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and profoundly what his predecessor had only indicated and invested with the garb of imagery. Humboldt's preparation for the question, however, was a much more thorough and extensive one than that of Herder. It was based not only on immense researches, but also on the no l'ess earnest study of philosophy, more especially of the Critical System, and of the great poets Goëthe and Schiller, of both of whom he had been not only a reader, but one of the most eminent critics.
With Humboldt, therefore, the theory of a divine origin could no longer be a question, any more than the pragmatical or materialistic philosophical solutions by which he was preceded. In opposition to the notion of an “invention," he advances “ that language could not be invented unless its type already pre-existed in the human intelligence ;" " that man is man (i. e., a human being) only in virtue of speech, and that consequently to invent speech he would already have to be man."*
Humboldt is equally averse to the theory which derives language from the necessity of mutual assistance. “Speech," he says, "flows spontaneously, without any necessitation or even design, from the human breast. Man is essentially a singing being, but be links thoughts to his notes.”+ This explanation is substantially the same as that advanced in another passage, where he seeks the source of language in our “ general capacity for speech,” and designates it as the natural development of a faculty characterizing man as such. And so far is he from making it the product of
I reflection or convention, that in another place he declares it “a veritable and inexplicable wonder that such a thing as a language should spring from the mouth of a nation, but a phenomenon no less astonishing than that which is repeated daily among us, although overlooked with indifference, in the stammering accents of every child."||
In his letter to Rémusat he declares himself expressly against the notion of a direct divine intervention, and accounts for the origin of hnman speech by the génie inné à l'homme pour les langues ; but at the same time he vindicates for this innate faculty so high a place in our nature as to approximate it to the divine, and maintains inherent in it an étincelle divine, qui luit à boavers tous les idiomes, même les plus imparfaits et les moins cultivés.
After thus defining his position in reference to the contes
Werke, vol. iii., p. 252-253. ld., vol. vi., pp. 60-61. $Id., vol. vi., p. 204. || Schlegel's Museum, vol. ii., p. 498.
§ Werke, vol. vii., p. 337.
ted point concerning the origin of language, and claiming it to be a purely human one, Humboldt next proceeds to give us the key to its comprehension, and this he asserts to be “ the physiology of the intellectual man.” In language, he says, the human intellect operates according to certain laws precisely like nature, and speech is the effect of our rational instinct. It is therefore the product of nature, but of the nature of the human reason; and if we enquire into the production of language, we have to look for it, in the individual as well as in the collective masses called nations, at the point where the first symptoms of intellect begin to make their appearance.*
These definitions contain the determination of the general nature of language. As a product of the intellectual instinct of man, it is as perpetually alive as this instinct itself. It is not to be regarded as a caput mortuum, but as a living production, and as the act of this production itself
. Its very essence consists in something that is in a state of constant and momentary motion. It is not so much an čpyov, or work, as it is an euěpyɛla, or activity. Even its fixation by means of writing can at best be but an imperfect preservation, and one which, in every instance, needs a living intervention to resuscitate it. And this energy, or general faculty of speech, is not an isolated power, but the entire man in the totality of his powers, as far as the latter are required or concerned in the production of speech.t
The most general and characteristic function of language is that it is a medium or link of communication. It constitutes, in the first place, the connecting link between the finite and the infinite nature of man. It bears the imprint of the double nature of man blended into a symbol. In language our spontaneity and receptivity act together, and the subjective unites itself with the objective. By the act of speech the external world becomes converted into an internal one ; and it is thus that nature, its individual objects as well as the laws by which we conceive it regulated, becomes translated into something that is human. Language is thus a perpetual prosopopæia. As the isolated sound establishes à relation between the object and ourselyes, so language, as a totality, constitutes a medium between us and nature, as the latter produces its impressions on us either from without or from within. It is an intellect
Werke, vol. ii., p. 240 ; vol. iii., p. 253 ; vol. vi., p. 428 ; vol. vii., p. 336. † Werke, vol. vi., pp. 40 and 42. Einleitung, p. 304. (The paging of Einleiung is here invariably that of Werke. vol. vi.)
ual world linked to sounds, and occupies a sort of middle ground between man and the external; and it not only represents objects to the mind's eye, but it also gives us the impression produced by them, thus blending and uniting our receptivity with the self-determining, active energy of our being. * In like manner, language is a medium of communication between one individual and another, between the individual and his nation, between the past and present. The life from which it emanates breathes its living sound into the sense receiving it. In general, speech can only be conceived of as the joint product of simultaneous co-operation, in which every one is obliged to bear at once his own labor and that of all the rest.t Understanding and speaking are thus only different effects of one and the same cause, and this is none other than the capacity of speech essential to both. In him who understands, as well as in the speaker, the subject-matter must be evolved from his own inward power; and what the former receives is only an incitement in harmony with that which he himself can and is expected to impart.
