THE STRUCTURE OF LANGUAGE.*
THE object of these volumes is to exhibit both the morphology and physiology of speech, as distinguished from the phonology
and etymology of words ; and for this purpose a somewhat peculiar procedure is employed. In the first place, a particular psychological basis is assumed of man's vocal expression of his
thought ; next., the reality of this basis is sought to be established upon a full review of the principal languages of the world ; and, lastly, these are appealed to as showing in their structure the actual effects of the psychical causes hypothesised. The method is an inversion of the natural one, and not devoid of awkward- ness, while the learning displayed in its application is not always accurate. All Chinese words, for instance, are said to consist of monosyllables ending in a vowel, a nasal, or the letter I. But, in fact, dissyllabic words are com- mon enough in Chinese. In the Southern dialects, which approximate to the older forms of the language, syllables ending in k, t, p, are also quite usual, and these terminations are trace- able even in Mandarin, in the abrupt final it of the jilt tone. Despite, however, errors of this kind—not, probably, altogether avoidable—the detailed exposition we have referred to is a valu- able contribution to linguistic science, and brings together a wealth of philological material unparalleled in any English work we have met with of a similar character.
The Dean is undoubtedly justified in his fuudamental pro- position, that language is affected in its structure by psychical causes. But language, in its turn, and mainly in the measure of its structure, reacts upon the very causes that affect it. It exercises, indeed, a more powerful influence upon the develop- ment of the mind than the mind itself exercises upon the course of speech. Hence, language undergoes, through the mediation of mind, and with more or less modification by external conditions, a sort of self-development upon a plan rigidly established at a very early stage and rigidly adhered to throughout. To this peculiar fact of language the author of these volumes does not appear to attach sufficient importance. Of the non-material causes that affect the struc- ture of language, he finds the principal to be mental excitability
• General Principles of the Structure of Language. By James Byrne, M.A., Dean of Clonfert. 2 vols. London : Trabner and Co. and mental power. But mental power includes excitability,— that is, the ability to receive impressions as well as to digest and act upon them, activity of the outer as well as of the inner surfaces of the mind. The truth, however, seems to be that the main psychical condition of the development of a language is the analytical capacity of the folk who have invented and used it ; and we can do little more than guess at the course of the development of this faculty under the varying environment (itself very dimly known) of the different races of mankind at epochs long anterior to the assumption by their speech of forms not greatly differing from what they now exhibit.
Language probably originated from simple elements consisting of the open a sound, and of the different combinations of a with the perfect mutes, lc, t, p, together with dissyllabic or even poly- syllabic aggregations of these combinations. We are not here con- cerned to trace how this scanty stock of materials was increased by man's natural laziness differentiating a into the more easily vocalised e,i, o, u, and their varieties, and the perfect mutes into simpler consonantal articulations, the imperfect mutes (g, d, b), the aspirates, spirants, vibratiles (I, 71, and nasals. At first man was content with merely naming, marking by vocal expression, his simpler feelings and perceptions ; but at an early stage of his career he began to form judgments, and these, too, required expres- sion. This want could only be met by au arrangement of materials, and grammar came into being. Language was no longer a heap of sound-marks, but became a structure. Philology has investi- gated the history of the elements of this structure with consider- able success. But of its fundamental plan or scheme we hardly know anything, and we know little more of the process by which its various details have been elaborated, or of the reasons of their almost infinite diversity. In Chinese there is only a trace of accidence, and the syntax is of the simplest character ; in Aryan speech both syntax and accidence have attained an extraordi- nary degree of development. In Arabic the verb stands prefer- ably at the beginning of the sentence, in Japanese rigidly at the end, in Greek and Latin its position seems to be principally determined by sense-emphasis. What causes lie at the founda- tion of these wide differences, and of what original plan or plans are they the differentiated modifications ? It is extremely difficult even to imagine an answer to these questions. Dean Byrne asserts that differences of mental power and excitability, and differences of environment, have brought about the various
forms of structure met with in language. But the explanation is rather a conception than a fact. The structure of a language seems always, even when of a minutely elaborate character, to have become set and solidified at a very early stage in the history of the language. Grammar, too, is extraordinarily rigid, while the vocabulary is constantly changing. The grammar of a language, once established, varies but little, save through loss of inflectional forms, due mainly to the destructive contact of foreign tongues. In modern Japanese, for instance, three-fifths of the vocabulary is Chinese jargon, but in Japanese grammar we find very few Chinese elements. Mental power is so much an effect of the use of speech, that it is almost futile to try to distinguish the part it plays as a cause of linguistic development. Environ- ment, on the other hand, seems rather to have influenced vocabularies than to have modified the forms of language. The Hawaiians, leading an easy life, have lost many of the con- sonants which still exist in Maori, an older form of Polynesian, spoken by a more vigorous people, living a more varied and energetic life. But in grammar the two languages hardly differ. The truth is that philology is not yet in a position to deal adequately with the very curious and interesting problems in- volved in the history of grammar. The comparative morphology of the verb as the highest expression of grammar, especially needs investigation ; but the subject is one that has scarcely been studied outside of the classical domain. A good general account of this, the most important of the parts of speech, will be found in the second volume of the present work ; but the explanations are insufficient, and of some phenomena—as, for instance, of the possession by the Arabic verb of gender as well as number and person—wholly unsatisfactory.
The Dean illustrates his psychical theory by a comparison of the liveliness of the African races with the fragmentary char- acter of their languages, and of the stolidity of the American peoples with the massive structure of their speech. The con- trast between the red man and the black man is admirably drawn, but it cannot truly be said that a similar contrast is offered by the language-groups of the two continents of America and Africa. In both the same want of analytic power is dis- played; in both agglutination prevails, though it is more char- acteristic of the American than of the African group. After all, analysis and agglutination are more or less discoverable in all languages ; even in Sanskrit agglutinated sentence-words of immense length are common enough. In modern European tongues agglutinations are not very rare, but are usually con- cealed by the abbreviated form they have assumed,—e.g., desormais (de ista hora magis), sirreverenee (save your rever- ence), canape (canis ad pedem), good-bye.
The African and American groups, in fact, are not linguistic extremes ; these are best found in Chinese and Aryan. Yet the early history of both the Chinese and Aryan races shows their environment to have been of a very similar character. The great problem of philology in its grammatical section, is to explain the existence of such a diversity under, as far as we know, not greatly dissimilar conditions, and the problem still remains almost with- out a hint as to its solution. It is not certain that Chinese is in- ferior to Sanskrit ; what the latter language effects by grammati- cal forms the former accomplishes by a most subtle vocabulary, produced with the aid of an infinite capacity for composition. But this fact only accentuates the difference between the paths travelled by the two languages ; and why in the one case a refinement of vocabulary, in the other an almost microscopic minuteness of structural detail, should have been the means chosen to express thought—chosen, too, it must be once more repeated, at a very early stage in the history of both races—is likely long to remain one of the profoundest secrets of human history. Though the philosophy of these volumes is open to remark, there can be no doubt of the value of the work as a con- tribution to the science of language. Nor will it be found less interesting than instructive. Language of some sort even animals possess, but grammar is only human. Speech, which is an architecture of words, is well described by Dean Byrne as "the earliest production of the social life of mankind, and a condition of all the rest,"—almost an admission of the theory indicated in what has preceded. The study of speech, too, equally interests the scholar and the man of science ; and it may fairly be claimed that no branch of human inquiry offers a more attrac- five and fruitful field to research and reflection than structural philology.