Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/388

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
384
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

through a glass darkly, what I see crystal clear in the synthetic possessive Tyranny's by which I have rendered it.

As I have already said in another connection, German in its noun and. Spanish in its verb are at least as synthetic as Latin, spite of an evolution longer by two thousand years. That these languages with their rich flexional systems and their concords for gender, number and. case are instruments more difficult in the use or less apt in the expression of the thought of Germans and Spaniards than English is for us is sheer assumption; and it were a peculiarly chauvinistic obsession to call German or Spanish languages of a lower type than English. In the estimation of the difficulty that attaches to learning and using a national tongue, no foreigner's opinion can possibly assess the difficulty for the native. As regards the adequacy of a language to express the thoughts of its native users, it may be said that no type of language has ever been found inadequate. Homer's Nestor of the honied tongue with many flexions; Demosthenes with fewer; Cicero with his adjective cases and genders and his verb moods; Burke in a nearly flexionless English: who shall say that one of these commanded a language of less flexibility, a language less apt for the expression of thought, than another? Did Greek flexions hamper Demosthenes, restrict his thought? The appeal of Demosthenes to-day is in part due to Demosthenes, but in part to what used to be somewhat sentimentally called the genius of the Greek language. I can conceive of a Zulu approximating Demosthenes before a Zulu audience, but not of a Zulu Demosthenes whose appeal could reach me, unless he had been steeped in a Zulu literature accessible also to me.

Language is the expression of thought, but it is more, it is the prompter of thought. A word is not only what it means, it is all that it suggests by association. Rhyme, often decried as a meretricious embellishment, has helped modern poets to many a richer thought. Metaphor so completely triumphs over the worn and literal expression that it may be said to do our thinking for us. But metaphor continually wanes in the word till all becomes literal again. The metaphors of a foreign language, of Greek and Latin, where they differ from our own, freshen thought. Other freshening of metaphor is—slang. Demosthenes, the heir of all his ages, put his thoughts in Greek, but Greek no less put her thoughts in him. Man is the weaver but words are the yarn, and the yarn is delivered to him spun and dyed. Its strands are thought, its color emotion. The weaver has, in fact, little to do. He can at best but a little vary the conventional pattern, handed down to him by his unlettered ancestors. Or again, changing the figure, we may say that language carries its own organic ferments. These ferments set the poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling. These ferments supply a vapor aglow with light that never was on land or sea. Some flash of a word—and we see the stars; some sputtering word—and our noses flinch.