« AnteriorContinua »
mind; and to enlarge and improve, by reflection and experiment, every branch of knowledge with which he was originally endowed, and, among others, that of language.
That the first principles of language were few and simple, will be readily admitted. It is probable that the primitive words were all monosyllables', each at first expressing one simple idea2; but afterward compounded into various gram
1 Shuckford's Connect. vol. i. p. 119, 20. 2d ed.
An ingenious French writer (Mons. Bergier) some years since planned a Dictionary of the Elements of Language, by which he means those simple monosyllables of which the primitive language consisted, and from which all languages are formed. He supposes these primitive roots might not be more than two hundred, and from the specimen given in one (viz. a, ab, eb, ib, ob, ub) these seem abundantly sufficient, See Mon. Rev. 1764, p. 504, &c.-The Chinese language is at present in this state, containing between three and four hundred primitive monosyllables, which are varied by accent and pronunciation, as I am informed, to the number of about eighty thousand, even without the variety resulting in other languages from declensions and conjugations, &c. Blackwell thinks the Egyptian and most of the northern tongues were also composed at first of monosyllables (Enq. into the Life, &c. of Homer, p. 41. n.) That this was the case of the Hebrew I cannot doubt. The primitive roots were, I conceive, at first formed of two radicals only, as N, b, &c.; to these, in the further improvement of the language,
.c& אלה אבה was added and formed ה suppose the final
matical forms, and their meaning enlarged and varied by their application to different objects.
I have supposed that the first principles of language and science were received by intuition, The case of the first man differed materially from that of his descendants. Coming into the world infants, and having parents to instruct us, innate ideas and instinctive knowledge are not necessary for us; but without these Adam would have been a child at man's estate, which is the exact character of an ideot. Besides, as it appears, the whole creation was formed in a state of maturity, the leaves in full growth, and the fruits ripe-analogy leads us to suppose the
same of man.
All our ideas are admitted by the senses, and consequently refer, in the first place, to external objects; but no sooner are we convinced that we possess an immaterial soul or spirit, than we find occasion for other terms, or, in the want of them, another application of the same terms to a different class of objects: and hence arises the first and principal source of metaphorical expression.
Thus ruach', the term at first used for air, or wind, is applied to spirit; and nephesh, breath, to the human soul. Shemaim3 signifies both the visible heavens, and the immediate residence of Deity; and sheol* is variously applied to the grave-the unseen world, in general-and to the state of future punish
One of the most considerable uses Adam had for language, must have been in naming the creatures, of which Moses gives a short, but emphatical account. 'The Lord God had 'formed every beast of the field, and every 'bird of the air, and brought them unto Adam, to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. It is idle to enquire how they were brought: he that made. them was able to bring them within the sphere of Adam's observation: and I think the names given abundantly prove that he had time and opportunity to hear their natural cries, and to observe their characters, which could hardly be the work of an hour, or a day.. I have supposed that he heard their natural cries, because it is generally allowed that several of the Hebrew names, both of beasts and birds, are formed by onomatopeia. So the sparrow is called tsippor from its chirping, the raven gnorel3 (or oreb) from its croaking, and the ass by the two different names of gnarod+ (or gnorud) and prays from its braying. Instances of a like nature occur in other languages, as the cuckoo with us, and the sookoo of the south
The far greater part of the names, however, applied to animals in Hebrew, appear to be derived from their characteristic qualities: as for
N. B. In deriving names by onomatopoeia, the points in Hebrew must often be disregarded.
instance, the camel is called gamel' from its revengeful temper, and the sheep rachel from its meekness: the kite daah from its remarkable method of flying, or sailing in the air, and the hawk raeh from the proverbial quickness of its sight.
This subject is so curious and entertaining that I could with pleasure pursue it; but I have been already carried into a digression from my design, which was to shew how man came at first by his ideas and words, and particularly the origin of figurative terms.
We have observed that all our ideas at first enter by the senses, and that the terms applied to spiritual objects are borrowed originally from natural ones. So the verb raah signi
fies, first, to see, and secondly, to understand, or to experience. Thus Solomon: "My heart had great experience [had seen much] of wisdom and knowledge'. So ain [literally, the reflector] is used as well for the eye of the mind as of the body'. The verb to hear signifies also to hearken, and to obey; and to taste, or feel, means frequently to experience; and these terms are so applied, not only in Hebrew, but also in our own and other languages..
See this demonstrated in the case of persons born blind, in a little pamphlet entitled, The Principles of Atheism proved to be unfounded.' 8vo. 1796.
Eccles. i. 16.
ry from my to reflect. (Parkhurst.)
9 See Gen. xvi. 6. Deut. xvi. 19. 1 Sam. xv. 17. 2 Sam. vi. 22. &c.
Once more, from a verb signifying to feed, is derived the name of a shepherd; and because the office of a shepherd is the proper emblem of a good prince, kings are called shepherds, and their subjects are compared to sheep; though perhaps it should be taken into the account, that in the ages of pastoral simplicity the offices were sometimes united: so the Egyptians reckon among their early monarchs, a race of shepherd kings. From this honourable application of the term, it was carried still higher, even to him who was the Prince and Shepherd of the house of Israel.
So closely, in the present state, are our ideas connected with material objects, that we cannot define even the Supreme Spirit, but by a term borrowed from the material air, or breath; and he who knows our frame, and remembers that we are but dust," has himself condescended to teach us this language, and to describe himself in terms accommodated to our confined notions for it would be as impossible for our minds to comprehend the nature and properties of pure spirit, as for our mortal eyes to support the blaze of uncreated glory.
And as our ideas are very confined, so it is natural to suppose, that the first language must consist of few, and simple terms. This is another source of metaphorical expression, for it was much easier, and more natural, to apply the same terms in a figurative way, to different objects, and ideas in some respects similar, than to invent new ones. This we find to be the fact among rude and uncivilized nations in our