Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 52.djvu/855

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THE SIGNIFICANCE OF LANGUAGE.

syllable! Grammatical innovations are of the same kind, with the difference that a whole people collaborates in them. How many awkward, incorrect, and obscure constructions, before finding the one which will be, not an adequate—for there is none such—but a passably sufficient expression of the thought! There is nothing in this long labor that is not of the will. In pursuing this study, we have no need to look for facts of a complicated nature. As in everything where the popular mind is in play, we find a surprising simplicity in the means, in striking contrast with the extent and importance of the effects. I have designedly taken my examples from the best known languages.

We give the name of repartition to the intentional process by which words that were synonymous take on different meanings, and can no longer be used for one another. Most linguists deny that there are repartitions, and, when confronted with examples, assert that they are made by scholars and are not popular. The public, however, are not of this opinion. They admit the existence of repartition, and do not believe that there are two absolutely identical terms. Now, since the public is the depository and the author of language, its verdict that there shall be no synonymy is effective to work the disappearance of any synonym in a short time. A class of distinctions between words is discredited by their having been made in the study by pretentious teachers of language who have not been called to the task. There are no real distinctions other than those which are made without premeditation, under the pressure of circumstances by sudden inspiration, under the impulse of a real need, by persons who are dealing with the things themselves, associating the words with them the moment they see them.

When two languages or two dialects exist together, a work of classification takes place, and synonymous words are given different ranks. Words rise and fall in dignity as an idiom is considered superior or inferior. Linguistics is here a social or a national affair. As M. J. Gillieron relates of the Lower Valais, where French has encroached upon the Swiss dialect, that the latter has been debased and become vulgar and trivial. Since the French word chambre has come in for the bedroom, the old word pailé has been applied only to the garret. In Brittany, according to the Abbé Rousselot, gardens were formerly called courtils, but now that the word jardin has been introduced, a kind of slight has been attached to the old rustic word. It makes no difference if both terms are of the same origin. The Savoyard calls his own parents père and mère, French, while the fathers and mothers of his cattle are his native pâré and mâré. What the people do by instinct, all constructive science, all deep analysis, all discussion that has an object, every reflective opinion that would