Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/54

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Although we can not demonstrate a genetic unity of all forms of human speech, it is interesting to observe that there are several fundamental traits that all languages have in common. Perhaps these fundamental similarities are worthy of greater attention than they generally receive and may be thought by many to possess a high degree of significance. First of all, we find that in every known language use is made of exactly the same organic apparatus for the production of speech, that is, the glottal passage in the larynx, the nasal passages, the tongue, the hard and soft palate, the teeth and the lips. The fact that we are accustomed to consider all speech as self-evidently dependent on these organs should not blind us to the importance of the association. There is, after all, no à priori reason why the communication of ideas should be primarily through sound symbols produced by the apparatus just defined; it is conceivable that a system of sound symbols of noises produced by the hands and feet might have been developed for the same purpose. As a matter of fact, there are many systems of thought transference or language in the widest sense of the word, as a moment's thought will show, that are independent of the use of the ordinary speech apparatus. The use of writing will occur to every one as the most striking example among ourselves. Among primitive peoples we may instance, to cite only a couple of examples of such subsidiary forms of language, the gesture language of the Plains Indians of North America and the very highly developed drum language of several African tribes. From our present point of view it is significant to note that these and other such non-spoken languages are either, as in the case of practically all systems of writing, themselves more or less dependent on a phonetic system, that is, speech in the ordinary sense of the word, or else are merely auxiliary systems intended to replace speech only under very special circumstances. The fact then remains that the primary and universal method of thought transference among human beings is via a special articulating set of organs. Much loose talk has been expended by certain ethnologists on the relatively important place that gesture occupies in the languages of primitive peoples, and it has even been asserted that several so-called primitive languages are unintelligible without the use of gesture. The truth, however, is doubtless that the use of gesture is associated not with primitiveness, but rather with temperament. The Russian Jew and the Italian, for instance, non-primitive as they are, make a far more liberal use of gestures accompanying speech than any of the aborigines of North America.

If we examine in a large way the structure of any given language, we find that it is further characterized by the use of a definite phonetic system, that is, the sounds made use of in its words are reducible to a limited number of consonants and vowels. It does not seem to be true,