It is this phase of reciprocal activity which, more than anything else, establishes the purely human nature and origin of language; and it is this, too, which offers us the best solution for the antinomies presented to us in the manifestations of speech. For, in the first place, language is never the work of an individual, but invariably the property of the entire nation, while at the same time it is always destined to serve as an instrument to the greatest imaginable diversity of individuals. It thus contains the double quality of differentiating itself, as one language, into an indefinite number of others, and of again integrating all these into one, as mere modifications of itself. Language is, in the second place, a perpetual genesis, and its very essence consists in the act of speaking, or in speech. Yet this constantly recurring process does not constitute the whole of it, and it contains also something that is permanent and firm. It produces within itself a stock of words and a system of rules, through which, in the course of centuries, it grows up into an independent power, and it thus becomes something more than the evanescent process of speaking; it establishes itself, at the same time, as the result of a multitude of previous acts of speech. This apparent contradiction constitutes the
* Einleitung, pp. 53, 59. Werke, vol. vi., p. 530. † Einleitung, p. 53.
Werke, vol. iii., p. 13.
peculiarity of language. It is in its very nature passive and active, subjective and objective, at the same time.
Both these antinomies are accounted for completely by the human character and origin of language. For, in the first place, individual speaking is linked to the speaking of the nation, and the speaking of nations to speech in general; which has its centre in the common bond and unity of our nature. For man does not possess any such thing as an absolutely isolated individuality ; the I and the Thou are the essential complements of each other, and would, in their last analysis, be found identical. In this sense there are circles of individuality from each weak, helpless, and perishable member of our race as far back as the time of our hoariest antiquity. Without this, says Humboldt, no such thing as interchange of thought, or even comprehension, would ever have been possible.* So, in respect to the second antinomy, the apparent contradiction involved in the activity and passivity of speech, Humboldt again finds it accounted for in the unity of human nature already spoken of. • In that which originates in something which is properly identical with myself, the distinction of subject and object, of dependence and independence, becomes obliterated. Whatever there is in language, traditional and established, determining and limiting me, can come from no other than a human source, and one that is most intimately connected with myself; hence, even that which is strange ạnd unintelligible to me in human speech can be so only to my momentary individual nature, and not to my original or real one.”+ By thus referring our ability to speak and understand to a universal element common to all the members of the race, Humboldt moves it to the point where the vestiges of its human origin become blended with the divine, as far as man, in virtue of his intellectual and moral nature, can claim himself akin to the Divinity, and this is the only sense in which to him the question of a divine origin can have any scientific value or significance.
After this brief outline of Humboldt's views concerning the grigin and general nature of human language, it is now in order to give a cursory survey of his further attempts to analyze the process of speech as exhibited in its constitutive elements, in articulation, the formation of roots, words, and grammatical forms, with their mutual relation and dependence on each other.
Schlegel's Museum, vol. ii., p. 498.
| Werke, vol. vi., p 65.
The process of speech being, as we have already seen, . based upon the rational instinct, it is, first of all, necessary to inquire into the manner in which this instinct acts in the process in question. We have, in the first place, to answer that the action of this process can only be explained, as far as it is susceptible of explanation, in connection with the necessary mechanism of our intellectual life. When brought in contact with the external world, the activity of our senses unites itself synthetically with an internal act of the mind, and this joint operation gives rise to sensation. From the confused mass of our sensations another process, similar to the first, gives rise to perception, and when a perception isolates itself, it assumes the character of objectivity in reference to the mind and becomes a conception. Now, the process of speech is so closely linked to this process of the intellect and senses, that the one cannot be said to be complete without the other. The conversion of a perception into a conception, i. e., into something objective, which may be re-admitted into the mind and reflected upon, presupposes already the use of speech. “In speech,” says Humboldt,
our intellectual life makes way for itself through the lips, and the product of this operation is instantaneously and first of all returned to our own ear.
The indistinct process of intellection gathers itself together into a word, as light clouds are wont to collect on the clear sky.” It is through speech that man represents to himself, as to another Me, the varied phenomena of the outward and the inner world, which thus become part and parcel of his consciousness. Language is thus not only the necessary channel, but the very form and body, of his intellectual activity, and may therefore be said to be identical with it. It is on this account that speech becomes indispensable even to private thinking, which, be it never so solitary, is always a sort of dialogue with our own Thou, or a soliloquy. Nevertheless, says Humboldt, language is never formed by one man only, or in solitude. On the contrary, " that objectivity of our perceptions becomes augmented when the word coined by ourselves is heard from the mouth of another,” and “man cannot fully comprehend himself until he has tested the intelligibleness of his words by submitting them to others."*
Such, then, is the fundamental law which, according to Humboldt, presides over the genesis of language. We have next to enquire what he says concerning the concrete
* Werke, vol. iii., p. 13; vol. vi., p. 590 ; Einleitung, p. 53, 55.