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Title: Language
Original Title: Langue
Volume and Page: Vol. 9 (1765), pp. 249–266
Author: Nicolas Beauzée (biography)
Translator: Julia Wallhager [Macalester College,]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Beauzée, Nicolas. "Language." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Julia Wallhager. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2015. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Langue," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 9. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): Beauzée, Nicolas. "Language." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Julia Wallhager. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2015. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Langue," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 9:249–266 (Paris, 1765).

Language. After having criticized the definition of the word language provided by Furetière, Frain du Tremblay says that ‘what we call language is a series or set of certain articulated sounds that can suitably be assembled together, and that a people uses to signify things and to communicate its thoughts; but that can be used indifferently to signify one thing or thought rather than another’ ( Traité des langues, ch. ii .). Despite the extensive explanation that he then provides of the various parts that enter into this definition, rather than of the definition itself and of language as a whole, we can say that this writer has not succeeded better than did Furetière in giving us a precise and complete notion of what a language is; his definition is neither concise, clear nor true.

The definition goes against the rules of concision by endeavoring to account in too much detail for the essence of articulated sounds, which really should not be examined so explicitly in a definition whose immediate object cannot be sounds.

It goes against the rules of clarity by leaving an imprecision concerning the nature of what we call language , an imprecision that the author himself sensed and that he wished to remove by an entire chapter of explanation.

Finally, it goes against the rules of truth by presenting the idea of a vocabulary in lieu of a language . A vocabulary is truly the series or set of words that a people uses to signify things and communicate its thoughts. But are only words necessary to constitute a language ; and to know it, is it necessary only to learn its vocabulary? Isn’t it necessary to know the primary and secondary meanings that make up the literal meaning that usage has attached to each word, as well as the various figurative meanings that it has ascribed to it, and furthermore the way in which usage allows them to be modified, combined and arranged to contribute to the expression of thoughts? To what extent, moreover, has usage subordinated their arrangement to the rules of syntax; and how, in which circumstances, and finally for what purpose has it liberated them from conforming to this arrangement? In languages everything is usage, including the materiality and meaning of words, the regularity and irregularity of endings, the restriction or freedom established by syntax, and the purism or barbarism of expressions. It is a truth felt by all those who have written on usage, but nonetheless a badly presented one when one says that usage is the tyrant of languages . The idea of tyranny carries with it for us a meaning of unjust usurpation and unreasonable government; and yet it is only right that the empire of usage should govern any language whatsoever since it alone can ascribe to the communication of thoughts – the object of speech – its necessary universality. Nothing is more reasonable than to follow its rules since we would not be understood without them, in complete opposition to the aim of speech.

Usage is thus not the tyrant of languages , but their natural legislator who is both necessary and absolute. His decisions constitute their essence, and because of this I would say that a language is the totality of the usages proper to a nation to express its thoughts in speech .

If a language is spoken by a nation made up of several peoples who are equal and independent in respect to each other and who generally use the same words and syntax, such as the Greeks in ancient times and the Italians and Germans today, each people can have its particular usages with respect to pronunciation or the endings of the same words, and these equally valid variations form the dialects of their national language . If the nation, like the Romans formerly and the French today, is united under one government, then there can only be one legitimate variant in its manner of speaking. All other usages that deviate in pronunciation, endings, syntax or in any other way do not make up a distinct language or dialect of the national language , but are simply a patois particular to the people of the provinces, each of which has its own.

If among the range of linguistic usages characteristic of a nation we consider only the expression and communication of thoughts, insofar as these accord with the opinions that are the most universal and common among mankind, then the word language perfectly expresses this general idea. But if we desire also to take into consideration the particular opinions of this nation and the idiosyncrasies that these opinions necessarily produce in its speech, then the term idiom is most suitable to express this less general and narrower conception.

The distinction that we have just drawn between language and idiom is even greater between language (langue) and langage [1] , although these two words seem significantly closer due to their shared etymology. It is the material aspect of words and their combination that determine a language , which is connected only to the ideas, conceptions and knowledge of its speakers. In contrast, langage appears more connected to the character of the speaker and to his views and interests; the object of speech determines langage , and ‘each develops his own in accordance with his passions’, said l'abbé de Condillac ( Essai sur l'origine des connaissances humaines II. Part. 1. sect. ch. xv ). Thus, one nation with one language can at different times have different langages if it has changed its customs, opinions and interests; two nations with two different languages , on the other hand, may have the same langage if they have the same customs, opinions and interests. In other words, national customs derive from national passions, and the former change along with the latter. The same is true for men as for nations; one speaks of the langage of eyes and of gestures since both eyes and gestures naturally follow the movements of the passions, and consequently express them with all the more energy as the correspondence is greater between the sign and the thing signified that produces it.

After having thus determined the true meaning of the word language by the most explicit definition that it could possibly be given and by a precise exposition of the differences that distinguish it from words that are either synonymous with or subordinate to it, it remains necessary to take a philosophical look at what pertains to languages in general. It seems to me that this theory can be divided into three principal topics that are the only ones that can be treated philosophically and thus by the Encyclopedia, and that treat the origins of the first language , the miraculous division of languages , and, finally, the analysis and comparison of languages when viewed in their most general aspects. That which concerns the study of languages will be found treated throughout the various articles of this work, and particularly under the entry [Method].

Moreover, with respect to what pertains to languages in general, one can consult several works addressing this subject: the philosophical essays by H. Schaevius, De origine linguarum & quibusdam carum attributis ; an essay by Borrichius, a Danish physician, De causis diversitatis linguarum ; other essays by Thomas Hayne, De linguarum harmoniâ , in which he addresses languages in general and the similarity among different idioms; the work by Théodore Bibliander, De ratione communi omnium linguarum et litterarum , the one by Gesner, titled Mithridates , which more or less has the same object, and also that of forming a universal language from the combination of different languages ; Le trésor de l'histoire des langues de cet univers by Claude Duret; L'harmonie étymologique des langues by Etienne Guichart; Le traité des langues by Frain du Tremblay; Les réflexions philosophiques sur l'origine des langues by Pierre Louis de Maupertuis, and several other observations scattered in different texts that, although they do not treat this subject directly, contain excellent principles and useful opinions on it.

Article I. The origin of the first language . Some people have thought that the first humans, born mute, lived for some time like isolated brutes in caves and forests without any connection to each other, uttering only confused and vague sounds until the fear of wild beasts, the powerful voice of need and the necessity of assisting each other drove them together. They gradually became able to articulate their sounds more distinctly, to adopt them by unanimous convention as signs of their ideas or of the things that were their objects, and finally to form themselves a language . This is the opinion of Diodorus Siculus and Vitruvius, and it also seemed probable to Richard Simon who adopted it all the more audaciously insofar as he quoted Saint Gregory of Nyssa in its favor ( Histoire critique du Vieux Testament, I. xiv. xv. & III. xxi.; Contra Eunomium XII.). Père Thomassin claims, however, that far from defending this opinion the Doctor of the Church fights against it in the same passage taken to support it; and many other passages of this holy Father clearly prove that he had very different opinions on this topic and that Richard Simon understood him poorly.

‘To judge solely by the nature of things’, says Warburton, ‘and independently of Revelation, which is however a more certain guide, we would be inclined to admit Diodorus Siculus and Vitruvius’s opinion’ ( Essai sur les hiéroglyphes des Égyptiens [2] e. I. p. 48. in footnote). This way of thinking on the present question is less daring and more cautious than the former; yet Diodorus Siculus and Vitruvius were perhaps even less worthy of criticism than the English writer. Guided only by the lights of reason, it would be quite natural that if they overlooked some important fact they would also fail to see its consequences. However, it is difficult to imagine how one can adduce Revelation with the degree of submissiveness that it has the right to demand and nevertheless claim that the nature of things insinuates opposing principles. Reason and Revelation are, so to speak, two different channels that bring us water from the same spring, and they only differ in the way in which they present it; the channel of Revelation places us closer to the source and offers it to us in a more distilled form; whereas the channel of reason keeps us at a greater distance from it and exposes us to a greater risk of diverse impurities, even if these impurities are always discernible and their elimination always possible. From this it follows that the light of reason can never be opposed to that of Revelation, and consequently that the first must not reach a different judgment than the other regarding the origin of languages .

To imagine or admit of hypotheses contrary to several facts made known by Revelation in order to explain natural facts is thus to contradict without modesty or success the most authentic account that has been given on truth by the author of all truths. Notwithstanding the reason and authority of the many authors who believed to have done well by entertaining the supposition of savage man in order to explain the origin and the successive development of language , I dare say that of all possible hypotheses this one is the least tenable.

In the first part of his Discours sur l'origine et les fondemens de l'inegalité parmi les hommes , J. J. Rousseau based his research on this humiliating supposition that humans were born savage and without any connection to the other individuals of their species than the one that they also shared with the animals by dint of simple cohabitation in the same forests. What advantage did he draw from this chimerical hypothesis to explain the fact of the origin of languages ? He encountered in it only the greatest difficulties and is forced in the end to admit that they are insoluble.

