Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/58

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in order to find in them support for either of the two theories referred to is of little or no avail. Aside from the fact that their elaborateness of structure often seriously militates against our accepting them as evidence for primitive conditions, we do not on the whole find either the onomatopoetic or exclamatory elements of relatively greater importance in them than elsewhere. Indeed the layman would be often surprised, not to say disappointed, at the almost total absence of onomatopoetic traits in many American Indian languages, for instance. In Chinook and related dialects of the lower course of the Columbia, onomatopoesis is developed to a more than usual extent, yet, as though to emphasize our contention with an apparent paradox, hardly anywhere is the grammatical mechanism of a subtler, anything but primitive character. We are forced to conclude that the existence of onomatopoetic and exclamatory features is as little correlated with relative primitiveness as we have found the use of gesture to be. As with the two theories of origin we have thus briefly examined, so it will be found to be with other theories that have been suggested. They can not, any of them, derive support from the use of the argument of survivals in historically known languages; they all reduce themselves to merely speculative doctrines.

So much for general considerations on language history. Returning to the gradual process of change which has been seen to be characteristic of all speech, we may ask ourselves what is the most central or basic factor in this never-ceasing flux. Undoubtedly the answer must be: phonetic change or, to put it somewhat more concretely, minute or at any rate relatively trivial changes in pronunciation of vowels and consonants which, having crept in somehow or other, assert themselves more and more and end by replacing the older pronunciation, which becomes old-fashioned and finally extinct. In a general way we can understand why changes in pronunciation should take place in the course of time by a brief consideration of the process of language learning. Roughly speaking, we learn to speak our mother-tongue by imitating the daily speech of those who surround us in our childhood. On second thoughts, however, it will be seen that the process involved is not one of direct imitation, but of indirect imitation based on inference. Any given word is pronounced by a succession of various more or less complicated adjustments of the speech organs. These adjustments or articulations give rise to definite acoustic effects, effects which, in their totality, constitute speech. Obviously, if the child's imitative efforts were direct, it would have to copy as closely as possible the speech articulations which are the direct source of what it hears. But it is still more obvious that these speech articulations are largely beyond the power of observation and hence imitation. It follows that the actual sounds, not the articulations producing them, are imitated. This