Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: Science of Language

'Science of Language', by Max Muller, is a collection of interesting essays. The first one answers the question, 'how language can be called a science'. Author talks here about the need for re-formation of the word language, which actually should have been 'mythology', a combination of mythos (word) and logos (speech), and would have been accepted as a natural science. And since the word 'mythology' is already used elsewhere, let us adopt "science of language", says author.
In the next 'lecture', author talks about the formation and growth of language from mere gestures of communication, where artificial signs came to be fixed by mutual consent. Hence, the author says, the development of languages would have been taking place independent of each other and driven solely by convenience. There is no locus standi for a mother-daughter relationship here, between different languages, the book posits. 
Next lecture examines how laws could have come to language, when people had no idea about the possibility, benefit or use of laws. Here, author says, man happened to obey certain rules of language without knowing their existence, which over time became definite laws. Mutual consent being the most significant factor here, this is giving rise to plenty of dialects. This fact is the reason why schemes to prune languages of their irregularities do not succeed well. 
After examining the evolution of grammatical structure for different languages, and mentioning why, efforts to establish a relationship between those languages need not see success ("much real learning and ingenuity was wasted on this question"), the author opines that the proliferation of foreign words in languages is only incidental. 
Thereafter occurs a discussion on the language and wisdom of Indians, and how there are signs of mutual influence between Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Persian, German, etc., while supporting author's view that each language is completely independent. "It is impossible to class all languages genealogically, and thus to have a common origin of language".
Next dissertation is about the origin of language. "How images of the eye and all the sensations of our senses could be represented by sounds. Using sounds to express thought as well as for exciting thought, ie., change colour into sound and sound into thought?". Author goes further. "If we want to gain an insight into the faculty of flying, .. compare the structure of birds with that of other animals which are devoid of that faculty,..and thus we can find that man differs from other beings only in mental faculty" Author concludes that language is the result of rational combination of human speech along with mental instinct. The first natural and instinctive utterances of different clans, would fully account both for the first origin and for the first divergence of human speech. And the differing elements of speech we can observe in nature is evidently incompatible with the admission of one common source.
I liked this. It vehemently opposes the most popular idea of language: that it is only a means of communication. Especially, something formally developed for this. I think it adds support to the views I expressed through my hub          :

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