‘The first difficulty that we encounter,’ he says, ‘is to imagine how languages could have become necessary, since humans having no contact with one another and no need to have any, we cannot conceive of either the necessity of this invention, or its possibility assuming it were not indispensable. I would happily say, like many others, that languages were born in the domestic relations between fathers, mothers and children, but apart from the fact that this does not answer the objections, it would be to commit the same error as those who, reflecting on the state of nature, introduce ideas drawn from society and always imagine the family living under the same roof and with a bond between its members that is as intimate and permanent as in our society, where so many common interests unite them. Instead, in this original state, having neither houses, huts nor property of any kind, each individual found his own accommodation at random and often for a single night, while males and females united fortuitously according to their encounters, opportunities and desires, without speech being a necessary means of communication for what they wanted to express. They parted on the same easy terms. The mother breastfed her infants initially to satisfy her own needs while afterwards, habit having made them dear to her, she then fed them to satisfy theirs. As soon as they had the strength to search for their own food, they did not think twice before leaving their own mother. Because almost the only way of finding each other was to avoid losing sight of one other, very soon they arrived at the point of no longer being able to recognize each other. Note moreover that the child needing to explain all of its needs and consequently having more things to say to its mother than vice versa, it is he who must make the greatest effort of invention and the language that he uses must be primarily his own creation. Now, this would create as many languages as there are speaking individuals, to which must be added the influence of a nomadic and unsettled mode of life that does not allow any particular idiom the time to become stable. To say on the other hand that the mother teaches the child the words that he must use to request anything from her shows clearly how already existing languages are taught, but it does not teach us how they were formed.

Suppose this first difficulty overcome and that we may pass over for a moment the immense lapse of time between the pure state of nature and the need of languages , and let us consider, supposing that languages were necessary, how they might have begun to get established. A new difficulty, even worse than the first, now arises. For if human beings needed speech to learn how to think, they would have also needed to know how to think to discover the art of speech. Even if one understood how the sounds of the voice came to be used as conventional signs of our ideas, we would still be left with the question of how it was that this convention first came to be established, the convention lacking any perceivable object and consequently unable to be indicated by gestures or by the voice. As a result, it is almost impossible to make plausible conjectures about the birth of this art for the communication of thought and the facilitation of exchange among minds.

The first language of human beings, the most universal and energetic one, and the only one needed before it was necessary to persuade men gathered together in assemblies is the cry of nature. Since this cry was only expressed by a sort of instinct in urgent situations in order to beg for help in great moments of danger or for relief from violent pain, it was not used frequently in everyday life, where moderate emotions were dominant. When men's ideas started to develop and multiply, and more intimate contacts became established among them, they sought more numerous signs and a more sophisticated language ; they multiplied the inflexions of the voice and added gestures to it, which, by their nature, are more expressive and whose meaning is less dependent on a prior convention. They thus signified visible and mobile objects by means of gestures, and objects that affect the sense of hearing by imitative sounds; but since gestures only indicate objects that are present or easy to describe or visible actions, they cannot be employed in all circumstances since darkness or the interposition of another body makes them useless, and since they require attention more than they attract it. Finally, it was decided to substitute for gestures the articulations of the voice, which, without having the same connections to particular ideas, are more appropriate to represent ideas in general, as conventional signs. This substitution could not have been made without mutual consent and in a manner that was quite hard to implement for men whose coarse organs had not yet any practice, and that was even harder to conceive in itself since this unanimous agreement must have been deliberate, and since speech seems to have been very necessary in order to institute the usage of speech.

We must suppose that the first words used by men had in their minds a meaning that is much broader than those used in already developed languages , and that ignorant of the separation of discourse into its parts, they initially gave to each word the meaning of an entire clause. Even when they began to distinguish the subject from the attribute and the verb from the noun, which itself required no small amount of ingenuity, nouns were not more than proper nouns, the infinitive was the only verb tense, and as for adjectives, their use would only develop after great efforts, because all adjectives are abstract words and abstractions are difficult and not very natural.

Each object was first given a particular name without regard for species and kind, which these first grammarians were not in a position to discern, and all individual objects presented themselves as separate to their minds, just as they are in nature. If one oak was called A, the next was called B, such that the more knowledge was limited, the more the dictionary was copious. The awkwardness of all this nomenclature could not be removed easily, since to classify things under common and generic denominations, it was first necessary to know their properties and differences; observations and definitions were necessary; that is, a knowledge of natural history and metaphysics to a much larger extent than the men of this time could have possessed.

Furthermore, general ideas cannot present themselves to the mind without the help of words, and the understanding only grasps them in propositions. This is one of the reasons why animals cannot form such ideas, nor ever acquire the perfectibility that depends on them. When a monkey goes without hesitating from one nut to another, do we think that it has a general idea of this kind of fruit and that it compares the two nuts to an archetype? Certainly not, but the sight of one of these nuts reminds him of the sensations produced by the other, and his eyes, affected in a certain way, inform his sense of taste of the sensations that he will receive. All general ideas are purely intellectual; but as soon as the imagination gets involved, an idea immediately becomes particular. If you try to draw the image of a tree in general, you will never succeed, and despite yourself you will have to envisage it as small or large, wiry or leafy, light or dark, and if it was up to you to represent only what is true of all trees, this image would cease to resemble a tree. Purely abstract beings are either represented abstractly in this way, or can only be conceived in speech. The definition of a triangle alone gives you the real idea of it; as soon as you imagine one in your mind, it is a one triangle and not another and you will not be able to refrain from giving it tangible lines or color. It is thus necessary to utter propositions; it is thus necessary to speak, in order to have general ideas, because as soon as the imagination stops, the mind only continues to work with the help of discourse. If, then, the first inventors were only able to name ideas that they already possessed, it follows that the first nouns could never have been other than proper names.

But when our new grammarians started to extend their ideas and generalize their words, by means that I cannot imagine, the ignorance of the inventors must have confined this method within highly restricted limits. Just as they had first excessively multiplied the names of individual objects for lack of any knowledge of species and kind, they then created too many species and kinds due to not having considered all the differences between individual beings. To take the distinctions far enough, they would have needed more experience and insight than they were able to acquire, and more research and work than they wanted to carry out. Now, if today we still discover new species each day that have escaped our observations thus far, how many must have escaped that of men who only judged things at their face value? As for primitive classes and the most general notions, it is superfluous to add that they must have escaped them also. How, for example, could they have imagined or understood the words matter , mind , substance , mode , figure , movement , when our philosophers, who have employed them for so long, have such a hard time understanding them, and when the ideas that we attach to these words, being purely metaphysical, lack any model in nature?’

After having discussed at length the first obstacles in the path of the conventional institution of languages as we have just seen, Rousseau makes a term of comparison out of the invention of purely physical nouns, which make up the easiest part of language to identify in order to judge the journey remains to reach the point at which language can express all the thoughts of men, take on a stable form, be spoken in public and influence society. He invites the reader to reflect on the number of years and the amount of knowledge that must have been required in order to discover numbers, which require the most profound philosophical meditations and the most metaphysical, demanding and least natural form of abstraction; not to mention other abstract words, the aorists and all the verb tenses, the particles, syntax; and in order to connect clauses and reasonings, and to form the whole logic of speech. After this, he concludes as follows: ‘As for me, terrified by the difficulties that are accumulating and convinced of the almost demonstrated impossibility that languages could have been born and established by purely human means, I leave the discussion of this difficult problem for whomever wishes to undertake it: which was most necessary, society already established, for the institution of languages; or languages already invented, for the institution of society?’

It was difficult to show in a clearer way the impossibility of deducing the origin of languages from the revolting hypothesis of a supposedly savage man in the early days of the world. To make its absurdity clear, it seemed important to me to omit nothing from the confessions of a philosopher who had adopted it to establish a foundation for the inequality of conditions, and who, despite the acumen and the subtlety for which he is known, was not able to draw from this chimeric principle all the advantage that it promised, and perhaps not even the one that he himself believes he had obtained.

Allow me to reflect for a moment longer on these last remarks. The Genevan philosopher rightly felt that the inequality of conditions was a necessary consequence of the establishment of society, and that the establishment of society and the institution of language were mutually dependent on each other, since he sees it as a difficult problem to discuss which of the two was a more necessary condition for the other. Why then does he not take his argument further? Having seen it demonstrated that languages could not result from the hypothesis that men were born savages, nor could be established by purely human means, why does he not draw the same conclusion regarding society? Why does he not fully abandon his hypothesis as equally incapable of explaining each institution? Besides, the supposition of a fact that we know by the most reliable account not to have existed, far from being admissible as an explanatory principle of real facts, must not be regarded as anything but a chimeric fiction liable to lead us astray.

