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EMOTIONAL AND IMITATIVE LANGUAGE (continued).
Imitative Words—Human actions named from sound-Animals' names from
cries, &c.—Musical Instruments—Sounds reproduced—Words modified to adapt sound to sense-Reduplication Graduation of vowels to express distance and difference Children's Language-Sound-words as related to Sense-words-Language an original product of the lower Culture.
FROM the earliest times of language to our own day, it is unlikely that men ever quite ceased to be conscious that some of their words were derived from imitation of the common sounds heard about them. In our own modern English, for instance, results of such imitation are evident; flies buzz, bees hum, snakes hiss, a cracker or a bottle of ginger-beer pops, a cannon or a bittern booms. In the words for animals and for musical instruments in the various languages of the world, the imitation of their cries and tones is often to be plainly heard, as in the names of the hoopoe, the ai-ai sloth, the kaka parrot, the Eastern tomtom, which is a drum, the African ulule, which is a flute, the Siamese khong-bong, which is a wooden harmonicon, and in like manner through a host of other words. But these evident cases are far from representing the whole effects of imitation on the growth of language. They form, indeed, the easy entrance to a philological region, which becomes less penetrable the farther it is explored.
The operations of which we see the results before us in the actual languages of the world seem to have been somewhat as follows. Men have imitated their own emotional utterances or interjections, the cries of animals, the tones of musical instruments, the sounds of shouting, howling, stamping, breaking, tearing, scraping, with others which are all day coming to their ears, and out of these imitations many current words indisputably have their source. But these words, as we find them in use, differ often widely, often beyond all recognition, from the original sounds they sprang from. In the first place, man's voice can only make a very rude copy of most sounds his ear receives ; his possible vowels are very limited in their range compared with natural tones, and his possible consonants still more helpless as a means of imitating natural noises. Moreover, his voice is only allowed to use a part even of this imperfect imitative power, seeing that each language for its own convenience restricts it to a small number of set vowels and consonants, to which the imitative sounds have to conform, thus becoming conventionalized into articulate words with further loss of imitative accuracy. No class of words have a more perfect imitative origin than those which simply profess to be vocal imitations of sound. How ordinary alphabets to some extent succeed and to some extent fail in writing down these sounds may be judged from a few examples. Thus, the Australian imitation of a spear or bullet striking is given as toop; to the Zulu, when a calabash is beaten, it says boo; the Karens hear the flitting ghosts of the dead call in the wailing voice of the wind, re, re, ro, ro; the old traveller, Pietro della Valle, tells how the Shah of Persia sneered at Timur and his Tartars, with their arrows that went ter ter ; certain Buddhist heretics maintained that water is alive, because when it boils it says chichitá, chitichita, a symptom of vitality which occasioned much theological controversy as to drinking cold and warm water. Lastly, sound-words taken up into the general inventory of a language have to follow its organic changes, and in the course of phonetic transition, combination, decay, and mutilation, to lose ever more and more their original shape. . To take a single example, the French huer ' to shout' (Welsh hwa) may be a perfect imitative verb; yet when it passes into modern
English hue and cry, our changed pronunciation of the vowel destroys all imitation of the call. Now to the language-makers all this was of little account. They merely wanted recognized words to express recognized thought, and no doubt arrived by repeated trials at systems which were found practically to answer this purpose. But to the modern philologist, who is attempting to work out the converse of the problem, and to follow backward the course of words to original imitative sound, the difficulty is most embarrassing. It is not only that thousands of words really derived from such imitation may now by successive change have lost all safe traces of their history ; such mere deficiency of knowledge is only a minor evil. What is far worse is that the way is thrown open to an unlimited number of false solutions, which yet look on the face of them fully as like truth as others which we know historically to be true. One thing is clear, that it is of no use to resort to violent means, to rush in among the words of language, explaining them away right and left as derived each fron: some remote application of an imitative noise. The advocate of the Imitative Theory who attempts this, trusting in his own powers of discernment, has indeed taken in hand a perilous task, for, in fact, of all judges of the question at issue, he has nourished and trained himself up to become the very worst.
