« 前へ次へ »
OBSERVATIONS ON LANGUAGE.
Words are merely the arbitrary signs of ideas, connected with them by custom, not allied to them by nature, and each idea, like a ray of light, is liable to be tinged by the medium of the word through which it passes.
Language is the dress of thought: and as the noblest mien, or most graceful action, would be degraded and obscured by a garb appropriated to the gross employments of rustics or mechanics ; so the most heroic sentiments will lose their efficacy, and the most splendid ideas drop their magnificence, if they are conveyed by words used commonly upon low and trivial occasions, debased by vulgar mouths, and contaminated by inelegant applications. Truth indeed is always truth, and reason is always reason; they have an intrinsic and unalterable value, and constitute that intellectual gold which defies destruction: but gold may be so concealed in baser matter, that only a chymist can recover it; sense may be so hidden in unrefined and
plebeian words, that none but philosophers can distinguish it; and both may be so buried in impurities, as not to pay the cost of their extraction.
The diction, being the vehicle of the thoughts, first presents itself to the intellectual eye; and if the first appearance offends, a further knowledge is not often sought. Whatever professes to benefit by pleasing, must please at once. The pleasures of the mind imply something sudden and unexpected; that which elevates must always surprise. What is perceived by slow degrees may gratify us with consciousness of improvement, but will never strike with the sense of pleasure.
At the first rise of language, men would begin with giving names to the different objects which they discerned or thought of. The stock of words would then be very small. As men's ideas multiplied, and their acquaintance with objects increased, their store of names and words would also increase. But to the vast variety of objects and ideas, no language is adequate. No language is so copious as to have a separate word for every separate idea. Men naturally sought to abridge this labour of multiplying words without end ; and, in order to lay less burden upon their memories, made one word, which they had already appropriated to a certain idea or ob
ject, stand also for some other idea or object, between which and the primary one, they found, or fancied, some relation. The names of sensible objects were the words most easily introduced ; and were, by degrees, extended to those mental objects, of which men had more obscure conceptions, and to which they found it more difficult to assign distinct names. They borrowed, therefore, the name of some sensible idea, where their imagination found some affinity. Thus we speak of a piercing judgment, and a clear head; a soft or a hard heart; a rough or a smooth behaviour. We say inflamed by anger, warmed by love, swelled by pride, melted into grief; and these are