But let’s follow simple reasoning. A language is without a doubt the set of the particular usages of a nation to express thoughts by means of the voice, and this expression is the means by which these thoughts are communicated. All languages thus presuppose a pre-existing society that, as such, must have had a need for this communication, and that, for reasons already stated, must have established the usages that constitute the body of its language . On the other hand, a society formed by any human means that we can ascertain presupposes a means of communication in order, first, to determine the respective duties of its members, and then to set things up so that they can demand of each other that they satisfy them. What follows from this? If we persist in wanting to institute the first language and society by human means, it is necessary to admit the eternity of the world and of the generations of man, and consequently to give up the idea of a first society and a first language per se. Yet this is an absurd claim on its face, since it implies a contradiction, and is moreover refuted by right reason and the overwhelming number of all kinds of accounts that certify the newness of the world: Nulia igitur in principio facta est ejusmodi congregatio, nec unquam fuisse homines in terra qui propter insantiam non loquerentur, intelliget, cui ratio non deest . [3] Lactantius. Concerning the True Worship. ch. x. If men begin to exist without speaking, they will never speak. When one knows a few languages , one may easily invent another; but if one does not know one, one will never know one, unless one hears someone else speak. The organ of speech is an instrument that remains idle and useless if it is not set in motion by the sense impressions of the hearing. Nobody denies that it is their original deafness that keeps the mouth of people born mute inactivate, and one knows from more than one well-documented experience that men accidentally raised far from others and in the silence of forests, not having learnt to pronounce any articulated sound there, only imitated the natural screams of animals with whom they had come into contact, and transplanted into our society had great difficulties in imitating the language that they heard, and never did so except highly imperfectly. See the notes on the Discours sur l'origine et les fondemens de l'inegalité parmi les hommes by J-J Rousseau.

Herodotus tells the story of an Egyptian king who raised two children together in silence and with a goat for wet-nurse, and that after two years they reached out their hand to the one responsible for this experimental education, and said to him ‘beccos’, and that the king, knowing that bek meant bread in Phrygian, concluded that the Phrygian language was natural, and that the Phrygians were the most ancient people in the world (book. II. ch. ii.). The Egyptians did not renounce their claims to antiquity, despite this decision of their prince, and they were right not to do so: it is evident that his children spoke like the goat that nourished them, that the Greek called βήκη [4] from onomatopoeia or imitation of this animal’s bleat, and this bleat only resembles the Phrygian bek (bread) by pure accident.

If the conclusion that the Egyptian king drew from this observation was badly deduced, it was even more mistaken in its supposition of an erroneous principle that consists in believing that men had such a thing as a natural language . It is the thinking of those who, terrified by the difficulties of the system that we have just examined regarding the origin of languages , nonetheless believed that they should not claim that the first language miraculously came from the very inspiration of God.

But if there was a language that originated in human nature, should it not be common to all of mankind without regard to time, climate, governments, religions, customs, acquired knowledge, prejudices, or any of the other causes that elicit the various differences among languages ? Would not those who are born mute, and whom we know are such only insofar as they cannot hear, at least try to speak this natural language , especially considering that it would not have been suppressed by any usage or opposing prejudice?

That which is truly natural to man is as immutable as his essence. Today, just as from the dawn of time, a secret but invincible inclination places a constant desire for happiness in his soul, suggests to the two sexes this mutual concupiscence that perpetuates the species, and knows how to transmit from generation to generation this aversion to solitude that never disappears even in the hearts of those whom wisdom or religion has led to live apart from other men. But let us move closer to our object: don’t we see that the natural language of each species of the brutes is unchanging? From the beginning up to our times, everywhere the lions have been heard to roar, the bulls bellow, the horses neigh, the asses bray, the dogs bark, the wolves howl, the cats miaow, etc. These words, formed in all languages by means of onomatopoeia, bear witness to the distinctiveness of the langage of every species, and the incorruptibility, if one may say so, of each specific idiom.

I do not claim to insinuate, moreover, that the language of animals is able to represent an analytic summary of their thoughts, nor that it is able to grant them a reason comparable to ours, as thought Plutarch, Sextus Empiricus, Porphyry, and as certain moderns have suggested, among them Isaac Vossius who went so far as to assert indecently that there is more reason in the langage of animals, ‘ vulgò bruta creduntur’  [5], he says ( De poematum cantu et viribus rythmi p. 66). I have explained myself on this point elsewhere. See Interjection. Speech is given to us to express the interior feelings of our soul, and the ideas that we have of external objects, such that each of the languages that human beings speak, provides a means of expression for the langage of the heart and that of the mind. The langage of animals seems to only have interior sensations as its object, and it is because of this that this language is as invariable as is their manner of feeling, even if the invariability of their langage does not of itself supply the proof of this. The same is true for us; everywhere we communicate the actual state of our soul in our interjections, since the sounds that nature dictates in the big and small movements of our soul are the same in all languages ; our usages are in this respect never arbitrary since they are natural. The same would be the case with the analytic language of the mind, if it were natural, it would be unchanging and unique.

What conclusion is thus left for us to draw in order to determine a plausible origin for language ? The hypothesis of savage man, contradicted by the authentic history of Genesis, can moreover not suggest any plausible means for the formation of a first language ; to suppose that this language was natural is another hypothesis that is incompatible with the constant and uniform procedures of nature. It is thus God himself who, unsatisfied with giving the precious faculty of speech to the two first individuals of the human species, promptly had them fully exercise it by immediately inspiring them with the desire and the art of imagining the words and expressions necessary for the needs of emerging society. This is more or less what the author seems to be saying in the ecclesiastical: ‘ Consilium, & linguam, & oculos, & aures, & cor dedit illis excogitandi; & disciplinâ intellectûs explevit illos’ [6] (XVII. 5). This is exactly everything that is necessary to justify my opinion: the desire to communicate one’s thoughts, consilium ; the ability to do it, linguam ; eyes to recognize surrounding objects from afar that are subject to the human domain, in order to distinguish them by their names, oculos ; ears in order to mutually understand one another, without which the communication of thoughts and the traditions of usages that serve to express them would be impossible, aures ; the art of subjecting words to laws of a certain analogy to avoid an excessive multiplication of primitive words, but nonetheless to give to each being its own sign, cor excogitandi ; finally, the necessary intelligence to distinguish and name the most important abstract points of view in order to give to the whole of a speech a form as expressive as each of its individual parts, and then to memorize the whole, disciplina intellectus. This doctrine is confirmed by the passage in Genesis that teaches us that it was Adam who gave the first names to the animals, and that presents him as occupied with this task by the expressed desire and under the direction of the Creator (Genesis 2:19-20). Formatis igitur, Dominus Deus, de humo cunctis animantibas terroe, & universis volatilibus coeli, adduxit ea ad Adam, ut videret quid vocaret ea; omne enim quod vocavit Adam animae viventis, ipsum est nomen ejus: ap. pellavitque Adam nominibus sais cuncta animantia, & universa volatilia coeli, & omnes bestias terroe . [7] With such a respectable and well-established account of the real origin of both society and language , how can we still find among us men who dare to interpret the work of God by the delusions of their imagination, and to substitute their thoughts for the documents that the Holy Spirit himself has given us? Unless one is to introduce what is at once both the most ridiculous and the most scandalous historical Pyrrhonism, the account of Moses has the right to compel the assent of any rational man more than any other historian. He is so certain of his dates that he continually speaks as a man who has no fear of being contradicted by any previous example, however short the distance from his time that he situates this origin; such is the stringent condition that he imposes when he speaks of the first division of languages ; a miraculous incident that merits attention and for which I will borrow the terms of Pluche ( Le spectacle de la nature tom. VIII. part. I. page 96. and cont.).

Article II. The miraculous division of languages. ‘Moses has the whole human species gathered on the Euphrates in the city of Babel, and speaking only one language, about eight hundred years before his times. His whole story would be contradicted by just two earlier examples of writing in different languages . A man, acting with this confidence, doubtless finds the proof and not the refutation of his dates in the Egyptian monuments perfectly known to him. The very precision of his story refutes in advance all the fables subsequently introduced in the Egyptian annals.

This historical point is significant. Let us examine it in parts and compare Moses's account with what nature and society offer us as remnants and proofs of what he puts forward.

The children of Noah, numerous and uncomfortable in the rocks of Ararat where the ark had stranded, crossed the Tigris and chose the fertile countrysides of Sinjar or Sennahar in lower Mesopotamia, somewhere near the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates, in order to settle in what was the richest and most unified land that they knew. The necessity to provide for the needs of an enormous population of men and livestock obliging them to spread out, and not having any object in this immense plain that could be perceived from afar. ‘Let’s build a town,’ they said, ‘and a tower that reaches the sky. Let’s make a recognizable mark [8] in order not to become disunited as we disperse in all directions. Lacking stones, they baked bricks, and the asphalt or bitumen that the land provided them with in abundance served instead of cement. God decided that it was necessary to stop this undertaking by diversifying their language . Confusion spread among them and this place took the name Babel , which means confusion. Was there a town with the name Babel , a known tower that had accompanied this town, a plain named Sinjar or Sennahar in Mesopotamia, a river called Euphrates , and infinitely fertile and perfectly united countrysides, so as to make the precaution of a very high tower intelligible and reasonable? Moreover, is asphalt a natural product of this country? All of secular antiquity has known since the earliest times in which writing began, both the Euphrates, and the evenness of its plains. In his maps of Asia, Ptolemy has the plains of Mesopotamia end at the Sinhar mountains, on the side of the Tigris. Every historian talks about the perfect evenness of the lands on the Babylon side, where as a result beautiful gardens were elevated on several masses of brick buildings in order to detach them from the plain and to vary its otherwise too uniform appearance. Ammien Marcellin, who followed the emperor Julien into this country, as well as Pliny and all the geographers, both ancient and modern, attest in the same way the breadth and the evenness of the Mesopotamian lowlands, where no natural object exists to fix the horizon. They draw our attention to the abundance of bitumen that flows there naturally and the incredible fertility of ancient Babylonia. In this way, everything conspires to make us recognize the remains of the land of Eden and the exactitude of everything that Moses documents. All profane literature pays tribute to the Scripture, apart from the Chinese and Egyptian histories which proceed as if they were conceived in a vacuum.’

