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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

CHAPTER   III

ACCIDENCE-THE TABLE MANNERS
OF LANGUAGE

MEN built hotels for celestial visitors before they devoted much in-
genuity to their own housing problems The temple observatories of
the calendar priests, and the palaces of their supposedly sky-born
rulers, are among the earliest and are certainly the most endunng
monuments of architecture In the dawn of civilization, when agri-
culture had become an established practice, the impulse to leave a
record in building and m decoration went hand in hand with the need
for a store-house of nightly observations on the stars and a record of
the flocks and crops. So writing of some sort is the signal that civiliza-
tion has begun The beginning of writing is also the beginning of our
first-hand knowledge of language
Our fragmentary information about the speech-habits of mankind
extends over about 4,000 of the 80,000 or more years since true speech
began We know nothing about human speech between the time when
the upright ape first used sounds to co-operate in work or defence,
and the tuneVhen people began to write. It is therefore unwise to
draw conclusions about the birth of language from the very short period
which furnishes us with facts We can be certain of one thing If we
had necessary information for tracing the evolution of human speech in
relation to human needs and man's changing social environment, we
should not approach the task of classifying sounds as the orthodox
grammarian docs The recognition of words as units of speech has
grown hand m hand with the elaboration of script In the prehterate
millennia of the human story, social needs which prompted men to take
statements to pieces would arise only m connexion with difficulties
of young children, and through contacts with migrant or warring
tribes We can be quite sure that primitive man used gestures liberally
to convey his meaning So a classification of the elements of language
appropriate to a primitive level of human communication might
plausibly take shape m a fourfold division as follows *
* Grammarians have oscillated between two views According to one3 primi-
tive speech was made up of discrete monosyllables like Chinese, Vnder the
influence of Jespersen and his disciples, the pendulum has now swung to the