going on day by day. A few years ago the Eternal City was called Roome, and our tea-cups were said to be chaney, and the most precious metal was goold; but now they have all given way to other sounds, and have severally changed to Rome, china, and gold. The old sounds may still linger in some out-of-the-way places, and some courteous gentlemen of the old school continue to be 'obleeged instead of being obliged,' just as a few still wear the cut of coat that was fashionable a hundred years ago. There is a fashion in words as in dress.

'Ut silvæ foliis pronos mutantur in annos,

Prima cadunt; ita verborum vetus interit ætas.'

Even in the forms of grammar a similar change is taking place. Thus s at the end of the third person singular of verbs has almost entirely supplanted th. The same is the case with the past tenses spoke, drove, and the past participle held, which are almost universally employed in place of spake, drave, holden. Some strong or old forms of the past tense have given place to weak or new ones in written language, though they still linger in provincial speech or in the usage of individuals. We still occasionally hear it snew,' it shew, for which it snowed,' 'it showed,' have been substituted.

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These changes, however, do not reduce language to a historical science. They do not make it like the science of legislation, whose principles are subject to the will of a conqueror or the votes of a parliament. The alterations of a language resemble those of a tree in which fresh shoots spring out and decaying branches fall of. They are changes of phenomena and not of laws. They are not subject to human will, but result from the operations of nature, and are therefore consistent with the claims of a physical as distinguished from a historical science.

"Though there is a continuous change in language, it is not in the power of man either to produce or prevent it. We might as well think of changing the laws which control the circulation of our blood, or of adding an inch to our height, as of altering the laws of speech or inventing new words according to our pleasure. As man is the lord of nature only if he knows her laws and submits to them, [50] the poet and the philosopher become the lords of language only if they know its laws and obey them.'

In illustration of this view, our author relates the circumstance, that when the Emperor Tiberius made an error in grammar he was corrected by the grammarian Marcellus. Capito replied, that the Emperor's using the expression made it good Latin.

To which Marcellus answered, 'Capito lies for, Cæsar, you can 'give the Roman citizenship to man but not to words.' On another occasion, when the Emperor Sigismund, presiding at the council of Constance, where John Huss was condemned, said, ' Videte Patres, ut eradicetis schismam [for schisma] Hussita'rum'-'Fathers, see that you root out the schism of the 'Hussites.' A monk cried out, Serenissime Rex, schisma est 'generis neutrius-Most illustrious King, schisma is of the 'neuter gender.' 'How do you know that?' was the reply. 'Alexander Gallus says so.' 'And who is Alexander Gallus?' 'A monk.' 'Well and I am Emperor of Rome, and my word, 'I trust, will be as good as the word of any monk.' But schisma has continued to be of the neuter gender in spite of imperial authority; for nature, though less rudely than in the above colloquy, yet with omnipotent power, forbids even princes to interfere with her laws. The physical constitution of man is not less under his own control than the language which he speaks; and the changes which the latter undergoes form no valid objection to its being classed with the physical sciences.

In the second Lecture, two great modifications are noticed to which languages are continually subject: Phonetic Decay and Dialectic Regeneration. These are the agencies to which is owing the great variety of languages resulting from the same stock. Like the trees of the forest, which in summer are almost of a uniform colour, but in autumn are widely diversified by an infinite variety of tints, so languages which at first were alike have come to vary so much that their differences are more striking than their resemblances. This effect is produced by causes analogous to those which wither vegetation. The inner life of language dies, and the outer semblance decays; in some more rapidly, and in others more slowly; in one with marks of violence, and in another by a gentler process; but in all irresistibly, until they become fixed in a rigid form as 'dead 'languages.'

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This process of Phonetic Decay will be seen in the word bears. He bears,' expresses an action, and ascribes it to a person. Both of these ideas were at first expressed by one word; that is, the pronoun 'he' was added at the end of the verb 'bear,' and made one with it. Possibly, the oldest form in which this was done was bharata, of which bhar means 'bear,' and ta means ‘he.' They occur with these meanings in a multitude of instances. The middle a seems to have served only to link the two parts together. The oldest form, however, in which this word has been preserved is the Sanskrit bharati, in which the last a has already lost some of its vigour, and droops in the

Phonetic Decay.

weaker form i. The same word appears in Greek, several centuries later, as pépɛ (ferei), having lost the t and changed every other letter except r to a weaker form. It already belongs to a different language. Similar changes carried out through all words make distinct languages by the influence of decay alone. In Latin the above word appears as fert. Here two vowels have been lost and one weakened, whilst the whole word is reduced from three syllables to one. It took several centuries of gradual decay to produce these changes.


The class of languages to which the English more immediately belongs, starting originally from the same point, have pursued a different method, but have been subject to analogous influences. In Gothic the form is bairith, in which the last vowel is lost and the other two weakened to i. The a in the first syllable was afterwards introduced by a law which we need not now stay to investigate. The change in the consonants may likewise for the present be passed over. In Old English beareth is nearly in the same state as the Gothic, the e being nearly equal in strength with the . In Modern English it has suffered further decay until it is reduced to one syllable, as in Latin. The words bears and fert look very different from each other now, but they were originally the same, and they have come to differ by the influence of laws like those which affect the physical world at large. If the entire language may be compared to a forest, each word, in some sense, resembles a tree which, after having attained its full growth and natural development, becomes subject to gradual decay and various vicissitudes, so that its original vigour and symmetry are marred; one branch rots and drops away, another is twisted into unnatural shapes by the prevailing winds, whilst a third retains all its original strength and beauty.

The author strikingly illustrates this process in its effect upon the word twenty. He compares the Indo-European expression for that number with the Chinese. Both languages originally. adopted the same method of representing the number twenty. They added the number ten to the number two. But the Chinese words remain unchanged, whilst those in the IndoEuropean languages are continually changing, that is, are subject to Phonetic Decay. The Chinese words continue to mean two and ten, or rather, two by ten. In fact, they do not become one word at all. On the other hand the Indo-European word no longer conveys the ideas two and ten any more than it does four and five. It has become one word, and conveys a simple idea as much as the word two or one. This difference constitutes the essential distinction of the two systems of languages.

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