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However such things may have been, man, at present, wherever we find him,-in every country and in every clime, -has a language by which he communicates, more or less accurately, the thoughts of his mind. This language is understood by the whole of the tribe with which he is associated : beyond, there are other tribes and other tongues.
The conventional sounds requisite for the oral communication of ideas in any particular society are easily acquired, and may be conceived to have been coeval with such society; but the transmission of thought to a distance must have presented many obstacles. The obvious method of sending a verbal communication through the medium of a messenger, besides the risk of misinterpretation through mistake or design, was incompatible with secrecy; and it is, therefore, extremely probable that the earlier conventional symbols of thought were invented for the same purpose as the cipher-writing of the present day. Among small tribes those symbols would be useless, because the individuals, being seldom for any length of time asunder, would not feel the necessity of distant correspondence; but, when a multitude of such tribes are conglomerated into a nation, under a general language and a common government, a connexion exists among the subordinate rulers which calls forth the invention of the signs of thought. Rude these may be, but, in some form or other, they become necessary.
What is necessary will soon be accomplished, as far as man has the power; and, accordingly, we see it exemplified in the pictorial annals of Mexico and the Quipos of Peru. · Every simple word expresses (or ought to express) an idea ; and if two or more persons agree to make a written mark, or character, which shall always be associated in the memory with that word, the first step will be made towards a written language.' Characters may be invented or compounded for all other words, (whether roots or derivatives,) differing more or less from each other as the words which they represent; and these, selected and arranged in the order in which they are spoken, will convey, through the eye, the same thought which might otherwise be given to the ear. The characters would, indeed, be numerous, but the object is attainable ; for this is the fundamental principle of the written language of China. If, as is generally asserted, the simpler characters of the Chinese (which, being appropriated to natural objects and their relations, may be considered as the roots of their language,) had originally a similarity of form to the objects that they were meant to represent; this, however rude the resemblance, would have materially assisted in recalling ideas to the memory, or in suggesting them to the understanding.
Alphabetical writing was, doubtless, a subsequent invention, but its superiority over that of the Chinese has been much exaggerated. Every simple word may be considered as a simple character, formed by a certain number of separate strokes or marks: and, therefore, as far as rapidity of writing is concerned, there is no improvement. But the great distinction is, that each of the marks (or letters) that constitute a word is meant to be associated in the memory with a particular inflexion of the voice; so that, if the alphabet were perfect, the rapid and successive utterance of those inflexions, in the order in which they are written, would in all cases produce the sound of the word: thus, brand is an instantaneous uñion of the articulations represented by the letters b, r, a, n, and d.
In order that this kind of writing should have all its advantages, it is requisite that every vowel and every consonant of the alphabet should have its fixed and appropriate sound, and that these sounds should be as numerous as the several inflexions of the language ; but this, in the English tongue, is far from being the case : for the forty to fifty sounds of which it is composed must be expressed by twenty-six letters, and even some of these are duplicates. The Roman alphabet, which we have adopted, is unfitted for our purpose ; and the shifts to which we have been put, by giving each vowel three or four different sounds, and the junction of consonants to form new letters, together with the changes of our speech in the progress of time, have rendered our written language almost useless as a sign of modern pronunciation. Its supposed advantage over conventional characters, in directly recalling ideas, is even doubtful; for the letters one eighth have little more connexion with the spoken language than the symbol š: both are pronounced alike, but neither has the advantage of suggesting the pronunciation. Symbols, indeed, are preferable to words in which a portion of the letters have ceased to be vocal; because they form a sort of universal language. The figures of arithmetic, for instance, are significant to all the inhabitants of Europe, although they have no mark of sound, each person pronouncing them in the dialect of his own country.
In languages, such as the Spanish and German, where every letter is pronounced, and almost invariably with the same sound, it may be readily believed that the orthography constitutes the medium by which the word recalls the idea ; but this, in the English tongue, is very uncertain ; and there is one circumstance, of frequent occurrence, which might suggest a doubt as to this second-hand sort of transmission of thought: when we hesitate respecting the orthography of a word, we recognise it at once from its appearance when written, In such cases, it is evident that the idea is associated with the general shape, or contour, of the word, as if it were a single character.
This much we have thought proper to premise on the origin of written language; but, whether the characters be mute or vocal, they ought equally to follow an order of succession that shall be intelligible to the reader, and, at the same time, shall best answer the intention of the writer. That succession is perspicuous when it is eonsonant with the train of thought. When the sounds flow easily from the mouth of the speaker, and fall pleasantly on the ear of the hearer, it is harmonious. The direction in which it proceeds is of less consequence. The Chinese begin at the right hand of the page, and read in perpendicular lines, from top to bottom: so that their books (or collections of leaves) begin where ours end, and end where ours begin. The Hebrew and Arabic languages follow a similar order, except that the lines run across the page, beginning at the top, and reading from right to left. Some ancient Greek inscriptions were written also in horizontal lines ; but alternately from right to left, and from left to right, in imitation of the furrows of a field ploughed by oxen. The form of the characters was consequently reversed in every succeeding line; a mode of writing which was termed BoustroPHEDON, from bous, a bullock, and strepho, I turn.
