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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/442

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

process of deterioration virtually comes to an end, unless only a small portion of those who use it fall under the influence of culture. In such a case the breach between the educated and the uneducated becomes wider and wider. This gradual divergence can be traced both in the Greek and in the Latin. A few persons continued to write the classic tongues as nearly as they could; but they eventually became unintelligible to the great mass of the people. Although Dante had a ready use of the Latin and wrote much in that language, he nevertheless composed a treatise to prove the superiority of the mother-tongue; and he felt that in this alone could he give utterance to the inmost thoughts of his soul.

It is remarkable that the course of what we are wont to call civilization is in a great measure parallel with that of language. During the Mycen├Žan age in Greece the arts flourished to a degree that seemed almost godlike to Homer's contemporaries. The historic era in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the beginning of which is placed about three thousand years b.c., is one of decline. The same is true of Mexico and Central America. Here not only the age of growth, but also that of decay, has been swept into the bottomless pit of oblivion. We see much and know nothing.

That thought embraces more than speech may often be inferred from a study of public speakers. When persons who are in the habit of thinking rather than talking endeavor to express themselves in public they are frequently at a loss. They hesitate, repeat, often use the wrong word, and are ill at ease for the reason that the vocabulary which they have at immediate command does not offer the exact terms they need. This is particularly true of mathematicians, who are proverbially poor speakers. Take another example similar in kind. I am translating from a foreign tongue into my own. I come across a word for which an equivalent does not at once occur to me. My memory brings into consciousness several synonyms, but all are rejected by my judgment as inadequate. My memory may be compared to a plane surface on which my judgment moves about like a flash-light until it discovers what I am looking for. Or I may come across a foreign word that has no English equivalent. I must therefore transfer it bodily or use an approximation. In such cases the dictionary rarely affords any aid. It furnishes me, perhaps, with a number of more or less equivalents, but it does not help me to select the particular word I am in search of. Again, assuming that Leibniz discovered the Differential Calculus, did he do so with the German, the French or the Latin language? Although we are not justified in assuming that the discovery could have been made by a dumb person, it lies within a sphere of thought where words count for little. There is abundant evidence to prove that many of the subanimals carry on elementary trains of reasoning which lead them to conform their actions to new