The Collocation Of Words In The Greek And Latin Languages, Examined In Relation To The Laws Of Thought -- By: Frederic A. Adams

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 001:4 (Nov 1844)
Article: The Collocation Of Words In The Greek And Latin Languages, Examined In Relation To The Laws Of Thought
Author: Frederic A. Adams

The Collocation Of Words In The Greek And Latin Languages, Examined In Relation To The Laws Of Thought

Rev. Frederic A. Adams

It has been common with those who have written on the nature of language to assert, that words are purely arbitrary signs of thought, that they have no natural relation with the things they signify, and that their propriety as expressions of thought is entirely the result of convention.

This assertion, if it is regarded only as a popular and general statement, may perhaps pass without criticism. It serves, with sufficient distinctness to separate the language of words from the language of signs, and of passionate cries. In a strict and scientific view, however, it cannot be regarded as any part of the definition of artificial language. To say, as is sometimes said in defence of this position, that the sound of a word has no resemblance to the object, or the thought, which it may be appropriated to express, amounts to nothing; for sounds have resemblance to nothing but sounds; and if this can prove their use in every sense arbitrary when applied to express other things than sounds, the argument would be equally valid against every sign in the whole range of natural language. The paleness of fear, the burning flush of insulted honor, the cold averted look, and the gently inclined attitude betokening invitation, would all be arbitrary signs, for they are not like the things they signify. In this way would all the objects in the realm of creation, that differ from each other, become isolated; and nature herself would no longer be one. Her domain would no longer be pervaded by a common spirit, but would be rather a hortus siccus, from which the common life had fled, and each thing was there for itself

alone. The position of which we are speaking, that language is purely arbitrary, would, if carried out rigorously to its results, evacuate all scientific inquiry of its significancy and its hope. It would be equally fatal to the arts which invite and reward the imagination. But these thoughts we cannot develop in this place.

If we examine analytically the point before us, we readily perceive the important limitation with which we must receive the popular statement, that language, in its materials and its structure, is an arbitrary invention.

It is not necessary here to entertain the inquiry whether language is a special gift from God, given to man in its perfected form, or is a product of man’s inventive powers. The answer, whichever way it should be given, would not materially affect the present discussion. We shall speak of it, however, only in the latter of the two views, as a product of the human mind. Notwithstanding the imposing names of som...

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