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which are general merely on account of their vague and ambiguous signification and those which are general because they are formed by a careful abstraction of things and facts.
MOHENDRO Laul Shome, Hindu College,
First Year, First College Class,
Senior Scholar of the First Grade.
On language as an instrument of civilization, with special reference to the effects which may be expected from the diffusion of knowledge through the medium of the English language in India.
The causes which chiefly affect the progress and improvement of mankind, are so much beyond the sphere of common observation, that to comprehend them truly would require a thorough knowledge of the human mind. It cannot be doubted that the amelioration of man's state, has often proceeded from purely external causes, such as the influence of climate and religion. But religion is nothing more than education in the highest sense and the influence of climate is not so great as is imagined ; for the greatest diversities of intellectual and moral character prevail among men born in the same climate. We are to acquiesce in the judgment of King Archedamus, as says Dr. Arnold, that culture and training makes the only distinction between one man and another. It is education therefore which has mainly operated in altering the condition of man. It is to the different degrees of knowledge, possessed by different nations that we are to seek for the true cause of the marked superiority of one race over another. That knowledge is power is nowhere better exemplified than in the present condition of the different nations inhabiting the globe.
Language is the chief instrument employed in imparting knowledge to another. The only medium through which we can successfully communicate our thoughts, is language. If there had been no such conventional mode of expressing the results of our enquiries, society would have been stationary and the progress of mankind would have been held desperate. Without language, experience would have been useless and information a mere matter of curiosity. What advancement can we expect in knowledge, if in the language of Lord Bacon, there be no “ learned experience” or experience reduced to writing. To carry on any process of reasoning, language is the only instrument we use. The aids which it furnishes to abstract reasoning are indeed incalculable, so much so, that we often think as well as speak by means of words. The starting point from which we set out and the consequences we deduce from it, we frequently forget, but the last result remains in the forın of symbolical expression of our thoughts, a living monument of the truth we have arrived at. Nay, it is not impossible to suppose (as it frequently happens in the exact sciences) the conclusion, to include conditions which we never contemplated and to comprehend in a single proposition, the principles of a science. The advantages derived from language in mathematics, are so great that some have been led to suppose that a progress similar to that made in it, might be effected in the other sciences, if the terms be made as perfect. A celebrated French author has not scrupled to say that reasoning is nothing more than a language well arranged. But not denying the efficiency of language as an instrument of thought, we may assert that the peculiar nature of the evidence which belongs to mathematical truths arises not so much from a correct phraseology as from another source which it would be out of place to mention here.
The abstract sciences such as political and mental philosophy, might be supposed at first by a superficial observer, to have no connexion whatever to the progress of civilization. Speculations on these subjects may seem not only abstruse but totally unconnected with the practical affairs of life. But when we reflect that what is a principle in science becomes a rule in art, that what is barren and unmeaning in itself becomes fruitful and significant in its application, then the apparent objection loses its force. Of the connexion of these sciences with language, it cannot be denied that the successful cultivation of the former depends upon the perfection of the latter. It follows therefore that society cannot advance in civilization where the sciences are uncultivated, or where the language has not arrived at a sufficient degree of precision and correctness. The English language has acquired a currency and diffusion through her vast conquests and colonies, unexampled in the history of the world. It seems to be in the progress of being made the general language of mankind. It is to be regarded as one of the wonders of this age and a manifest indication of the dispensations of providence, that in India, the language of England, is daily acquiring a more general currency. What would be its ultimate effect on the melioration of this country, the social and political condition of its inhabitants, it is yet in futurity to determine. But from the progress which it has already made in imparting sound and useful knowledge, it is possible to suppose that it's influence will be continually increasing, that the language of scholarship and science of India, would be decidedly the language of it's conqueror and that the education of it's people would be conducted through the medium of a foreign language. The advantages to be derived from the diffusion of knowledge by this means, are indeed immense.
