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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/437

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433
THE INADEQUACY OF SPEECH

a well-supplied vocabulary. The range of their observations being limited, the natural tendency to loquacity manifests itself by multiplying words for the same or nearly the same object. It is not an uncommon thing to find persons even in civilized countries whose words are numerous in an inverse ratio to their thoughts. It is very much easier to talk than to think. The language-making faculty produces such a luxuriant crop of words that where the range of percepts is circumscribed it invents a new word for every possible relation in which they may be perceived. If the conditions of the primitive races were changed they would probably find their vocabulary sadly deficient. Under such circumstances it is likely that they would invent a new stock of words, using the material on hand as a basis as far as it would reach. Such we may suppose to be the case of the Eskimo and the Kafirs, if they were to exchange habitats. On the other hand, it needs to be said that this proceeding is not carried very far, but new objects are named by words used to designate them by the people that serve as intermediaries. We accordingly find among the Eskimo of the northwest a number of terms borrowed from the Russians, and, among the native tribes of Africa, words appropriated from the Arabic, the Portuguese and the English, always trimmed to fit the native vocal organs; for it must be remembered that they are learned by adults and not by children, whose vocal organs are sufficiently plastic to reproduce any sound accurately. The process may be seen among the Vai, a dialect of the Mande spoken to some extent in the republic of Liberia: lamp becomes "dampo," bowl "bowli" or "bowri," fork "furokia," hundred "hondoro," coat "coti," pillow "puro" or "puro," trunk "torungu."

When a language has reached a stereotyped stage and the people speaking it continue to advance in thought, there is nothing left for them to do except to discard it for another. This happened with the Hebrew. The library of the British Museum is said to contain ten thousand modern books in this language, among them most of Shakespeare's plays and even Goethe's Faust. It is hard to see how these versions can be more than a mere adumbration of the originals. It is simply impossible to express the subtle thoughts of these works in the rigid ancient tongue. The Jews themselves recognized this. When they undertook to discuss philosophical and metaphysical themes they had recourse to the Greek even when they wrote for their own countrymen. This language of unlimited resources and perfect adaptability to the expression of the minutest shades of thought had been so fully developed and had a vocabulary ready-made for abstract discussion that all who aspired to wide culture betook themselves to it. The New Testament furnishes evidence within the reach of every one. The Emperor Marcus Aurelius, although a Roman of the Romans, felt that