THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
Contre nous de la tyrannie l'êtendard sanglaut est levé—
though it is so easy to rethink it as "Against us tyranny's standard of blood is raised."
No, the phrase is the unit. Of this I once had an almost convincing demonstration. A class was beginning Cicero's essay on old age and, as there were no books at hand, I began to read the first chapter aloud, slowly, and by phrases, with the result that I secured in this oral way a much better translation than the class brought up next day for their prepared lesson. If any one wants to convince himself of the superiority of Virgil in the narrative style to any other Latin poet, I know of no better test than reading him aloud by phrases: his brief phrases—not his words—move with a simplicity and naturalness not unlike the prose style of King James's version.
XI. Analytic versus Synthetic Languages.
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 spoke, afford by comparison but miserable accommodation for thought. From our extremely small experience of the speech of the world we judge that, in the case of the few languages which we know, evolution has proceeded backwards: the better organized, and therefore, from the evolutionary standpoint, the higher language has given place to the lower. . . . Greek and Latin were not made by cultured Greeks and Romans. The language took form in the converse of their illiterate ancestors. Literature, upon which the beginnings of culture rest, closes language building in the larger sense. Zulu is a more highly flexional language than Greek. . . . The language of the Zulus is not great because it is complex in form. Every language becomes great when greatly used—Greek from Demosthenes 's mouth; English from Milton's pen. . . . The only evolutionary tendency in language which we can recognize is this tendency towards analysis, toward dismemberment. So great an authority as Sir Charles Eliot, vice-chancellor of Sheffield University, who perhaps knows a greater variety of languages than any other man, from Portuguese to Russian, from Turkish to Japanese, languages of central Africa and of the Polynesian Islands, tells me that he considers that this progress favors thought. Gender, number, case hamper language, restrict its flexibility, impede thought. A monosyllabic root-language, such as Chinese or Burmese, is a swifter and more precise solvent of thought than are the highly inflected Bantu tongues. If this be true—and it does not seem to me open to doubt—it is easier to think in English than in Latin.
I have not the least doubt that it is easier for Sir Charles Eliot, Professor Hill or me to think in English than in Latin. The great educative value I assign to the study of Latin lies precisely therein. The rethinking of Latin into English can not fail to be tremendously more difficult than the rethinking of any modern cultural tongue into English. But Professor Hill is dealing with postulates, not demonstrations. Who shall show us that Cicero's Verrines cost more effort in the thinking and phrasing or appealed less simply and directly to his audience than Burke's "Impeachment of Warren Hastings"?