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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/438

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

Greek was better adapted to give utterance to the inmost thought of his soul than his native Latin. It is doubtful whether an adequate English translation of his "Meditations" exists as yet. The late Carl Schurz, who was "master" of two languages in a widely different sense from that usually given to this much-abused word, was wont to say that for certain subjects he preferred the English and for others the German. In his mind each possessed excellencies which the other lacked.

Until recently almost all students of human speech accepted the theory that abstract ideas or concepts are its ultimate elements. It was held that the mind itself supplies an inherent basis of knowledge in all our cognitions. A name is a mere empty sign, a meaningless symbol, unless there be a preceding mental image of the object which it represents, or an abstract conception in the mind of which it is the sign. The mental image must precede the name, the abstract conception must be anterior to the sign, if it is to be understood. Ideas must precede the visible or audible or tactile signs. A child knows a great many things before it can speak the name. This being the case, the moon is the "measurer," the sun the "light-giver," from roots meaning to measure and to shine. Fifty years ago, Professor Max Müller worked out this theory with much detail and popularized it with a profusion of poetic imagery. At the present day, however, it is no longer taken seriously by the most competent judges. Most persons conversant with the facts admit that in nearly all languages there are roots that seem to express purely abstract ideas; but whether these are the oldest elements is another question. Dogs and other brutes know the names of objects as well as their uses although they never learn to speak the former. A careful study of the radical elements of many languages has led some philologists to maintain that the earliest words were a sort of cross between a name in action and an appended demonstrative. To walk or to eat would thus mean "walker-that-one," or "walker-he"; "eater-this-one," or "eater-he." In some of the languages spoken by tribes at the foot of the economic ladder words are used in a sense utterly foreign to our modes of thought. In the Innuit, for example, "he is my son" really means he sons me; "thou art my son" is I son thee; "he sons me" is equivalent to I am his son. We find a trace of this mode of thought in English owing to the lack of characteristic suffixes, as when Shakespeare says: "Cowards father cowards." Familiar examples of this dual nature of words are boycott, out-Herod, water, table, "move on," "get a move on you"; and many more.

The endeavor to give utterance to internal speech, as we may call it, has called into existence an astonishing number of word-forms to express number, person, gender and case. These various relations are indicated by prefixes, suffixes and infixes, or by separate words. In English the plural is, for the most part, formed by the addition of