The discoveries in science, the knowledge of the physical comforts and conveniencies of European life, the principles of Government, Institution and religion which prevail there, can all be learnt from the perusal of books in the English language, and may be thence made available by the people of this country. But the greatest effect remains to be mentioned and that is, a taste for European literature. A taste for the beautiful and sublime, a craving after truth and abhorrence of falsehood, a notion of moral beauty and deformity, these are the last and crowning effects of the diffusion of knowledge through the English language. What are external advantages compared to these! The highest earthly fortune dwindles into nothing in comparison with them. The thoughts of the greatest men, “ thoughts that breathe and words that burn" would be then always present to our mind. They would take « such deep root therein" that they would form a portion of the mind itself. Milton and Shakespeare and Bacon would furnish us with
thoughts that “ reach beyond eternity” and “ sentiments that lie too deep for tears.” Such sentiments as,
“I care not fortune what you me deny
“ You cannot bar me of free nature's grace," &c. cannot but elevate the mind and awaken in it an aspiration after a purer state of being where all earthly distinction should cease and the ultimate triumph of virtue and truth over vice and falsehood should be consummated. If there be any such state, as the very imperfection and weakness of our nature, leads us to suppose, it is a “consummation devoutly to be wished.”
Isser CHUNDER Dass, Hooghly College,
Senior Scholar, Fourth Year, First Class.
1. The close connection subsisting between language and our thoughts can not fail to be the subject of observation to every one who has ever turned his thoughts to the operations of his own mind. In consequence of this connection, words have great influence not only on the communications of men with one another but also on their solitary speculations in private. But if this be the case even with the educated part of a nation, and if it true that words inaccurately abstracted from things would sometimes impose even upon those who are properly trained in the analysis of their own thoughts; how much more must it be the case with the vulger who have seldom the opportunity or the inclination to examine any point even with the slightest degree of attention. These, generally take, upon trust, every thing relating to faith and the other higher concerns of life. They are therefore generally misled in their opinions and thoughts, by a language carelessly formed and not expressing the real nature of things.
This is a source of general error which must remain in the language of even the most civilized nations. The reason of this, is simply because language must exist before philosophy comes to be cultivated and the corrected phraseology becomes current only among the learned but is quite unintelligible to the mass of mankind. But it is surely true that as a nation advances in civilization its language becomes more and more definite and expressive of the real nature of things.
The highest point of civilization therefore which I can conceive, is that state of a nation when its language has arrived at such a degree of precision, that every word expresses the same idea to all men and its signification corresponds with the nature of things. But this degree of perfection in a language is merely ideal.
The acquirement of the vernacular language is the only species of education (if I may be allowed to call it so) which all the members of a society can attain and therefore the degree of civilization to which a nation has arrived, will be always proportional to the perfection of its language.
If a person wishes to inculcate a philosophical principle in an uneducated mind his arguments are generally refuted by the assertion, that “ your reasoning is contradicted by the meaning of the words you employ" and it would be an altogether fruitless attempt to convince the vulger that the meanings of words are no sure tests of the correctness of the ideas we attach to them. Thus if a person liberally educated, tries to convince the common people of this country, that the cause of the sun's being eclipsed, is not because he is devoured by a monster, he will immediately be answered that the very meaning of the word eclipse shows that it must be as they believe. The phrases “sun rises and sun sets” might also mislead the multitude and be an argument in favor of the sun's daily motion.
2. In inculcating any truth in the minds of our hearers, the force of language, has a great influence in producing conviction.
It is from this source that the whole efficacy of eloquence proceeds. It is not only necessary that what we assert should be true but if wish to bring over others to our opinion and gain their belief, we must express our sentiments in such a manner that they might strike the auditors with a conviction of their truth. Hence in educating youths (and no one will doubt the influence of education on civilization) if the vehicle by means of which the truths are conveyed, be such that they find their way directly home to the hearts of these young hopes of a nation, the work of civilization must be greatly facilitated.
That the impression which any truth makes on a man's mind, has a reference to the vehicle by means of which it is conveyed, will not be disputed by any person who reflects for a moment on the nature and uses of the arts of eloquence and poetry. Who can ever forget any of those deep truths conveyed in the impressive language of Shakespeare and Milton ? Whenever we happen to reflect on these truths the words of Shakespeare immediately recur to our mind. His mode of expressing his ideas, is such that they force their way irrisistably to our hearts. Let the same truths lie expressed in any other style, and we will pass them unheeded by.
