Page images

tive. As such, they come first in the order of time, furnishing men both with sounds that can be imitated, and with sounds, originated in the vocal organs, that can be modified so as to form the imitations. But the latter begin to be used as soon as the reflective nature begins to assert itself; and they soon extend to the reproduction of other sounds besides ejaculations-sounds that are indisputably representative in the most literal sense, and that become accepted as words as a result of actual comparison as well as of association. The sounds are first heard when the child is led to notice external objects. Then, unlike the animal which can only ejaculate, but just like his reputed father Adam, the first who had a reflective nature, he begins to give names to these objects, or to have names given to them for him by others. These names, according to the methods controlling the formation of nursery language, are always based upon the principle of imitation. Certain noises emanating from the objects designated, the chick-chick of the fowl, the tick-tick of the watch, the cuckoo of the bird over the clock, the bow-wow of the dog, and, later, the clatter of the rattle, or the rustle of the silk or satin, are imitated in the names applied to them; and this imitative element enables the child to recognize what the object is to which each name refers. The existence of hundreds of terms in all languages, the sounds of which are significant of their sense, like buzz, hiss, crash, slam, bang, whine, howl, roar, bellow, whistle, prattle, twitter, gabble, and gurgle (many of which are of comparatively recent origin), is a proof that the principle of imitation is an important factor in the formation of words. “Through all the stages of growth of language," says Whitney in his “ Language and the Science of Language," "absolutely new words are produced by this method more than by

any other."

Not only so, but it is recognized universally that in our present languages certain words and they are those which skilful writers always prefer to use, if they cansound more like what they mean than others do. Many of these words, it is true, are in no sense traceable to an imitative origin. But they are treated as if they were ; and this fact proves that there is a tendency at present, as there always has been, to derive satisfaction from imitative, mimetic, or, as they are technically termed, onomatopoetic, sounds. Of all writers, the poet, who, as an artist, is supposed to use language the most skilfully, manifests the most of this tendency. Notice the following:

The terrible grumble and rumble and roar,
Telling the battle was on once more.

-Sheridan's Ride : T. B. Read.
Here's a knife ; clip quick; it 's a sign of grace.

-Holy Cross Day : Browning.
So we were left galloping, Joris and I,


'Neath our feet broke the bright brittle stubble like chaff.

-How They Brought the Good News: Browning.
Roared as when the rolling breakers boom and blanch on the precipices.

- Boädicea : Tennyson.
Ancient rosaries,
Laborious Orient ivory, sphere in sphere.

-The Princess : Tennyson.
While I nodded nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber-door.

- The Raven : Poe. It is only when the imitative and ejaculatory theories of the origin of words are held to the exclusion of all others, that they deserve the treatment which they have received from Max Müller, in his “Science of Language,"

under the names of the bow-wow and pooh-pooh theories. Müller himself, however, mentions approvingly what has been called in turn the ding-dong theory, originated by the German Heyse, in his “System der Sprachwissenschaft.” According to this theory, as Müller states it, “a law runs through nearly the whole of nature, that each substance has its peculiar ring. . . It was the same with man." He once possessed an instinctive faculty for giving articulate expression to the rational conceptions of his mind. But this “creative faculty, which gave to each conception, as it thrilled for the first time through his brain, a phonetic expression, became extinct when its object was fulfilled." This theory does not seem to differ materially from the ejaculatory. Of course, the fewer words a man had in his vocabulary in that early period, the more he would exclaim, and the more he used his exclamations as words, the more their character would become changed from that which they had when mere exclamations. It is true that in this sense the creative faculty, enabling him to give representative expressions, would become extinct. He would come to use conventional words instead of them. But before he possessed these words it would be, to quote from Whitney, “beyond all question as natural for the untaught and undeveloped man to utter exclamations as to make gestures.'

This theory, that the very earliest words were ejaculatory and imitative, seems to accord with the commonly accepted view, that language is a gift from God, recognizing it to be so in the sense that, whereas beasts and birds are endowed with the power of representing only a few sensations through a few almost unvarying sounds, man can represent any number of thoughts and emotions

through articulating organs capable of producing almost infinite combinations and variations. Place two human beings, thus constituted, in a state like that of Eden, and in a month's time, by using ejaculatory and imitative utterances, and mutually agreeing, as they necessarily would do, to associate certain ideas with certain of these, they would form a primitive language, which both could understand ; and a number of their words, too, would probably not be wholly dissimilar in either sound or sense to some that we use to-day.

This fact of agreement, just mentioned, is undoubtedly the most important of the elements causing sounds to become words with definite meanings. But in the present discussion, it is important to notice that, in the beginning, there were the best of reasons for this agreement; the signs used actually represented the things signified; they were like them or allied to them; they compared with them or were associated with them, and that, too, in a natural and not, as is the case with words originated later, in an arbitrary way. Without any agreement at all, an ejaculatory or imitative word would have some meaning, and this a meaning similar to the one ultimately assigned to it by common consent.

Were we dealing with language here for its own sake, it would be in place now to pass on from these earlier sounds, originated in order to represent thought, to the consideration of the same after they have been originated and are used over again in order to represent other and different thoughts. This would introduce us into a sphere where we should find the great majority of words in every vocabulary. But we must defer any reference to these at present. Our object now is to find the connection between representation in natural and in artistic

language ; and, before we go further, it will be best to apply at once what has been noticed with reference to the representation of thought in sound, to its representation in those features of poetic form which depend upon sound.

So far, we have been examining how ideas can be represented in single words. But ideas, when conceived in the mind, are in constant movement. To be represented completely, they must be expressed by words, not standing alone, but following one another in the order of time. Possibly, it is because we usually hear them in this order, that most of us are inclined to give credence to the ejaculatory and imitative theories with reference to their origin. For, whatever may be true of words used separately, it is a fact that, even aside from the conventional meanings ordinarily attached to them, intonations, such as can be given only in the movements of consecutive speech, have a significance. When Bridget, according to a familiar story, was sent to the neighbors to inquire how old Mrs. Jones was, she emphasized the old, and paused after it, and so gave irreparable offence. Her tones represented an idea which the mere words of the message confided to her had not been intended to convey.

These intonations, as will be noticed, are representative of movement on the part of ideas. Movement is a result of the instinctive tendency, which, carried to an extreme, as in great physical passion, ends in explosion. Ideas result from the reflective tendency, which, carried to an extreme, as in the profoundest thought, ends in absolute cessation of movement, or quietness. The intonations result from the blending and balancing of both of these tendencies. But now, whenever the results of reflection are added to those of instinct, or of instinct to those

« PreviousContinue »