Translated from the Polish


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There was a time when language served scholars as a guide in the labyrinth of communal life. Herder, Wilhelm Humboldt and Steinthal elaborated on the basis of language a psychology of human associations. Then there arose the sub-division of languages into philosophical and unphilosophical, abstract and ultra-concrete. Stray survivals of this are found to the present day. How many fantasies were invented in the time of Jan Nepomucen Kamiński, who made Polish into a hyper-philosophical language not to be outdistanced by the vocabulary of Hegelianism.568

There developed an etymology of dilettantes who seized upon external resemblances between expressions in various languages in order to draw from them even historical conclusions: as if today somebody were to advance ideas on the relations of Polish culture to Chinese and Icelandic on the basis that nanny [niania in Polish] is na-nia569 in Chinese, and in Icelandic pad sama570 meaning almost like in Polish [to samo] “the same”. There was a period when volume-long disputes were conducted on exactly such linguistic-historical questions.

It was already a great advance when in 1907 Dr. E. Chalupny deduced the whole national character of the Czechs from the fact that they place the accent on the first syllable.571 But even for example such a serious scholar as Paul Barth saw a causal connection between the poverty of the Hebrew conjugation and what he regarded as the Hebrew tendency to underrate the particular fact or the individual object in favour of general ideas.572 This he announced in 1915. Barth explains the unchanging word-order in Asiatic languages by the fact that Asiatics are inclined to permanent habits, to conservative forms.573

And yet in his Voelkerpsychologie Wundt considered to the last (1917) that language was one of the three main factors in communal psychology. Why in that case is the psychology of the Rhinelander nearer than that of the Prussian to the psychology of the Pole — and the psychology of a man from Great Poland more like that of a Czech than a Mazovian?

A priori assertion that language mirrors communal mentality has its logical basis in the conviction that language is the work of this communal mentality. A language which is to come into prominence spreads from smaller associations to increasingly large ones for various reasons connected with economics, politics and communications, but with linguistics as such only when the language concerned possesses a better system of organisation than other neighbouring languages; but it is rare for reflection, decisions taken in advance, to play any part in this process. A language which has mastered several peoples was not previously a reflection of the mentality of all those peoples; or is literary French a reflection of the mentality of the Vendée, Normandy and (simultaneously) Marseilles and for that reason accepted as the leading language? Was it a reflection from the beginning and did the Vendée only fail through some misunderstanding to use in writing the language of the Ile de France — or did it only become so later, and if so when?

Attachment to language as to a national characteristic, love of language as we know it, can only exist where there exists the idea of the nation — that is exclusively in Latin civilisation.

The only languages which may incontestably be regarded as the product of a certain communal mentality are occupational dialects. There are not a few of them, from the criminal (there is already an international variety) to the technical and on to the sacred-hieratic. The more primitive the people, the further these dialects will be from the main language, and the more many-sided their elaboration. In ethnological works one may read about “secret languages”, — the jargon of camphor- or gold-gtherers in Indonesia for example — which ethnologists make into a feature of “savage” peoples. But we have fishing, hunting, sailing and military dialects; and if it were possible to collect camphor here, we should also have the dialect of the camphor-gatherers, just as we have the dialect of wild honey-gatherers.

These dialects would be a study of the first importance if we were able to investigate how they develop from generation to generation; or if it were possible to develop a comparative study of them in order for instance to answer the question what is common to the criminal mentality in China, in Germany, in Portugal, in Canada, etc. There is no doubt that such a general, universal criminal mentality exists; let philology describe it for us! But probably it will allow itself to be anticipated here by every other branch of learning prepared to engage in the matter.

Let us also consider the question of special trade languages. Broken-English in Sierra Leone and pidgin-English in China both adopt English terms, leaving the syntax and order of the local languages, while sabir, the language of the Mediterranean ports, is on the contrary, a lexicographic mixture of French, Spanish, Italian, Greek and Arabic. Is this to be treated from the point of view of “communal mentality” (perhaps of the League of Nations)? Artificial languages — volapuk, esperanto, ido etc. must presumably remain a reflection of the mentality of their creators?

Languages also have no connection with kinds of economic culture; for example the Bantu languages are widespread among the shepherds of Eastern and Southern Africa, but also among the hoe agriculturalists of the Congo.574 Moszyński recently asserted that “in matters of cultural ties and connections linguistic frontiers are as nothing”.575

It is thus impossible to admit the idea that language reflects communal mentality; no conclusions should be drawn from language about the nature of this mentality. But (as there is some truth in every fairy-tale), language may in fact teach us about the level of communal mentality regardless of its nature. Attainment of a higher level must tend to promote the development of language. All progress in communal life, in any department of it, calls for communication of new ideas or at least new combinations of ideas; for otherwise the progress achieved will not be maintained. And fresh communication requires new linguistic means, so that language must become richer, develop with every such favourable opportunity. I do not doubt that some time there will appear a history of the Polish language considered from this point of view.