The crime for which Moses blames the children of Noah, ‘is not, as the LXX have translated it, that of wanting to make a name of themselves before their scattering, but, as the original text literally shows, that of constructing a dwelling that could hold a numerous people, and to adjoin to it a tower that, seen from afar, became a rallying point, in order to prevent wandering and separation. This is what they express very simply in the following terms: let’s make a mark in order not to disunite ourselves when we move in different directions (Hebr. pen. ne forte.).

The disadvantage that they wanted to avoid carefully was exactly what God wanted and required of them. They knew very well that God had called them for at least a century to distribute themselves in colonies each in different areas, and they took measures to prevent or postpone as long as possible the execution of his wishes. As a result, God confused their language ; he populated little by little each country in settling there those inhabitants who had gathered there due to their use of one particular language , and whom the inconvenience of no longer understanding the other families had obliged to live far from them.

Both the current state of things on earth and every known history bear witness to the intention that very early after the flood divided up the languages . Nothing was more worthy of divine wisdom than to have used the same means to quickly populate the different corners of the earth that is still employed today to settle its inhabitants in one place and to prevent their departure from it. There are such good countries and there are such ill-favored ones that the latter would be abandoned for the former if the use of the same language was not such a strong attachment as to compel the inhabitants of the bad ones to remain there, and their ignorance of other languages a powerful reason to avoid the other countries despite the disadvantages of the comparison. Thus, the miracle reported by Moses even today populates the whole earth as truly as it did at the time of the scattering of the children of Noah; its effect continues to operate across the centuries.

Another means to sense the accuracy of this story consists in the fact that the diversity of languages is in agreement with Moses’s dates; this diversity precedes all of our known histories, unlike either the pyramids of Egypt, or the marbles of Arundel or any other monument that carries with it a character of truth. Let us add here that the reunion of the human species in Chaldea before the dispersion of the colonies is a fact very much supported by the order in which they were established. Everything begins in the Orient, both men and the arts; everything advances closer and closer to the West, to the South and to the North. History shows kings and great civilizations in the heart and on the coasts of Asia at a time in which there was no knowledge of other, more remote colonies – these either did not yet exist or they were still in the process of being settled. If the Chinese and Egyptians had from very early times more similarities with the ancient inhabitants of Chaldea than other peoples, given their sedentary inclination, use of symbolic figures, astronomical knowledge, and their skill in several Fine Arts, it is primarily because they settled in extremely good regions in which they were troubled neither by the forests which elsewhere covered everything, nor by the beasts which threatened every settlement from the shelter of these forests, and so they were able to quickly multiply in number and did not lose the knowledge of their first inventions. The highest antiquity of these three peoples and their resemblance in so many respects shows their common origin and the uncommon exactitude of sacred history. The condition of the other peoples was very different from that of those who stopped early in the rich regions of the Euphrates, Kian and the Nile. Let us imagine elsewhere nomadic families who knew neither places nor roads, and who, finding themselves by chance in a barren land in which they lacked everything, including instruments to practice the good skills which they might have conserved, and the stability or leisure necessary to perfect whatever their current needs might have led them to invent; their modest means of subsistence would put them often at odds, and their mutual jealousy destroy them. Not being more than a handful in number, another group would make them flee. This wandering and often uncertain life led them to forget everything; it is only in reestablishing commerce with the Orient that things changed. The Goths and the entire north only ceased to be barbarians by settling in Gaul and Italy; the Gauls and Franks got their civility from the Romans, who in turn had taken their laws and literature from Athens. Greece remained barbarian until the arrival of Cadmus, who brought the Phoenician alphabet there. The Greeks, enchanted with this tool, became engaged in the cultivation of their language , in poetry and song; yet they lacked a taste for politics, architecture, navigation, astronomy, and painting, until after their journeys to Memphis, Tyr, and the heart of Persia; they perfected everything, but invented nothing. It is thus equally as clear in profane history as in Scriptural narrative that the Orient is the common origin of the nations and of beautiful knowledge. We do not see a reversal until later periods when the thirst for conquests begins to drive bands of Westerners back into Asia.”

It would perhaps be satisfying to our curiosity to be able to determine what the changes were that Babel introduced into the first language , as well as how they were carried out. It is certain that one cannot establish anything definitive here, since this great revolution in language can only be seen as a miracle that men were truly unable to anticipate. Consequently, there could have been no observer who had his eyes set on this phenomenon, and since it was sudden, it probably would not have permitted of any observations even if one had thought to do so, even as nothing provides as much instruction concerning nature and the progress of things as memories formed in the period directly after observation. Nonetheless, some writers have given their opinions on it with as much confidence as if they had spoken after the event itself or had attended a summit with the Almighty.

Some say that the division of languages did not occur suddenly, but that it took place imperceptibly in accordance with the constant principles of the natural mutability of language , and that it first became apparent during the construction of the city and the tower of Babel, which in Eusebius’s rapport in Chronicle lasted forty years. The progress of this mutation was at this time found to be so considerable that there was no longer any means to sustain the mutual intelligibility necessary for an enterprise that went directly against God's will, and so men were obliged to separate themselves. See the introduction of the Histoire des juifs et des peuples voisins (H. Prideaux) by Samuel Shucford, book II. Yet this speculation contradicts too formally the text of Scripture and moreover supposes as natural a thing that is belied by ordinary natural effects.

Chapter 11 of Genesis starts by observing that only one language was spoken everywhere on earth, and that it was spoken in the same way: Erat autem terra labii unicus & sermonum corumdem  [9]; which seems to mean that it was characterized by the same pronunciation, labii unicus  [10], and the same syntax, analogies and expressions, sermonum eorumdem  [11] (v.1). After this fundamental observation, which was envisaged as such by the sacred historian, he speaks of the arrival of Noah’s descendants on the lowlands of Sennahar, their project of constructing a town there and a tower to serve as a signal for them, as well as the materials that they used for this construction. He even insinuates that the work was quite advanced, and then after having remarked that the Lord came down to view it, he adds: & dixit (Dominus): Ecce unus est populus & Unum Labium omnibus: coeperuntque hoc facere, nec desistent à cogitationibus suis, donec eas opere compleant. Venite igitur, descendamus, & confundamus ibi linguam eorum, ut non audiat unusquisque vocem proximi sui  [12] (v. 67). Is it not clear that only one language existed until the moment when God wanted to put an end to their undertaking, unum labium omnibus ? [13] That as soon as he made his decision, his almighty will executed it, atque ita divisit eos Dominus, v. 8?  [14] That the means he used to accomplish this was the division of the common language , confundamus . . . linguam eorum , [15] and that this caused a sudden confusion, confundamus ibi? [16]

If this confusion of the first language was not sudden, how could it have impressed men to the point of noting it in an enduring monument, such as the name that was given to this city itself, Babel (confusion)? Et idcirco vocatum est nomen ejus Babel, quia ibi confusum est labium universae terrae [17] (v. 9). How, after having worked for several years in mutual understanding, despite the imperceptible changes that were introduced in their language , were these men all of a sudden forced to separate themselves due to their inability to understand one another? If the progress of the division of their language was still imperceptible the previous day, it should also have been so the following day; or in other words, if there was an extraordinary revolution the following day that was no longer connected to the advances of the preceding alterations, these advances should not be counted as one of the reasons for this revolution; both its cause and its effect should be viewed as sudden and miraculous.

Yet it is necessary to accept this account, since it is certain that the natural advance of the changes that occur in languages does not create and can never create confusion among those men who originally spoke the same one. If an individual changes common usage, his utterance is first regarded as an error, but either it is understood or he is asked to explain it; in either case, one reminds him of the rule established by usage, or at least one reminds oneself of it. If this particular error, through one of the accidental causes that modify languages, passes from mouth to mouth and is repeated, it ceases in the end to be an error and acquires the authority of usage, it becomes proper to the very language that previously condemned it; but here again we will be understood, since we repeat ourselves. It is in this way that we understand the writers of the previous century, only perceiving between them and us slight differences that cause no confusion. Similarly, they understood those of the previous century who were in the same situation in respect to the writers of the century before them, and so on, back to the time of Charlemagne, to Clovis if you will, or even further back to the most ancient Druids, whom we no longer understand. Yet if the human lifespan was so long that some Druids were still alive today, whether the language underwent the changes that it did or whether it did not, mutual understanding would still be present between them and us, since they would have been forced to adopt the floods of decisions concerning usage of the different centuries. It is thus a complete illusion to want to explain an event by natural causes that can be nothing but miraculous.

