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one to another. In the ninth book of the Symposiacs of Plutarch, which records a number of these banquet discourses, Hermeias, the Geometrician, who is the first to speak, demands of Protogenes, the Grammarian, why Alpha was ranked the first of all the letters? Sí v "Aλpa προτατεται των γραμματων απαντων. The reason assigned by Protogenes amounts to this, that A will not act in concord with any of his brethren, unless he has the lead; thus place him before I, and he consents to a combined diphthongal sound-A I; place him after, and he refuses to coalesce with his preferred associate-I A.
Cadmus, it seems, had long before pronounced, that to A had been awarded this right of precedence, because, in the language of the Phoenicians, an ox, the first of things necessary to man, was known by the name of A. The recollection of this induces Ammonius to call upon Plutarch himself, as a Bœotian born, to step forward in defence of his countryman Cadmus. "Not so," quoth Plutarch; " for it is but just that I should raise my voice-not in defence of the grandfather of Bacchus, but rather of my own. And he used to say that, "naturally the first articulate vocal sound was produced by the power of A : Πρώτην φύσει φωνην των ενάρθων εκφέρεσθαι διά της του Αλφα δυναμεως : that it is the simple utterance or emission of the breath, through the opened lips, without effort, and without the aid of the tongue; and further, that it is the very first vocal sound uttered by infants; and thus," he adds, " a-tv, is to perceive or receive the sensation of sound (au-d-ire).”
The conversation is then directed to the reasons there may be for the number of letters, and to the proportions that subsist between the one sort and the other. Answers are without hesitation returned to solve the two problems; to the first by Plutarch, and to the second by Hermeias. There is, however, present one Zopyrio, also a grammarian, who could scarcely suppress his splenetic contempt, until silence presented an opportunity to be heard. He then derided their philosophy as vain babble, and confidently assured them, that as the number and the order of the letters were, so they were, not for any reason, but by chance, undevɩ doyw συντυχια δε.
I wish to introduce these learned, inquisitive, and talkative Symposiasts, together with the recondite subjects of their discourse, to the notice and regard of modern philosophic banquetteers, in hopes that they may be inspirited to emulate their antique masters, and to allow the origin and formation of language, to be introduced and entertained with due attentions at their boards. And if any Zopyrio should scoffingly reject a natural origin for articulate intelligible sounds, and dogmatically ascribe them to a certain ZuvTuxia, or Chance, let me warn them to pause awhile, before they invest him with authority to pronounce his own ignorant assumption, as the conclusion in which all without enquiry have agreed to acquiesce.
It is, indeed, exceedingly difficult, if not wholly impossible, so far to divest ourselves of acquired knowledge, as to enable us to contemplate man in his purely infant state-the state referred to by the ancestor of Plutarch—to consider him as a creature merely endowed with the faculty of receiving sensations, and with organs for the articulation of distinct sounds; with a native power to reveal to himself that, in the exercise of these organs, he is possessed of the ready means to signify or communicate those sensations to other individuals of his kind. It is, nevertheless, incumbent upon the enquirer into the origin and formation of language, to make a strong effort to struggle at least with this formidable difficulty, if not wholly to subdue it. It is a trite remark, that the invention and practice of oral speech, must have long preceded the invention and formation of literal characters: that words, the signa audibilia, must have prevailed on the surface of the earth for years and centuries of years before the graphic signs, the verba visibilia, could have been contrived.
Warburton, whose daring spirit plunged him into the darkness of the most early ages, persuaded himself that he had discovered the origin and traced the progress of symbolic figures, and that he had brought the general history of writing, by a gradual and easy descent, from a picture to a letter.
Of the inventors of those letters which have been transmitted to us in the Greek alphabet, history* has been ambitious to preserve the names as she received them from tradition; and the invention itself has ever been commemorated as the noblest monument of human intelligence. "It is a thing (says Bishop Wilkins†) of so great art and exquisiteness, that Tully doth from hence infer the divinity and spirituality of the human soul, and that it must needs be of a far more excellent and abstracted essence than mere matter or body, in that it was able to reduce all articulate sounds to twenty-four letters." "Aut is concretus videtur? ... qui sonos vocis, qui infiniti videbantur, paucis literarum notis terminavit?" Such is the language of Cicero himself. Tusc. Quæst. 1. i. c. 25.
