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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/270

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY cess

in conveying his ideas fully and accurately. In the process of transfer he has reduced the friction and the waste of inertia to the utmost. The least amount of work has been lost in the operation of two machines, the giving and the receiving, which form temporarily a connected system; and the active recipient's attention has been applied with good economy.

Men do not require to be highly civilized before the need is felt for the registration of ideas in addition to their oral transfer. Ideas are first symbolized, and the translation of such symbols into words soon suggests that words may be independently symbolized. The process continues until words are analyzed into their components, and these also are symbolized as letters. The art of spelling is thus born. But whatever the stage of symbolization, the written idea can never be more than an imperfect reproduction of the spoken idea, because symbols are arbitrary. The interpretation of a group of symbols is a synthetic process, and the opportunities for misunderstanding are fairly well proportioned to the complexity of the word machine employed.

The art of spelling is thus a development from early crude attempts to register spoken ideas and spoken words. The same word is often pronounced so differently by different speakers as to be scarcely recognizable. The English language when spoken by a highland Scotch or Welsh tongue to the ear of an American mountaineer fulfills quite well the dictum, commonly ascribed to Talleyrand, that the object of language is to conceal thought. From the very nature of the case spelling must vary as language varies. Orthodoxy may perhaps be as unchangeable as its representatives are prone to claim, but spelling has never been uniform, is not now uniform, and ought not to be more uniform than is the spoken language among the best educated scholars in great centers of population.

So long as literature was limited to manuscripts copied by professional scribes and seen only by the few who could read, and whose tastes prompted them to indulgence in such pleasure, spelling was as unsettled as forms of speech. The invention of printing not only produced a vast increase in the diffusion of reading matter, but tended to unify and give definiteness to the forms of symbolization. The railroad, the steamship, the telegraph and the printing press have been operated conjointly to bring all nations into closer communication than was ever foreshadowed by the optimistic dreams of our forefathers; but the adoption of a single language for the civilized world is still so far away in the future that no one gives the matter any serious consideration. Such unification is conceivable, but if ever approached it must be by gradual and almost imperceptible evolution, and not by prescription from any source, however scholarly and apparently authoritative. A new language, like Volap√ľk, even though theoretically perfect, has not the ghost of a chance of adoption, because nobody is