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Language 1

speech, human, signs, extent, difference, powers, capacity, ideas, brutes and feelings

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LANGUAGE. 1. Man, it has frequent ly been said, is the only animal possessed of speech, and if we use this term as im plying the expression of a train of ideas by articulate sounds, it may perhaps be esteemed the best criterion of distinction between man and the inferior animals. It is not easy to fix upon one which shall be universally applicable; but the same difficulty frequently occurs in the attempt to ascertain the exact boundary between the characteristics of one class of being and those of another : for instance, the naturalist finds it a puzzling problem to ascertain the characteristic difference be tween the animal and the vegetable king dom. Some of the most intelligent of the brute creation often astonish us by actions, which can proceed only from powers of intellect similar to those which we pos sess. Alt the mental powers, except sensation, are probably the modifications of the principle of association : it is ac knowledged that brutes possess this in a, considerable degree, and it is probable, that to the difference in the extent of this principle of its activity and direction we are to attribute the mental difference be tween one animal and another. There is, perhaps, less difference between the most uninformed mind of the human species and the most sagacious of the brutes, than between the brightest orna ments of our race and those whose minds have received the least culture from na tural or artificial education. We gain greater exactness by making the capacity of speech the criterion of distinction be tween man and the brute creation. Many animals are capable of acquainting others of the same, and even of a different species, with the feelings of their minds ; but man alone has the power of express Mg a train of ideas, and of stating the causes of those feelings.

2. Articulation furnishes the most con venient and extensive method of com munication. It would be possible to him: a language of signs, and in many instances this is done; but human thought would never have acquired any high degree of accuracy and extent, if there had been no other language. The most perfect lan guage of signs is merely a representative of the language of speech. What are called the natural signs of feeling are very similar to the language of brutes, and not more extensive. To give speech all the energy of thought, the language of tone and gesture must be joined to it; but it will generally be found that those who have words for all their ideas, sel dom have recourse to gesticulation, ex cept when the warmth of feeling calls it forth. Where speech is defective in energy, it is usually enforced by looks, gestures, and tones : these powerfully ap peal to the feelings, because they are considered as an indication that certain feelings exist in the mind of the speaker, and feeling is contagious; but our limits will not allow us to enter into the consi deration of this species of language, and we shall confine ourselves to that of speech, at the same time begging our readers to refer to the article VOICE for an account of the mechanism by which speech is effected, and to WRITING, origin of, alphabetical, for the methods which men have adopted for a permanent visible denotement of speech, which lat ter we wish to be considered as forming one with the present article.

3. Whatever be our opinion respecting the progressive melioration of brutes, if the capacity of language were communi cated to them, there can be no hesitation in admitting that there would be a pro gressive deterioration of the human spe cies, if they were deprived of it. Had hot man possessed this, or some other extensive power of communication, that astonishing system which we call the human mind, would have remained in in activity, its faculties torpid, its energies unexcited, and that capacity of progres sive improvement which forms so im portant a part in the mental constitution, would have been unknown and given in vain. But in every part of the creation we discern an unity of design, which equally proves the wisdom and benevo lence of the great First Cause. The means of bringing his powers into activity are bestowed upon man, as well as the powers themselves ; and it is a position which will bear a rigorous examination, that the accuracy of human thought, and the extent of human intellect, generally proceed in equal steps with the accuracy and extent of language. When we consi der the influence of language upon intel lect, it will not appear too much to affirm, that if those, whose genius has dazzled the world with its splendour and extent, had been from the first destitute of the power of communication, they would not have risen above the level of the least cultivated of their fellow mortals. "Con ceive such a one (to use the ideas of Condillac) bereft of the use of visible signs, how much knowledge would be concealed from him, attainable even by an ordinary capacity. Take away from him the use of speech, the lot of the dumb teaches you in what narrow bounds you enclose him. Finally, deprive him of the use of all kinds of signs, let him not know how to make with propriety any gesture, you would have in him a mere idiot." 4. We are far, however, from believ ing, with Lord Monhoddo, that the hu man race have actually risen from the very lowest stage—that of mere brutality. His lordship supposes, on the authority of several travellers whom he quotes, (and of whose passion for the marvellous his quotations leave no room to doubt), that there have been nations without laws or any of the arts of civilized tile, without even language; and that some of them (to complete their resemblance to the monkey tribe) had actually tails. This, with other opinions which display rather the credulity of the man of system, than the sober and cool judgment of the philo sopher, has exposed his lordship to the lively ridicule of Mr. Horne Tooke ; and though ridicule is no test of truth, we must admit that this is one of those dog mata which it is below the dignity of rea son co refute.

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