If at such an historic moment the language is incapable of adequate development, the new achievement cannot be popularised and will not become general property but will pass like a meteor on the horizon of society as an exceptional event, unassimilated and rejected. Then the authors of that advance will either fall into oblivion or — if they want intellectual life — they will go to others in search of a society where they will not be a foreign body.

It might happen that those responsible for an advance did not lack understanding within their own society, but that their language was incapable of adequate response. Then penetration by a foreign language will begin, in greater or lesser degree, in one field or in the whole of life; it may even happen that higher intellectual development will take place altogether in the foreign tongue, which will gradually oust the native tongue from communal life. Even the disappearance of the native tongue is possible, so that after a time what was once foreign becomes native.

Not all languages are capable of keeping pace with intellectual development in their own linguistic association, but it does not follow that such a society cannot develop further. For instance, the Chinese have outgrown their language, and can only develop further in the English language. The Japanese are threatened with the same situation. Now attempts are being made to push these languages on to higher development — the encouragement of phonetic writing has no other cause. Whether they succeed in raising the capacity of one of them will only be known in the next generation.

Meanwhile the concrete, the non-abstract is generally regarded as a feature of the Chinese and Japanese languages and so, arguing from language to communal mentality, the Far East is denied capacity for abstract thought — and higher intelligence. Lowell goes so far as to write: “The Japanese spirit does not give a penny for powers of abstraction”.576 And yet Catholic catechisms have existed since 1600, and the translation of the De imitatione Christi into Japanese dates from 1610.577

It is said of the Chinese language that it is surprisingly concrete, because the Chinese has the overriding need to particularise, specify, distinguish parts, as Berr argues.578 But it may be added that Latin is both concrete and at the same time splendid in abstraction. And is French not concrete enough, and not excellent for the expression of abstractions? Let us, therefore, cease pontificating about concrete and abstract languages and be content with the statement that there are languages which are strong or weak in the one and the other. Some express abstractions inadequately, but are also in general less apt for development.

Care must also be taken not to mistake for lack of abstraction what may only be another method of abstraction, so different from ours as to be incomprehensible to us. For instance, “exact rendering of Indian philosophical terms in European languages will always cause great dimculties” — as Rhys Davids says.579 M. Barth, a leading, authority on the Hindus, also regards a good translation of the Vedda as impossible.580 And yet neither the Hindus nor their ancient language have been reproached with lack of capacity for abstraction.

In any case a distinction must be made here between the language itself and the society speaking it. Returning once more to the Chinese: it happens that when a conversation enters upon abstract scientic paths, instead of verbal arguments, the speakers take tablets, and brushes and draw symbols.581 This is a moment when the language does not suffice the intellect; but it also shows that these Chinese speakers do abstract, for it is precisely because of this that the language fails them.

Vendryes is the last to have concerned himself with the relation of language to communal mentality. He is very emphatically opposed to deducing language from the mentality of those speaking it, or vice versa. He merely suggests that not deriving one from the other they may perhaps possess certain common features. Certain connections may therefore occur, but there is no department of language which would authorise definition of the spirit of a nation from linguistic features; in any case, with research at its present stage it would be a “chimerical” undertaking.582

Language is thus neither the creator nor the creation of communal mentality.

If a language or even linguistic stock constituted civilisation, there would be as many civilisations as languages! Again the system on which language is organised does not determine the system on which communal life is organised, since in Chinese civilisation there are monosyllabic as well as agglutinative languages. Incorporative languages have had several civilisations, inflective also several: Slav languages serve three civilisations and nine cultures.583 Similarities and differences in civilisation do not follow linguistic similarities and differences. Where is there even the slightest, trace of spiritual resemblance between the Russian moujik and the Silesian villager?

Let us consider the same question again from the point of viewof a change of language. Such change does not necessarily contain within itself a change of mentality. In the middle of the nineteenth century the most eminent Czechs were unable to speak Czech properly, and the Irish have only recently begun to speak their own language again. From the Jews it can be seen how language alone does not decide communal mentality; a Jew may not know a word of either of his “native” languages, and yet be in the strictest sense a Jew.584 For a Jew, choice of language is a matter of circumstance; he remains a Jew in all languages equally.

Only individuals abandon the link with the communal mentality to which they originally belonged when they change their language; in the case of associations, such change has no importance — and under the cloak of linguistic differences, the same communal mentality is found; The opposite also happens: differences in psyche and national consciousness under the cloak of the same language (Serbs, Croats).

Between communal mentality and language the relationship is not permanent, but may vary — so one has nothing to do with tne other.

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