The learned and sagacious Wallis describes a letter to be" a sound in the voice, simple or uncompounded, and indivisible into more simple sounds."§ In this he approaches as near to the truth as any of those grammarians, whose opinions have been collected by the diligence of
Plin. Nat. Hist. 1. vii. c. 56.
+ Real Character, b. i. c. 3.
! Hobbes, no slight authority, asserts, that the invention of printing, though ingenious, compared with the invention of letters, is no great matter.—Of Man, c. 4.
§ Sonus in voce, simplex, seu incompositus, in simpliciores indivisibilis. De Loquela, sec. 1.—He agrees, however, that it may be called, not the sound itself, but a character indicating or designating the simple sound—soni simplicis indicem. Of course it is so, when written; but the sound must have long been in settled usage.
Vossius, excepting, and a singular exception it is to be so neglected and forgotten,-excepting-Aristotle. He has pierced more deeply, and he has defined a letter to be "an indivisible sound, and yet (he adds) not all such sounds are letters, but those only that are capable of forming an intelligible sound." It is by this last epithet, avvern pwvn, that we distinguish the preeminence of the ancient above the modern philosopher; for to the title of philosopher our countryman must still preserve an undoubted claim.
Wallis has remarked that our language greatly delights in monosyllables, and with more subtilty than solidity, in the opinion of Dr. Johnson,§ that " in our native words a great consent of letters and the thing signified, may very frequently be observed:" Magnum utplurimum literarum reique significata consensum reperiri.|| His instances, however, are all of letters conjoined; that is, of separate parts, to which individually he attaches no signification, into significant wholes. Had he weighed with greater accuracy the terminology of Aristotle; had he recognised the force and comprehended the full and exact value and propriety of the expression, "an intelligible sound," that is, a sound significant of an intelligible meaning; it is not improbable that, with his extensive and profound erudition, and his very superior powers of understanding, he would have been the founder of a system of Etymology so perfect, that no other task would have been left to his successors than to consolidate and extend it.
"Horne Tooke's (says Sir James Mackintosh¶) is certainly a wonderful work; but the great merit is the original thought." What was this thought so highly prized, by one so able to appreciate its worth?
That words are the signs of ideas (ovμßoλa walnμarwv), and that all are nouns, significant (kaι onμaive Ti**) are positions that had long been acknowledged in the schools, and taught there the express authority of Aristotle. As an undeniable consequence Tooke inferred that those classes of words, comprised under the general name of particles, were also nouns, and had of course a signification. And the thought was, that there must be in the original language, from which those particles were derived, literally such and such words, bearing such and such significations. This conclusion, the result of general reasoning, he subjected to the test of etymology, and he instantly found upon trial all his predictions verified.††
* Voss. de Arte Gram. 1. 1. c. 7.
† Twining's Translation of— Στοιχεῖον μεν ουν εστι φώνη αδιαιρετος, ου πασα δε αλλ' εξ ης πεφυκε συνετη γινεσθαι pwvn. De Arte Poet. Cap. 24; ed. Tyrwhit.
Gram. ch. 14, sec. 2.
Gram. prefixed to Dictionary.
|| Gram. ch. 14, sec. 2.
"The light," he adds, "which shines through such impenetrable words as articles and pronouns, is admirable -“the” and “ it.”—Tooke left our relative pronouns unexplained. In the Dictionary an attempt is made to throw light upon them.
** Arist. de Inter. ch. i. and ch. iii.
++ Div. of P. v. 1. ch. vii.
The deepest and the broadest principle of H. Tooke is, that all words are nouns, and that all nouns are the signs of ideas; here he descried, and here he warily preserved the main spring of his theory of language. He does not intermeddle with the letters, "those simple elements of speech," as Wilkins justly denominates them,-his purpose did not require that he should. But the renowned Savilian professor treats most distinctly and copiously, as well as acutely of them; and yet, in his attempt to explain what a letter is, he omits that specific term upon which Aristotle had so strongly insisted, as indispensable to the correctness and completeness of the definition.