It was for this same reason that the ancients made the language of poetry, the instrument of imparting, their precepts and moral lessons, alike, to men and children. Even their histories were written in poetry.
It has been said that the great civilizers of mankind were not the legislators but the poets, and that Homer and Hesiod were greater benefactors of mankind than Lycurgus and Solon.
The degree of refinement to which a nation has arrived is always surely indicated by the state of its language. If there were no other remains of the civilization of ancient Greece Rome and India than the Greek, Latin and Sangscrete languages, these would be quite sufficient to establish their claims to the highest rank in the ancient world.
3. Those who have turned their thoughts to the successive stages through which Europe has passed in arriving to its present pitch of civilization, must have noticed the great changes brought about, by the revival of the study of the Greek and Latin languages. The age of Erasmus was a distinguished æra in the history of European civilization. It was the influence of Greek and Latin literature that changed the barbarous Goths, Visigoths, Ostragoths, Lombards, Franks and Germans, into the civilized nations of Moder Europe. If it be true that these have at present attained to the highest degree of civilization that was ever known in the world, yet it must be confessed that the first impulse to this civilization was given by the literature of Greece and Rome. If it be true moreover that the influence of the dead languages of Greece and Rome had so great an effect in changing the barbarous hordes that subverted the Roman Empire, into the most civilized nations on the face of the earth, what might not be expected from the cultivation, of
the languages of these nations whilst they are yet in the vigour of their career of improvement, unimpaired by the influence of time, I say, what might not be expected from the cultivation of these, by the inventive genius of the East. The Europeans moreover could not learn these languages from the mouths of Greeks and Romans but we have always the opportunity of receiving the knowledge of the European languages, “ fresh from the fountain whence it flows.” Our theoratical errors respecting them can always be corrected by our conversation with the learned to whom they are vernacular. We may “ catch their manners living as they rise.”
In taking a retrospective view of the condition of India, we find that though she was once the cradle of civilization yet the lapse of ages and the cruelty of the bigoted Mahomedans had deprived her of every token of active civilization. The Sangscrit itself has become a dead language and the different vernacular tongues have scarce begun to be the written languages of the country.
It was under these circumstances that the English language was introduced in this country and the effects have already begun to be manifest. We feel the influence of Shakespeare and Bacon upon our minds, we feel the deep impression they make, we become convinced that these impressions are not to be effaced by the lapse of time and that they must influence our actions. The Sancrete is a dead language, bringing to our minds, ideas of antiquity which bear no relation to our present life and therefore though it might afford us literary amusement yet it can not direct us in our conduct through life. Its literature might give us excellent notions of sublimity and beauty but it can give us no lessons suited to our present condition.
Our vernacular is yet in its infancy and has no literature, properly so called. We must then look up to the English language as the only means which can help us to improve our condition. It has been predicted, that the English would be the deplomatic language of this country, " that the nations of India speaking a variety of vernacular tongues shall communicate with one another in English about literary and scientific subjects.” A language serving such a purpose becomes a powerful instrument of civilization to a nation. The convenience of having a common language by means of which, we can communicate with one another, about the higher concerns of life, is of high value. The attainment of that single language enables us to master the whole literature and science of the country. So that the English language will serve a very high purpose, if it enables the different nations of India to communicate with each other through its medium.
I can moreover foresee that its vernacular languages, beginning to flourish at the precise time that the English language, began to be cultivated, will take a tincture from it. This has already happened to be the case with the written Bengalli, the greatest part of its present literature consisting of translations from the English.
The consequences of the cultivation the English language are beginning to be perceived.
English notions and ideas have begun to prevail generally and the work of civilization is going forward with rapid strides. The æra of a great revolution is fast approaching. Opinions and practices that were once ignorantly held sacred are now beginning to unloose their hold on the minds of men. But so beneficial is the influence of knowledge