Other authors, convinced that there was no ascribable natural cause, wanted to explain in what consisted the surprising revolution that caused men to abandon the construction of Babel. ‘In my opinion,’ said du Tremblay, ‘God then arranged the organs of these men in such a way that when they wanted to pronounce the words that they were accustomed to use, they uttered completely different words to signify the things about which they wanted to speak. In such a way that those whom God wanted to change their language formed completely new words by articulating their voices in a different way than they were accustomed to doing. And by continuing to articulate their voices in this new way every time they spoke, they constructed a new language , since all their ideas were connected to the terms of this new language instead of being connected to those of the previous one. There is even reason to believe that they so forgot their ancient language that they did not even remember having spoken it, and that they only perceived the change in it for the reason that they could not understand themselves as before. This is how I think the change came about. Supposing the power of God over his creation, I do not see a great mystery in all this nor why the rabbis torment themselves so much to find the manner of this change’ ( Traité des langues, ch. vi).

This is still however to use one’s own imagination in the place of reasons; the division of languages could have occurred in so many different ways that it is not possible to determine a single one with certainty, as if it were to be exclusively preferred to all the others. God might have let the same root words with the same meanings remain but inspired different declensions and constructions; he might have substituted in men's minds other ideas for those that were previously designated by the same words, or he might have altered only pronunciation by changing vowels or substituting homogenous consonants one for another, etc. Who dares determine the way that it pleased Providence to choose, or assert that it did not simultaneously choose multiple ones? Quis enim cognovit sensum Domini, aut quis conciliarius ejus fuit?  [18] (Romans 2:34).

Let us stick to the facts that are told us by the Holy Spirit; we cannot doubt that it was he himself who inspired Moses. Moreover, all further examination confirms his story: the spectacle of nature, that of society and of the revolutions that have successively changed the scene of the world, and reasoning founded on the best-established observations: in a word, everything supports the same truths, and these are the only ones that we can affirm with certainty, as well as the consequences that flow logically from them.

God made men social beings; he inspired in them the use of the first language as the instrument to communicate their ideas, needs, and reciprocal obligations, and to be the bond of their society, and, above all, of the exchange of charity and kindness which he makes the indispensable foundation of this society.

When he then wanted to use their fruitfulness to cover and cultivate the different corners of the world that he had subjected to the domain of this species, and when he saw them take measures to resist their calling and their impenetrable views of his providence, he confused the first language and thus forced them to separate themselves into as many peoples as there were languages , and to disperse themselves in an equal number of different regions.

Such is the fact of the first division of languages ; and the only thing that I consider reasonable to add to it is that God made sudden changes in the first language analogous to those that natural causes subsequently would have established if men had dispersed in various colonies in various regions of the earth by their own movements. Even in terms of the events that occur outside the natural order, God does not act against nature, since he cannot act against his eternal and immutable ideas, which are the archetypes of all natures. However, this gives rise to an objection that merits examination. It follows here:

First, that the Creator gave the first man and his companion the inspiration for the first of all languages to use as the bond and instrument of the society that it pleased him to establish between them; that education, supported by their natural curiosity and by the inclination that men have toward imitation, passed this language from generation to generation, and thus that the original link between the descendants of Adam and Eve was maintained for as long as this language subsisted on its own, is a first point that is easy to conceive and that is necessary to admit.

Next, that men, too enamored of the sweetness of this society, had wanted to elude the intention and the orders of the Creator who had destined them to populate all the corners of the world; and that to force them, God had judged it necessary to confuse their language and to multiply its idioms, in order to relax the bond that had them too attached to one another; this is a second and equally attested point, which our understanding does not have any greater difficulty in grasping when one considers it separately.

Nonetheless, the combination of these two facts seems to create a real difficulty. If the confusion of languages divided peoples, is this not contrary to the first intention of the Creator and the happiness of humanity? To dissipate what is specious in this objection, it is not sufficient to consider in only a vague and indefinite way the affection that everybody should have for his fellow man, and the germ of which lies within him. This affection has naturally, that is to say as a necessary consequence of the laws that the Creator himself has established, different degrees of intensity in accordance with the strength of the connection that exists between one man and another. Similar to how the circular waves that form around a stone when it is thrown in water are less intense in proportion to the extent that they move away from the center of the wave, the more the links between men are weakened by the distance of time, place, generation, and of different interests, the less there is liveliness in their respective feelings of natural kindness, although it still always subsists even with the greatest distance. But far from being contrary to this proportional distribution of kindness the division of languages is in some ways in the same proportion, and thus it is adapted, so to speak, to the designs of universal charity: if one places its degrees in parallel with the differences in languages , the more the comparison is exact, the more one will become convinced that one of the them is the correct measure for the other. This will be made clearer in the following article.

Article III. Analysis and Comparison of Languages. All languages have the same goal, the enunciation of thoughts. To attain it they all use the same instrument, the voice; these are like the spirit and body of language . Furthermore, up to a certain point, the same holds for languages thus considered as for the men who speak them.

All human souls, if we are to believe the Cartesian school, are absolutely of the same kind and nature; they have the same faculties in the same degree, the seeds of the same talents, mind, and genius, and between them there are only quantitative or individual differences. Moreover these differences are determined by exterior causes; the intimate organization of the bodies that they animate; the various temperaments that conditions establish in them; the greater or lesser frequency and favorability of the occasions which can incite ideas in them, bring them together, combine them, and develop them; the more or less fortunate prejudices that they receive through education, customs, religion, political government, domestic relations, civil and national ones, etc.

It is more or less the same with respect to the human body. Formed out of the same material if one considers its principal elements it seems, so to speak, cast from the same mold, even if it has perhaps never yet been the case that a single man has born an exact bodily resemblance to another individual. Whatever the physical connection between any two men, as soon as there is a group of individuals there are more or less perceptible differences of appearance other than those that are inside the bodily machine; these differences are all the more marked in proportion to the diminution of causes that produce converging effects. Thus, all the subjects of a nation have individual differences among themselves but also display traits of national resemblance. The national resemblance of a people is not the same as the national resemblance of another neighboring people, even if they share similar characteristics. These characteristics weaken and different traits increase progressively as the terms of comparison become more remote, up to the point at which the enormous diversity of climates and of the other causes that more or less depend on it leave only in place the traits that permit us to identify individuals as members of the same species, notwithstanding the sharp differences between Whites, Blacks, the Lapps and the southern Europeans.

Let us distinguish in the same way between the mind and the body of languages , the common object that they propose and the universal instrument that they use to express it, or in a word, between the thoughts and the articulated sounds of the voice. We will unravel from this distinction that which they necessarily have in common and that which they have as unique with respect to both these points of view, and we will put ourselves in a position to establish reasonable principles as to the generation of languages , their mixture, their affinity and their respective merit.

I. I have already said elsewhere (See Grammar and Inversion) that the human mind manages to distinguish parts in its thought, completely indivisible as it is, by separating via abstraction the different ideas that make up its object and the various relations that they have among themselves due to the connection that they all share to this indivisible thought by which they are envisaged. This analysis, whose principles derive from the nature of the human mind and which is the same everywhere, should reveal everywhere the same results, or at least similar results, envisage ideas in the same way, and establish the same classification of words.

There are thus in all languages words destined to express the beings, both real and abstract, whose ideas can be the objects of our thoughts, and words destined to designate the general relations between these beings. Words of the first kind are indeclinable [19]; that is to say, they permit various inflections in light of the goals of the analysis, which can envisage the same beings under various aspects and in various circumstances. The words of the second kind are indeclinable because they always present the same idea under the same aspect.

Declinable words always have a defined meaning or an undefined meaning. Those of the first kind present the mind with determinate beings and are of two kinds; nouns, which determine beings in terms of their nature; and pronouns, which determine them by their personal relations. Those of the second kind present the mind with indeterminate beings. They are also of two kinds; adjectives, which designate them in terms of the precise idea of a quality or of a particular relationship that can be attributed to several beings, and of which it is either an essential or accidental part; and verbs, which designate them by a precise idea of intellectual existence with respect to a quality that can also be attributed to several beings.

Indeclinable words are universally divided into three kinds: prepositions, adverbs and conjunctions; prepositions designate general relations by means of abstract terms; adverbs designate particular relations to a determined term; and conjunctions designate the links between the various parts of discourse. See Word and the different kinds defined there.

I will not address interjections here, since this kind of word does not concern the enunciation of the mind's thoughts but the indication of the soul’s feelings; interjections are not arbitrary instruments of the art of speaking, but natural signs of sensibility that are prior to all that which is arbitrary, and so little dependent on the art of speaking and languages that even those born mute do not lack them.

As for the relations that arise between partial ideas and for the general connection that they all have to one same indivisible thought, I believe that these relations presuppose a fixed order between their terms: the prior condition comes first and the consequence necessarily comes afterward. As a result, between the partial ideas of the same thought, there is a succession based on their relations and which results from the connection that they all have to this thought. See [Inversion]. I give this succession the name analytical order , since it is simultaneously the result of the analysis of thought and the foundation of the analysis of speech, in whichever language it is enunciated.

