Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/379

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LANGUAGE STUDY AND LANGUAGE PSYCHOLOGY

Scotch Sabbath. And what becomes of solving the language puzzle if we study English? Puzzles enough and to spare in Shakespeare, yes. But the puzzles appear in spots as compared with the somewhat continuous bepuzzlement of the classics, and their solution involves, in the main, only some bit of glossarial definition; it does not often demand a complete rearrangement of the thought.

Herein lies a cardinal distinction. As we read or study our own tongue we enjoy immediately something like a three-quarter apprehension of it, because it is English and because it is ours; and being what we are it is irksome to apply ourselves to getting a full comprehension. The truly educative thing in language study is, I take it, the effort to convert loose apprehension into thorough comprehension, and the greater the immediate apprehension, the less the effort and the less the stimulus to pass on to full comprehension. This point has been well made by Dr. Arnold:

It has been my wish to avoid giving any pupils any Greek to do on a Sunday. . . . But I find it almost impossible to make them read a mere English book with sufficient attention to be able to answer questions out of it; or if they do cram themselves for the time, they are sure to forget it directly after.[1]

Plato-Socrates made this point long before in the Meno by asking whether one would earnestly seek and endeavor to learn what he thought he knew already, not knowing it—until at last, having fallen into embarrassment by being shown his ignorance, he longs to be taught.

In hearing or reading our own language we largely anticipate what is coming and this is what renders us liable to be bored. Thus the very ease of our apprehension makes us inattentive. With persons who speak like a book and with parsons at sermon, it is often enough to hear the beginning of a paragraph and wake up again at its end, quite sure we have absorbed the contents of a long stretch of discourse. Psychologically speaking, we stand in a very different relation to our own and to a foreign language.What we speak or write our motor currents, starting in the brain, we will say, transmit to our vocal organs or our pens, along nerve-fibers so habituated to such impressions that the consciousness does not become alive till we hear what we have said, or read what we have written. This is proved by the not uncommon experience that, while writing unconsciously, we spell correctly words that we misspell if we consciously attempt them: which shows how trite the native word and phrase become. On the other hand, when we read or listen, our sensory currents, transmitting to the brain what we see or hear, throb the more actively in proportion to the novelty, the strangeness of the object of consciousness. The only real stimulus is the novel stimulus. Our native speech, whether in motor or sensory transmission, provides less stimulus of novelty. It less quickens the attention. It becomes automatic. In our own language we read along cheerfully,

  1. Stanley's "Life of Dr. Arnold," letter No. 8, v. 1, p. 74.