The origin of language

At any rate, let it be remembered that the first language spoken on earth, whatever it was, originated in Eden

The origin of language

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Министерство образования Республики Беларусь

Учреждение образования

«Гомельский государственный университет им. Ф. Скорины»

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Гомель 2007




Origin of language






"Tot fallaciis obrutum, tot hallucinationibus demersum, tot adhuc tenebris circumfusum studium hocce mihi visum est, ut nihil satis tuto in hac materia praestari posse arbitratus sim, nisi nova quadam arte critica praemissa."-SCIPIO MAFFEIUS: _Cassiod. Complexiones_, p. xxx.

The origin of things is, for many reasons, a peculiarly interesting point in their history. Among those who have thought fit to inquire into the prime origin of speech, it has been matter of dispute, whether we ought to consider it a special gift from Heaven, or an acquisition of industry- a natural endowment, or an artificial invention. Nor is any thing that has ever yet been said upon it, sufficient to set the question permanently at rest. That there is in some words, and perhaps in some of every language, a natural connexion between the sounds uttered and the things signified, cannot be denied; yet, on the other hand, there is, in the use of words in general, so much to which nature affords no clew or index, that this whole process of communicating thought by speech, seems to be artificial. Under an other head, I have already cited from Sanctius some opinions of the ancient grammarians and philosophers on this point. With the reasoning of that zealous instructor, the following sentence from Dr. Blair very obviously accords: "To suppose words invented, or names given to things, in a manner purely arbitrary, without any ground or reason, is to suppose an effect without a cause. There must have always been some motive which led to the assignation of one name rather than an other."-_Rhet._, Lect. vi, p. 55.

But, in their endeavours to explain the origin and early progress of language, several learned men, among whom is this celebrated lecturer, have needlessly perplexed both themselves and their readers, with sundry questions, assumptions, and reasonings, which are manifestly contrary to what has been made known to us on the best of all authority. What signifies it[18] for a man to tell us how nations rude and barbarous invented interjections first,[19] and then nouns, and then verbs,[20] and finally the other parts of speech; when he himself confesses that he does not know whether language "can be considered a human invention at all;" and when he believed, or ought to have believed, that the speech of the first man, though probably augmented by those who afterwards used it, was, essentially, the one language of the earth for more than eighteen centuries? The task of inventing a language de novo, could surely have fallen upon no man but Adam; and he, in the garden of Paradise, had doubtless some aids and facilities not common to every wild man of the woods.

The learned Doctor was equally puzzled to conceive, "either how society could form itself, previously to language, or how words could rise into a language, previously to society formed."-_Blair's Rhet._, Lect. vi, p. 54. This too was but an idle perplexity, though thousands have gravely pored over it since, as a part of the study of rhetoric; for, if neither could be previous to the other, they must have sprung up simultaneously. And it is a sort of slander upon our prime ancestor, to suggest, that, because he was "the first," he must have been "_the rudest_" of his race; and that, "consequently, those first rudiments of speech," which alone the supposition allows to him or to his family, "must have been poor and narrow."-_Blair's Rhet._, p. 54. It is far more reasonable to think, with a later author, that, "Adam had an insight into natural things far beyond the acutest philosopher, as may be gathered from his giving of names to all creatures, according to their different constitutions."-_Robinson's Scripture Characters_, p. 4.

But Dr. Blair is not alone in the view which he here takes. The same thing has bean suggested by other learned men. Thus Dr. James P. Wilson, of Philadelphia, in an octavo published in 1817, says: "It is difficultto discern how communities could have existed without language, and equally so to discover how language could have obtained, in a peopled world, prior to society."-_Wilson's Essay on Gram._, p. 1. I know not how so many professed Christians, and some of them teachers of religion too, with the Bible in their hands, can reason upon this subject as they do. We find them, in their speculations, conspiring to represent primeval man, to use their own words, as a "savage, whose 'howl at the appearance of danger, and whose exclamations of joy at the sight of his prey, reiterated, or varied with the change of objects, were probably the origin of language.'-_Booth's Analytical Dictionary_. In the dawn of society, ages may have passed away, with little more converse than what these efforts would produce."-_Gardiner's Music of Nature_, p. 31. Here Gardiner quotes Booth with approbation, and the latter, like Wilson, may have borrowed his ideas from Blair. Thus are we taught by a multitude of guessers, grave, learned, and oracular, that the last of the ten parts of speech was in fact the first: "Interjections are exceedingly interesting in one respect. They are, there can be little doubt, the oldest words in all languages; and may be considered the elements of speech."-_Bucke's Classical Gram._, p. 78. On this point, however, Dr. Blair seems not to be quite consistent with himself: "Those exclamations, therefore, which by grammarians are called interjections, uttered in a strong and passionate manner, were, beyond doubt, the first elements or beginnings of speech."-_Rhet._, Lect. vi, p. 55. "The names of sensible objects were, in all languages, the words most early introduced."-_Rhet._, Lect. xiv, p. 135. "The names of sensible objects," says Murray too, "were the words most early introduced."-_Octavo Gram._, p. 336. Bat what says the Bible?


Origin of language


Revelation informs us that our first progenitor was not only endowed with the faculty of speech, but, as it would appear, actually incited by the Deity to exert that faculty in giving names to the objects by which he was surrounded. "Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam, to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowls of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him."-_Gen._, ii, 19, 20. This account of the first naming of the other creatures by man, is apparently a parenthesis in the story of the creation of woman, with which the second chapter of Genesis concludes. But, in the preceding chapter, the Deity is represented not only as calling all things into existence _by his Word_; but as speaking to the first human pair, with reference to their increase in the earth, and to their dominion over it, and over all the living creatures formed to inhabit it. So that the order of the events cannot be clearly inferred from the order of the narration. The manner of this communication to man, may also be a subject of doubt. Whether it was, or was not, made by a voice of words, may be questioned. But, surely, that Being who, in creating the world and its inhabitants, manifested his own infinite wisdom, eternal power, and godhead, does not lack words, or any other means of signification, if he will use them. And, in the inspired record of his work in the beginning, he is certainly represented, not only as naming all things imperatively, when he spoke them into being, but as expressly calling the light Day, the darkness Night, the firmament Heaven, the dry land Earth, and the gatherings of the mighty waters Seas.

Dr. Thomas Hartwell Horne, in commending a work by Dr. Ellis, concerning the origin of human wisdom and understanding, says: "It shows satisfactorily, that religion and language entered the world by divine revelation, without the aid of which, man had not been a rational or religious creature."-Study of the Scriptures, Vol. i, p. 4. "Plato attributes the primitive words of the first language to a divine origin;" and Dr. Wilson remarks, "The transition from silence to speech, implies an effort of the understanding too great for man."-_Essay on Gram._, p. 1. Dr. Beattie says, "Mankind must have spoken in all ages, the young constantly learning to speak by imitating those who were older; and, if so, our first parents must have received this art, as well as some others, by inspiration."-Moral Science, p. 27. Horne Tooke says, "I imagine that it is, in some measure, with the vehicle of our thoughts, as with the vehicles for our bodies. Necessity produced both

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