As everyone agrees, speech must indeed be the sensible image of thought; but every sensible image presupposes in its model parts, an order, and a proportion among these parts. Only the analysis of thought can therefore be the natural and immediate object of the sensible image which speech must produce in every language ; moreover, only the analytical order can regulate the order and proportion of this successive and fleeting image. This rule is certain since it is as unchanging as the nature of the human mind which is its source and principle. Its influence on all languages is as necessary as it is universal; without this original and invariable prototype, there could be no communication among people from different centuries, nor among people of different regions of the world, and not even between any two individuals, since they would not have a single immutable term of comparison to which to relate their respective ways of communicating.

But by means of this common term of comparison, communication is generally established everywhere, with only the difficulties that spring from the different ways of painting the same object. People who speak the same language understand one another since they paint the same original in the same way and with the same colors. Two neighboring people, such as the French and Italians, who more or less follow similar rules of syntax although with different words, manage to easily understand each other’s language , because once again they both paint the same original and more or less with the same perspective although with different colors. Two people who are further apart and whose vocabulary and constructions completely differ, such as the French and the Latins, for example, can still mutually understand one another, although perhaps with slightly more difficulty. The reason remains the same: the former and the latter paint the same original object, but it is drawn and painted differently.

The analytical order is therefore the universal basis of the communicability of all languages and the exchange of thoughts, which is the soul of society; it is thus the term to which one must reduce all the sentences of a foreign language in the understanding of which one wants to make any certain, reasoned and thorough progress. The rest is, so to speak, but a matter of memory, in which it is only a question of absorbing the arbitrary conventions of good usage. This consequence, which the following reflections will only confirm and develop further, is the true foundation of the practical method that I propose elsewhere (in the article [Method]) for the Latin language, which is the first object of public and ordinary instruction in Europe. This method, because of the universality of its principle, can with similar success be applied to all foreign languages , dead and alive, that one might consider studying or teaching.

So this is thus what is found universally in the spirit of every language ; the analytical succession of partial ideas that jointly constitute the same thought, and the same kinds of words to represent these partial ideas envisaged under the same aspects. But with respect to these two general objects, these languages admit of all the differences that derive from the particular spirit of the people who speak them, and who are themselves simultaneously the principal agents of the spirit of these languages and the principal source of the difficulties that arise in translating word-by-word from one to the other.

1°. In relation to the analytical order, there are two means by which it can be made sensible in the vocal enunciation of thought. The first is to arrange the words in the enunciation according to the same order that results from the analytical succession of partial ideas; the second is to give declinable words inflexions or endings that pertain to the analytical order and then to regulate their arrangement in the enunciation by means of other principles that are capable of adding to the perfection of the art of speaking. Hence the most universal division of languages into the two different kinds that Abbot Girard called analogous and transpositive , and which I will refer to with the same names, since it seems to me that they characterize well their distinctive spirit ( Les vrais principes de la langue françoise tom. I, p. 23.).

The analogous languages are those whose syntax is subject to the analytical order since the succession of words in speech follows the analytical gradation of ideas; the syntax of these languages is thus in effect analogous and in some way parallel to that of the mind, whose operations it follows step-by-step.

The transpositive languages are those that attribute to words endings which are relative to the analytical order, and which in so doing acquire the right to arrange these words freely in speech, in an syntax that is completely independent of the natural succession of ideas. French, Italian and Spanish are analogous languages ; Greek, Latin, German, etc., are transpositive languages .

Moreover, this first distinction of languages is not founded on exclusive properties; it only indicates the most ordinary way to proceed, since analogous languages may admit of slight inversions that are easy to bring back to the natural order, just as transpositive languages sometimes adhere to the analytical order or come more or less close to it. Relatively frequently the need for clarity, which is the most essential quality of any enunciation, gets the upper hand over the spirit of analogous languages and diverts them from the analytical path as soon as it stops being the most lucid one. The transpositive languages , on the contrary, at times subscribe to the analytical order for the same reason and at other times either to follow the impressions of taste or the laws of harmony. Nonetheless in both types of languages words bear the stamp of their characteristic spirit; nouns, pronouns and adjectives, all naturally declinable, are always declined in the transpositive languages in order to permit all the usual inversions without making the fundamental traits of the analytical succession disappear. In the analogous languages , these same kinds of words are not declined since they must always follow the analytical order or stray from it so little that it is always recognizable.

The German language is transpositive and it has declinations; however, its syntax is not as free as it seems to have been in Greek and Latin, in which each speaker determined it according to his ear or particular taste; instead, here usage has determined all its constructions. In a simple and absolute proposition, the usual construction follows the analytical order: die creaturen aussern ihre thatlichkeit entweder durch bewegung, oder durch gedancken (the creatures express their activity either by movement or thought). There are only a few cases where one abandons the analytical order to make the sentence clearer or more expressive. It is for the same reason that the verb is positioned at the end in accidental clauses; das wesen welches in uns dencket (the being which in us thinks); unter denen digen die moeglich sind (among the things that possible are). All the other inversions used in German follow the same structure; they are determined this way by usage and it would be a barbarism to substitute for them another type of inversion or even the analytic construction.

This observation, which initially could have been considered only an hors d'oeuvre , gives rise to a general consequence; that is, with respect to the construction of words, transpositive languages can be divided into two classes. The transpositive languages of the first class are free because the construction of the phrase depends, more or less, on the choice of the speaker, on what sounds good to him and his particular taste, which may vary for the same enunciation according to the various circumstances in which it is produced; such is the Latin language . The transpositive languages of the second class are uniform because the construction of the phrase is constantly regulated by usage which has left no room for taste or what sounds better to the speaker; such is the German language .

What I have called attention to for the first division is also applicable to the second, and although the distinctive characteristics that we assign to them are sufficient to determine the two classes, we still sometimes find some traits in one that belong to the essence of the other. The free transpositive languages may have certain perpetually fixed constructions, and the uniform ones can in some instances regulate their syntax arbitrarily.

A quite natural question thus presents itself. The analytical and transpositive orders of words presuppose completely different perspectives in the languages that have adopted them to regulate their syntax; each of these two orders reflects a different essence. But since there was originally only one language on earth, is it possible to determine of which kind it was, that is, whether it was analogous or transpositive?

The analytical order being the invariable prototype of the two general kinds of language and the unique foundation of their respective communicability, it seems quite natural that the first language was scrupulously attached to it and that it subordinated the order of words to it, rather than having imagined endings relative to this order only to later abandon them without further ado. It is evident that there is less complexity in the analogous language than in the transpositive one, and all human institutions have simple beginnings. This conclusion, which seems to me to be solidly founded on the first principles of language , is further supported by what we know of the history of the different languages of which we have made use on earth.

The Hebrew language , which is the oldest we know because of the examples that have survived up to our day, and which consequently seems to be the closest to the first language , is regulated by an analogous syntax. This is even an argument that could have served those who think that Hebrew is the first language . It is not that I think that we can base anything certain on this, but if this observation is not conclusive enough to settle the question, at least it proves that the analytical construction, followed by the most ancient language of which we have knowledge, may well have been the common construction of the first of all languages, thus conforming to what is also demonstrated to us by reason itself.

From this it follows that the modern languages of Europe that have adopted the analytical construction are notably more closely related to the original language than are Greek and Latin, although they are much more distant from it in time. Jean-Baptiste Bullet, in his extensive and knowledgeable work on the Celtic language , has found many connections between this language and the oriental ones, notably Hebrew. D. le Pelletier shows us similar analogies in his dictionary of low Breton, whose publication and preface we owe to D. Taillandier. All these analogies are strictly material and consist of a great number of common roots for the two languages . On the other hand, however, in his Discours historique sur l’origine de la langue Françoise, de Grandval, counselor to the council of Artois and of the literary society of Arras, seems to me to have adequately proven that today’s French is nothing more than the Gallic of the old Druids, imperceptibly disguised by all the changes that the succession of centuries necessarily bring about and the interaction of circumstances that varies without end ( see the second volume of the Mercure de France from June and the volume from July 1757). Yet this Gallic was certainly either a pure Celtic language or a dialect of Celtic, and we must say the same of the idiom of the ancient Spaniards, of that of Albion, which is today Great Britain, and perhaps many more. Hence our modern language, Spanish and English , linked by Celtic to Hebrew. This connection, established by the analogous construction that characterizes all these languages , is in my view a much surer indicator of their filiation than all the imaginable etymologies that connect them to the transpositive languages , since it is above all in syntax that the principal and indestructible essence of all languages lies.

The Italian language , which is an analogous language and which is today spoken in a country where a transpositive language was spoken a few centuries ago, i.e. Latin, can give rise to an objection against the principal proof of de Grandval. De Grandval has judged that the language of a nation should always subsist, at least with respect to its sounds, and that we should not admit of negative arguments in similar cases, especially for a great nation that has never suffered from transmigrations; and history does not appear to inform us that the Italians had ever sent colonies sufficiently ample in number to depopulate their homeland.