His imagination is ever suggesting to him what his judgment would like to find true ; like a witness answering the questions of the counsel on his own side, he answers in good faith, but with what bias we all know. It was thus with De Brosses, to whom this department of philology owes so much. It is nothing to say that he had a keen ear for the voice of Nature ; she must have positively talked to him in alphabetic language, for he could hear the sound of hollowness in the sk of Kut To 'to dig,' of hardness in the cal of callosity, the noise of insertion of a body between two others in the tr of trans, intra. In enquiries so liable to misleading fancy, no pains should be spared in securing impartial testimony, and it fortunately happens that there are available sources of such evidence, which, when thoroughly worked, will give to the theory of imitative words as near an approach to accuracy as has been attained to in any other wide philological problem. By comparing a number of languages, widely apart in their general system and materials, and whose agreement as to the words in question can only be accounted for by similar formation of words from similar suggestion of sound, we obtain groups of words whose imitative character is indisputable. The groups here considered consist in general of imitative words of the simpler kind, those directly connected with the special sound they are taken from, but their examination to some extent admits of words being brought in, where the connexion of the idea expressed with the sound imitated is more remote. This, lastly, opens the far wider and more difficult problem, how far imitation of sounds is the primary cause of the great mass of words in the vocabularies of the world, between whose sound and sense no direct connexion appears.
Words which express human actions accompanied with sound form a very large and intelligible class. In remote and most different languages, we find such forms as pu, puf, bu, bus, fu, fuj, in use with the meaning of pufling, fuffing; or blowing ; Malay puput; Tongan buhi; Maori pupui; Australian bobun, bwa-bun; Galia bufa, afufa; Zulu futa, punga, pupuza (ju, pu, used as expressive particles); Quiché puba : Quichua puhuni; Tupi ypeû; Finnish puhkia; Hebrew puach ; Danish puste ; Lithuanian púciu ; and in numbers of other languages;' here, grammatical adjuncts apart, the significant force lies in the imitative syllable. Savages have named the European musket when they saw it, by the sound pu, describing not the report, but the puff of smoke issuing from the muzzle. The Society Islanders supposed at first that the white men blew through the barrel of the gun, and they called it accordingly pupuhi, from the verb puhi tu
Mpongwe punjina ; Basuto loka; Carib phoubäe ; Arawac appüdün (ignem sufflare). Other cases are given by Wedgwood, 'Or. of Lang.'p. 83.
blow, while the New Zealanders more simply called it a pu. So the Amaxosa of South Africa call it umpu, from the imitative sound pu! The Chinook Jargon of North-West America uses the phrase mamook poo (make poo) for a verb 'to shoot,' and a six-chambered revolver is called tohum poo, i.e., a 'six-poo.' When a European uses the word puff to denote the discharge of a gun, he is merely referring to the smoke blown out, as he would speak of a puff of wind, or even a powder-puff or a puff-ball ; and when a pistol is called in colloquial German a puffer, the meaning of the word matches that used for it in French Argot, a 'soufflant.' It has often been supposed that the puff imitates the actual sound, the bang of the gun, and this has been brought forward to show by what extremely different words one and the same sound may be imitated, but this is a mistake. These derivations of the name of the gun
from the notion of blowing correspond with those which give names to the comparatively noiseless blow-tube of the birdhunter, called by the Indians of Yucatan a pub, in South America by the Chiquitos a pucuna, by the Cocamas a puna. Looking into vocabularies of languages which have such verbs 'to blow,' it is usual to find with them other words apparently related to them, and expressing more or less distant ideas. Thus Australian poo-yu, puyu' smoke ; Quichua puhucuni 'to light a fire,' punquini 'to swell,' puyu, puhuyu 'a cloud ;' Maori puku 'to pant,' puka 'to swell ;' Tupi púpú, pupúre 'to boil ; ' Galla bube 'wind, bubiza 'to cool by blowing ;' Kanuri (root fu) fungin 'to blow, swell,' luridin' a stuffed pad or bolster, &c., bubutc' bellows' (bubute jungin' I blow the bellows '); Zulu (dropping the prefixes) puku, pukupu' frothing, foam,' whence pukupuku 'an empty frothy fellow,' pupuma 'to bubble, boil,' fu'a cloud,' fumfu 'blown about like high grass in the wind,' whence fumfuta' to be confused, thrown into disorder,' futo ' bellows,' fuba‘ the breast, chest,' then figuratively ‘bosom, conscience.'
See Wedgwood, 'Dic.' Introd. p. vii.