What then am I venturing to propose, that has not been taught by these two illustrious
Under the sanction of the still more renowned and illustrious Stagyrite, I venture, with no assumption of unfelt diffidence, to lay before the philologers and philosophers of the æra in which I write, certain opinions that have arisen and become established within my own mind, and to state with all possible simplicity and precision the train of general reasoning by which I was led to the belief, that these opinions rest upon a basis not less firm and unchangeable than that of our own physical nature. Having so done, I shall proceed with the practical application of the thought, which immediately presented itself, that if I were to follow the example of Horne Tooke, and subject my principles to the test of that etymology from which he reaped so brilliant a recompense, my experiment might be crowned with similar, if not with equal, success.
My general reasoning then has been this :-All men of all ages and countries of the world have had, and have, the same organs of speech,* and the same sense of hearing; that is, the same organs for the utterance and entrance of sound, with the faculty of distinguishing one sound from another.
Distinct, articulate or organic sounds,―constituting oral language, were and are, as Aristotle terms them, intelligible sounds, or sounds intended to signify distinct meanings.
All people, to whom written language is known, have written signs (named letters) to denote the same distinct intelligible sounds, so constituting oral language; for each sound a corresponding literal sign.
Each letter then was the sign of a separate distinct meaning; it was in fact the sign of a word, previously familiar in speech.
*Literas proferendi, et universam quidem loquelam perficiendi instrumenta sunt præcipua, pulmo et larynx (i.țe.
nodus gutturis) cum
adjacente aspera arteria; item lingua, nares, labia, variæque oris partes.-Wallis, De Loquela, 8.1. To which add,—Vocum articulatio, sive diversarum literarum formatio, tunc incipit, postquam spiritus extra laryngem pervenit; et, naribus, ore, lingua, labiis, fere tota perficitur.-Id. ib.
These letters, once invented, and their forms established, were, and continue to be, distinguished by the two general names of vowels and consonants.
The vowels, or letters so named, are the signs of a breathing; these breathings, however, are emitted by sentient beings, they are the proofs of animal vitality or life, and they have given birth to some primitives denoting sensation, and also motion,—the first act of a sentient being; E. g.
A.-Gr. a-ev, ha-lare, to breathe. A. S. O-r-ath, aù-ra, breath, air. Lat. a-i-o. I say. A.S. Aa. Eng. Ay. Gr. a-.* Gr. a-av, au-d-ire, Ov-aç, au-ris. Goth. Au-so, the ear.
E. and I.-Gr. ε-w, -μ, Lat. e-o, Gr. --val. Lat. i-re. A.S. Hi-gan, to hie, to go.
The consonants are those letters (says Wilkins†) in pronouncing of which the breath is intercepted by some collision, or closure, among the instruments of speech. Vossius thinks them so called, quod junctæ vocalibus sonum‡ edunt. The object of the ensuing pages does not exact an attention to the distribution of these letters into kinds, such as liquids or semi-vowels, and mutes; it will be quite sufficient to remark, that in naming the former, the vowel is, by established usage, preposed, and in naming the latter it is subjoined,§ and that either usage. might without impropriety have been extended to all. Their common nature will be more clearly understood by observing, that each consonant letter requires, for its complete utterance, a breathing precedent, a closure or collision of some of the organs of speech, and an aperture or separation of them, with a breathing subsequent.
Take, for instance, the labials B and M.
Call the first (with the vowel preposed, áb, éb, ám, ém||) the announced sound;
Call the second (with the vowel subjoined, bà, bè, mà, mè) the enounced sound;
And to the two we may give the name of conunciate,—ábbà.
The announced sound of the letter B (áb) signified a meaning; so did the enounced (bè); and so did the conunciate utterance of the two, ábbà.
The literal character B, was and is the written sign of this meaning; the literal sound is a word; the literal character is the written sign of that word. What is predicated of B, may be so of all the other consonants.
* i. e. Spiratione, h. e. leni processu et quasi perpetuo effluxu temporis, atque adeo duratione haud interrupta. Scheide. It is perhaps merely during life, as long as I live or breathe.
+ Real Character, p. III. ch. i.
De Arte Gram. 1. 1. c. xiv.
§ See Wallis and Wilkins, and also Dr. Crombie's Introduction to his Treatise on the Etymology and Syntax of the English Language.
|| All the vowels may be both preposed and subjoined ;—and Scheide-Ceterum stirpi ay-w, cognatæ sunt ɛy-w, 17-w,