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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/543

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539
THE ACQUISITION OF LANGUAGE

game of words with conviction: they looked upon the triumphant application of arbitrary rules of logic as proof. They apprehended the principles of thought; but failed because they mistook their own bylaws for natural law. The Popes of the Renaissance, who, like Eugenius IV., made the only test for high office in the Church an irreproachable Latin style, were not actuated merely by fashion or caprice: they mistook rhetorical ability for intellectual power, eloquence for wisdom. They were right in the idea, although too zealous in its application. Eloquence would be wisdom made manifest, if, in the multitudinous torrent of words, none were used in an ambiguous sense, none were superfluous, none were capable of replacement by others more congruous with the thought, none could be displaced from their position in the phrase without detriment to its sense.

It is not natural to children to make nice distinctions between approximately equivalent words. It is hardly second nature with grown men, especially if they be Englishmen. A boy finds that it is 'jolly beastly' to have to go back to school, and 'beastly jolly' to be coming home. He is always struggling back to barbarism—the use of gesture and stress in place of words. Even grown men have usually got to get somewhere. They have got to get their hair cut, or have got to get a book, have got a cold, or have got home. A very few tesseræ serve them to make the pattern of their thoughts, and their thoughts are in consequence crude and colorless. Children must learn words and must be drilled in their use. To attribute the proved success of classical education to its content appears to me a ludicrous and even wilful misreading of history; though I readily admit that even the average boy acquires something of valor, of patriotism, of esthetic sensibility, of emotional and intellectual sanity from contact with the mind of Greeks and Romans.

My doubt is as to whether, considering the modern conditions of life, the time has not yet come to replace Greek and Latin by modern and functional languages; to trust to their masterpieces for material with which to influence character; and, in the case of children who will never need to speak or read any language but English, to rely upon our own Shakspere for words, grammar and emotional tone.

If we but knew the most rudimentary principles of the psychology of speech! What form of language is best suited for the expression of thought? What form of language is most favorable to thinking? To those of us who have been through the ordinary grammar-school training the highly organized classical languages appear to be indisputably superior to their maimed and curtailed successors. We feel that gunpowder has not done more harm to the temples of Athens and Rome than the barbarians have done to Greek and Latin. We can not resist the impression that modern Greek and Italian, as they are but the ruins and vestiges of the languages in which Demosthenes and Cicero