Alphabets, as far as they represent sounds, are dependent upon the organs of the human voice, and vary, in different nations, by being adapted more particularly to one or other of those organs: thus, we find that, among some nations, the gutturals are more predominant, while others are more accustomed to the labials, or to the nasal sounds. “ The vocal instrument,” says M. de Gebelin, “is the assemblage of organs, by means of which man communicates his ideas by speech, and expresses his sensations by voice and song. These organs are numerous, and compose a very complicated instrument, which unites all the advantages of wind instruments, such as the flute; of stringed instruments, such as the violin; and of keyed instruments, such as the organ. The last of these, which, of all the musical instruments invented by man, is the most sonorous and the most varied, approaches the nearest to the human voice. Like the organ, the vocal instrument has its bellows, its windchest, its pipes, and its stops. The bellows are the lungs; the pipes are the throat and the nostrils; the cavity of the mouth is the windchest; and its interior divisions are the stops. This instrument furnishes man with simple sounds, such as voice and song, and with representative sounds, or modifications of the voice, such as vowels and consonants.”
The WINDPIPE (TRACHEA of the anatomists) is that tube through which the air passes
repasses to and from the lungs, the lower extremity branching to
the two separate lobes. The upper part of this passage is terminated, at the root of the tongue, by a short elastic tube, formed of moveable, but united, cartilages. This tube is the LARYNX (a Greek name for the throat,) and forms the protuberance, on the forepart of the neck, called Adam's APPLE, from the whimsical idea that a part of the forbidden fruit stuck in his throat. A subvariety of the Lemon has received the same designation.
The glottis, or opening of the larynx, is contractible, or may be altogether shut, at pleasure, by means of muscles which are its lips. This allows the air from the lungs to issue with more or less force, producing, in its efforts for passage, the vibrations which are heard in vocal sounds. These sounds, however, when coming from the glottis, are merely tones, distinguishable only into grave or acute, according as the aperture is open or contracted. The modification of these tones into articULATIONS (or jointed sounds), by means of the interposition and stops of the other organs, is speech. Voice (Latin vox,) is simply a sound proceeding from the mouth of a living being.
The chief organ employed to modify tones into speech is that soft, muscular, and moveable body, the tongue; and hence the name of that organ has been given, by many nations, to the collection of conventional sounds by which man communicates his thoughts to man. It is thus, for example, with the Greek glossa, the Latin lingua, and the French langue, from which our word LANGUAGE is more immediately derived. But the throat, teeth, nostrils, and lips, have also their several provinces in the articulation of the voice; and it was to distinguish to the eyes the various modes of those articulations that letters were invented. The whole of the letters used in the writing of any particular language is its ALPHABET ; a compound taken from the names of the two first Greek letters, alpha and beta, in the same way in which children term it the A, B, C. What belongs to the alphabet is alPHABETIC, or rather Alphabetical, having the adverb ALPHABETICALLY.
The alphabets of modern Europe have been manifestly derived from those of the Greeks and Romans, who confessedly received their characters from the Phænicians. The latter are said to have been preceded by the Chaldeans; and beyond these the origin of letters is lost in the mists of antiquity. The ingenious and praiseworthy labours to discover an alphabet among the pictured charac; ters of Egyptian monuments have not, hitherto, been crowned with the success which they deserve.
The number of letters in every alphabet ought to correspond with the number of sounds and stops,-or, in other words, with the number of vowels and consonants,- in the speech of the nation for which it is formed. This, however, seldom bappens; for alphabets have been generally adoptive, and the language of one nation always differs in some degree from that of another. The early Greeks had only sixteen letters; the old Runic, or Icelandic, alphabet contained also sixteen; and the same number composed that of the ancient Irish.
The names of the letters of some alphabets are significant; a circumstance which has led many to believe that they were originally formed from characters that, like the Chinese, were representative of things. Thus, in the Hebrew, Aleph (x) signifies an ox; Beth (a), a booth; Gimel(a), a camel, &c. - In the Icelandic, Fie (F) is a flock; Ur (U) a torrent; Duss (D) mountain spirits, &c. The Irish alphabet is termed Wood; and its letters are each denominated by the name of a shrub or tree: thus, Ailm (A) is an elm ; Beth (B) is birch ; Col (C) is hazel, and so of the others. Such names would seem, at first sight, to connect alphabetical with picture writing ; but the association of the letters with the initial articulation of certain words had probably no other design than to fix the power of the letter more firmly in the memory, in the same manner as we teach our children, both by the eye and the ear, to say B, bull; C, cat; D, dog; F, fox; G, goat, &c.
Setting aside some doubtful pretensions, it does not appear that any of the countries of Europe, exclusive of Italy and Greece, possessed a national alphabet previous to their conversion to Christianity. The spirit of proselytism aided the extension of letters ; for, as the religious appeal was made to books that were written in a foreign tongue, it became, in general, necessary that the bishops and monks should be acquainted with other languages than their own. Perhaps this, in its turn, was favorable to the spread of the new doctrines. The manuscripts which they were thus compelled to study, as evidence of their faith, were also the repositories of a large stock of human knowledge; and it may readily be believed, that the comparatively learned propagators of the gospel would, speedily, gain the ascendancy over an ignorant pagan priesthood.
The languages of Europe are usually arranged into five divisions : the Celtic, the Teutonic, the Slavonic, the Latin, and the Finnish ; of one or other of which each particular tongue is merely a dialect. According to Dr. Murray, these have proceeded from “five different races of men, which, though originally from a common and single stock, have long ceased to know, or acknowledge, their affinity.” “ The primary tribes of Europe,” says he, “are, as is generally known, Ist, the Celtw, ancestors of the Irish and Scotch; the Cymri, progenitors of the Welsh, Cornish, and Armoricans; 2d, the TEUTONES, ancestors of the Goths, Scandinavians, Saxons, Dutch, and all the German nations; 3d, the SAUROMATÆ, or Slavi, whose descendants are the Russians, Poles, Bohemians, and Croatians ; 4th, the Greeks and Romans, whose posterity still possesses the south of Europe ; and 5th, the Finni, ancestors of the Laplanders, and of a