Yet the shift of the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium attracted a great number of ambitious families and imperceptibly the principal forces of Italy to this new capital. The frequent invasions of all kinds of Barbarians, who successively flooded and established their dominion in this place, steadily decreased the number of locals. The despotism of most of these conquerors finally managed to impose on the populace, who despite their fury they had not deigned to destroy, the necessity to speak the language of the victors. Most of these Barbarians spoke a dialect of Celtic, which was the most common langage in all of Europe, and it is moreover a known fact that the Gauls themselves conquered and inhabited a large part of Italy, which received the name Cisalpine Gaul. The modern Italian language is thus still grafted on the same foundations as ours; yet with the difference that this foundation is natural to us, and that it only underwent in our hands the changes brought inevitably by the ordinary succession of time and events. In Italy, however, it was a foreign foundation that was only introduced there by exceptional and violent causes. This matter is so unlikely in any other way that, supposing the analogous construction employed by the original language , it is no longer possible to explain the origin of the transpositive languages without going back to the miraculous division that occurred in Babel. Moreover this observation, elaborated as much as possible, can be included among the grounds for belief in the certainty of this miracle.

2°. With regard to the different kinds of words, a similar specific idea characterizes them in all languages since this idea is the necessary result of the analysis of thought which is necessarily everywhere the same. However, in the examination of individual cases we encounter differences that are the necessary results of the circumstances in which the peoples who speak these languages found themselves, and these differences make up a second distinct characteristic of the essence of languages .

The first manner in which they differ in this regard is that certain ideas are not expressed by any term in one language , although they have distinct and very emphatic signs in another. This is because the nation that speaks one of these languages has not found itself in the circumstances necessary to bring about these ideas while the other nation, on the contrary, has had the occasion to acquire such knowledge. How many terms there are, for example, pertaining to the tactics of the Ancients, whether Greek or Roman, which we cannot translate in our own since we ignore their usage? We supplement for them as best we can with descriptions that are always imperfect, or, if we want to express these ideas by a single term, we materially borrow it from the ancient language in question while attaching to it the incomplete notions that we have of it. How many terms, on the contrary, do we have today in our language that it would not have been possible to translate into Greek or in Latin, since our modern ideas were unfamiliar to them? Our vast progress in the sciences of reasoning, calculus, geometry, mechanics, astronomy, metaphysics, experimental physics, natural history, etc., have given our modern idioms a wealth of expressions that those of the Ancients could not even begin to express. Add the terms of glass-making, hunting, sea-faring, business, wars, fashions, religions, etc., to this and you will have a vast source of differences between modern and ancient languages .

A second difference of languages in respect to the different kinds of words comes from the distinctive attitude of the national spirit of each of them, whose effect is that the same ideas are envisaged in different ways. This point calls for further development. It is necessary to point out two kinds of constitutive ideas in the meaning of words, specific ideas and individual ideas. By the specific idea of the meaning of words, I mean the general point of view that determines each word class, that makes a word belong to a class of one kind rather than another, that consequently suits each of the words of the same word class and exclusively those of this word class. It is the difference between these general points of views, between these specific ideas, that lays the foundation of what Grammarians call parts of oration : nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, prepositions, adverbs, conjunctions and interjections. It is moreover the difference between the secondary points of view of which each specific idea is also susceptible, that serves as the foundation for the subdivision of a part of oration into its subordinate kinds, for example nouns into common and abstract nouns, proper nouns and appellatives, etc. See Noun. By the individual idea of the meaning of words, I mean the particular idea that characterizes the proper meaning of each word and that distinguishes it from all the other words of the same class, since it cannot apply to more than one word of the same class. It is thus to the difference between these particular ideas that pertains that of the individual parts of an oration, or that of each subordinate class of each part of the oration. Furthermore, it is on the difference between the secondary ideas of which each individual idea is susceptible that depends the difference between the words of the same class that we call synonyms ; for example, in French, the nouns poverty, indigence, scarcity, need, necessity; the adjectives, cunning, bad, evil, roguish ; the verbs, to aid, to help, to assist , etc. See on all these words Synonymes français by Abbot Girard; and for the general theory of synonyms, the article Synonyms . We feel strongly that it is necessary to distinguish the primary idea and the secondary idea in each individual idea. The primary idea can be common to several words of the same word class, which are thus different with respect to the secondary idea. Yet it is precisely here that we find a second source of differences among the words of various languages. A primary idea may enter into the individual idea of two words of the same word class, belonging to two different languages, without these two words being strictly synonymous with each other. In one of these two languages , this primary idea alone may comprise the individual idea, although it be combined with a secondary idea in the other language ; or else it might be combined with one secondary idea in the first language and another quite different secondary idea in the other. The adjective vacuus [vacant, void], for example, has a very general meaning in Latin that was later determined by the various ways in which it was used; in French, there is no one adjective that exactly corresponds to it. The various adjectives which we make use of to express the Latin vacuus add to the general idea that makes up its individual meaning several secondary ideas that required in Latin particular uses and complements; add [20]: Gladius vaginâ vacuus , a naked blade, vagina ense vacua , an empty sheath, vacuus animus , a free spirit, etc. See Hypallage. This second difference of languages is one of the great obstacles that we encounter in translation, and one of the most difficult ones to overcome without altering something in the original text. It is also the reason that we have up until now been so little successful in developing good dictionaries, whether for dead languages or living ones. We have not sufficiently analyzed the different partial ideas, whether primary or secondary, that usage has attached to the meaning of each word. We should not be surprised; this analysis not only requires sound logic and great ingenuity, but also extensive study, an enormous quantity of textual comparisons, and consequently an extraordinary braveness and confidence, and with respect to the glory of success, a disinterestedness that is as rare as it is difficult to find in men of letters – even the most modest ones. See Dictionary.

§. Il. If languages have both common properties and differences based on the way that they envisage the thought that they desire to express, we find similarly, in the usage that they make of the voice, procedures that are common to all idioms, and others which serve to complete the characteristics that mark the distinctive spirit of each of them. Thus, as languages all differ in how they represent the common model that they all serve to paint, namely thought, they also differ as to the choice, mixture and tone of colors that they can employ, namely the articulated sounds of the voice. Let us take a further look at languages considered from this double point of view, namely their resemblances and differences with respect to the materiality of their sounds. The essay manuscript by Charles de Brosses will serve here as our primary resource.

1°. A first class of words that we can consider natural, since they are found at least more or less the same in all languages and must have been part of the system of the first language , are interjections: necessary effects of the relationship established by nature between certain feelings of the soul and certain organic parts of the voice. See Interjection. These are the first, most ancient and most original words of the first language ; they are invariable amid the perpetual variations of languages , since, as a result of the physical form of human beings, they have a physical connection that is both necessary and indestructible with the interior feelings that they express. To the interjections and in the same class we can add accents, a kind of song connected to speech, and which receives from them greater life and activity. This is well marked by the Latin word accentus [derived from accanere, to sing] , which we have borrowed directly into French. Accents are the real soul of words, or rather, they are to speech what the stroke of the bow and expression are to music. They mark its spirit, they give it its flavor; that is to say, an air of conformity to truth, and it is without doubt for this reason that the Hebrews gave them a name that means taste , flavor. They are the foundation of all oral declamation, and we know well enough how much superiority they give to oral over written discourse, because whereas speech paints objects, accents paint the way in which the speaker is affected by them or wants others to be so affected. Accents derive from the sensibility of the body and this is the reason why they are found in all languages , although to varying degrees, depending on the extent to which the climate makes a nation susceptible, due to its bodily disposition, to being strongly affected by exterior objects. The Italian language , for example, is more accented than ours; their simple speech as well as their music is much more vocal. They are hence subject to becoming more passionate; nature has given them a much more sensitive nature. Exterior objects move them so strongly that is not even enough for the voice to express all that they feel; they add gestures to it and speak with their entire body at the same time.

A second class of words, in which all languages still exhibit common analogies and marked similarities, is baby talk, determined by the more or less great mobility of each organic part of the vocal instrument in combination with inner needs or the need to name exterior objects. Whatever the country, the easiest movement is to open the mouth and move one’s lips, which gives the most open sound a , and one of the labial sounds , b, p, v, s or m. From this it follows that the syllables ab , pa , am , ma are the first that are pronounced by children in all languages ; hence papa, maman, and others related to these. It appears likely that children would form these sounds themselves at the first moment in which they were able to articulate, if their nurses, foreclosing an experiment which would be extremely interesting to carry out, did not teach them in advance; or rather, children were the first to stutter them, and their parents – eager to establish an exchange of love with them – repeated the syllables with indulgence and consequently established them in all languages, even the most ancient ones. Indeed, one finds them there with the same meaning, but disfigured by the endings that the distinctive spirit of each language has added to them, in such a manner that the most ancient language s have conserved them in a state that is more natural, or closer to nature. In Hebrew ab , in Chaldean abba , in Greek, ἄππα, πάππα, πατὴρ , in Latin pater , in French papa and père , on the islands of the West Indies baba , among the Hottentots bo ; everywhere it is the same idea marked by the labial sound. Likewise, in the Egyptian language am, ama, and in the Syrian language aminis correspond exactly to the Latin parens (father or mother); hence mamma (breast), the French words, maman, mère, etc. Ammon , the Egyptian God, is the sun and thus named like the father of nature; the figures and statues erected in honor of the sun were named ammanim , and the sacred hieroglyphs used by priests, Ammonian letters. The worship of the sun, adopted by almost all oriental peoples, has consecrated the radical word am, pronounced, depending on the different dialects, ammon, oman, omin, iman , etc. For the Orientals, Iman means God or Sacred Being, while the Turks today use it to mean priesthood , and ar-iman means Deus fortis [mighty God] for the ancient Persians. ‘The words abba, or baba, or papa , and mama , which the ancient languages of the Far East seemed to have passed on with slight changes to those in Europe, are common’, said de la Condamine in his report on the Amazon River, ‘to a great number of nations in Southern America where the language is otherwise very different. If we consider these words as the first sounds that children can articulate, and consequently as those whose adoption must everywhere have been preferred by the parents who heard them articulated, in order to use them as signs for the ideas father and mother , what remains to understand is why, in all the languages of America where these words are found, their meaning has been preserved without having been confused. By what chance is it that in the Omogua language , for example, in the continental center, or in another similar language where the words papa and mama are used, it is never the case that papa means mother and vice versa, but that we constantly observe the contrary, just as in the languages of the East and Europe?’ If it is nature that dictates these first words to children, it is also she who invariably attaches the same ideas to them, and we can draw from her breast the explanation of one of these phenomena as readily as that of the other. The great mobility of the lips is the cause that gives rise to the first sounds, the labial articulations and, among these, those that require less force and difficulty in the expression of sound became in a sense the earliest ones, since their production is easier. From this it follows that the syllable ma is anterior to ba , since the articulation m requires less force during its expression and the lips only move slightly and slowly, which causes one part of the sound matter to go back through the nose. Mama is thus anterior to papa in the order in which it is produced, and it only remains to decide which one of the two, the father or the mother, is the first object of the attention and naming of infants; which one of the two is more attached to their person; which one is the most useful and the most necessary for their subsistence; which one lavishes them with the most caresses and gives them the most care; and it will be easy to determine why the meaning of the two words mama and papa is consistent in all languages . If apa and ama , in the Egyptian language, mean indifferently either father or mother, or both, it is the result of some strange cause opposed to nature, a consequence perhaps of the exemplary customs of this people known for being the source and model of all wisdom, or the work of reflection and art that is practically as ancient as nature herself, although it improves itself slowly. Remark that following the principle that we have established here, it is natural to conclude that the various parts of the speech organ will only contribute to the naming of exterior objects in terms of the degree of their mobility. The tongue [21] will only be put into play after the lips; it will first provide the articulations that are produced by the movement of its tip, then those that depend on its root, etc. Anatomy only needs to determine the genealogical order of sounds and articulations, and philosophy the order of objects in relation to our needs; their combined work produces the dictionary of the most natural words, the most necessary to the first language and the most universal today, notwithstanding the diversity of idioms.

There is a third class of words that should have, and that actually do have in all languages the same roots, since they are also the work of nature and belong to the first kinds of names. These are those that we owe to onomatopoeia, and that are simply imitative words with respect to some aspect of the objects named. I say that it is nature that suggests them, and the proof consists in the fact that the natural and universal response of all children is to designate noisy things themselves by imitating the noise that they make. Without a doubt, they would retain these primitive and natural names if instruction and example, intervening to disguise and rectify nature, or perhaps in fact to deprave it, did not propose arbitrary names, substituted for natural ones by reasoned decisions, or, if you prefer, by the whimsies of usage. See Onomatopoeia.

Finally there are if not in all languages, at least in most of them, a certain quantity of words grafted onto the same roots and destined either to have the same meaning or an analogous meaning, although these roots do not have any natural foundation, or at least not one that is apparent. These words have passed from one language to another, initially as if from a first language to one of its dialects which, over the course of time, has transmitted them to other languages that stem from it, or otherwise this transmission was the result of a simple borrowing, of the kind of which we see an infinite number of examples in our modern languages . This universal transmission supposes in this case that the named objects are of general necessity; the word sack that we find in all languages must be of this kind.

2°. Notwithstanding the combination of so many general causes whose assistance nature seemed to have prepared to induce all of mankind to speak only one language , and whose influence is visible in the various common roots of all the idioms that divide the human race, there exist as many other particular causes which are equally natural, whose impression is so equally irresistible that they have compelled material differences to be introduced into languages , and of which it would perhaps be even more useful to discover the real origin than it is difficult to identify it with certainty.

Climate, air, places, water, ways of life and food produce considerable variations in the fine structure of the human body. These causes give more strength to certain parts of the body or they weaken others. These variations, undetectable by anatomical studies, can easily be seen by an observant philosopher in the organs used for speech; it is sufficient to note those of which each people makes most use in the words of its language, and the way in which it uses them. One will thus observe that the Hottentots employ the back of the throat, and the English the edge of the lips, in a very great deal of activity. These small observations concerning variations in human bodily structure can sometimes lead to more important ones. The habit of a people to prefer certain sounds or to inflect certain organs rather than others can often be a good indication of the climate and the character of the nation – which in many respect is determined by the climate, just as the spirit of a language is determined by the character of a nation.

The habitual usage of harsh articulations indicates a savage people without laws. Liquid articulations are, in a nation that uses them frequently, a sign of nobility and refinement, as much of organs as of taste. With much credibility we can attribute to the soft character of the Chinese nation, which is rather well-known, the fact that it does not make use of the harsh articulation r. The Italian language , in which most of the words come from a corruption of Latin, has softened its pronunciation as it has grown older in the same proportion that the people who speak it has lost the vigor of the ancient Romans; but since it was close to the source from which it drew, it is still, of all the modern languages that have drawn from this source along with it, the one that has conserved the most affinity with the ancient one, at least in this respect.

The Latin language is straightforward, having pure and clear vowels and only a few diphthongs. If this character of Latin gives it a similar essence to that of the Romans – that is to say, suited to strong and manly things – it is on the other hand much less suited than the Greek language , and even less than our own, to things that only demand pleasure and light graces.

The Greek language is full of diphthongs that make its pronunciation more elongated, sonorous and babbling. The French language , full of diphthongs and soft letters, approaches in this respect more the Greek pronunciation than the Latin one.

The combination of several words into a single one or the frequent use of compound adjectives marks a nation with much depth, a quick understanding, an impatient temper and strong ideas: such are the Greeks, the English and the Germans.

As for Spanish, we observe that the words are long, but of beautiful proportions, serious, sonorant and empathetic like the nation that uses them.

It was after similar observations, or at least after the impression that results from the material differences in the words of each language , that the emperor Charles V said that he would speak French to a friend, francese ad un amico , German to his horse, tedesco al suo cavallo , Italian to his mistress, italiano alla sua signora , Spanish to God, spagnuolo à Dio , and English to the birds, inglese à gli uccelli.

§. III. What we have just observed concerning the similarities and differences, as much intellectual as material, of the various idioms that variegate, so to speak, the languages of mankind, puts us in a position to discuss the most generally accepted opinions concerning languages . There are two whose discussion can still generate reflections that are all the more useful as they are general; the first concerns the successive generation of languages ; the second concerns their respective value.

1°. There is nothing more ordinary than hearing a reference to the mother tongue, said Abbot Girard, ‘a term that the common people use without being well instructed about what this word means, and with respect to which the truly learned have difficulty in providing an explanation that disentangles the shapeless idea from those who use it. It is customary to suppose that there are mother tongues among those that are extant and to enquire as to which they are, to which one does not hesitate to reply in an assertive tone that they are Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Through conjecture or grace, this honor is also conferred on the German language ’ ( Les vrais principes de la langue françoise I. tom. I. p. 30.). What is the proof of this for those who do not want to admit that only prejudice has decided their opinion in this regard? They adduce no other proof of the filiation of languages than the etymology of a few words and the victories or institutions of the people that spoke the mother tongue in the country in which the language , which is claimed to be derived from it, is in use. It is thus that Spanish, Italian, and French are considered the daughters of the Latin language : ‘ an ignoras ,’ said Jul. Cés. Scaliger, linguam gallicam, et italicam, et hispanicam linguae latinae abortum esse ? [22] P. Bouhours, who thought the same thing, made of these three languages three sisters, which he characterized as follows: ‘it seems to me that the Spanish language is a proud woman that holds her head high, that is proud of her greatness, and that loves pomp and excess in everything. The Italian language is a coquettish woman, always dressed and made up, and that only wants to please and that takes much pleasure from trifles. The French language is a prudish woman, but a pleasant prude that, entirely wise and modest that she is, has nothing harsh or fierce about her’ ( Les entretiens d'Ariste et d’Eugène II).

The distinctive characters of the spirit of each of these three languages are well described in this allegory, but I believe that it errs when it considers these three as sisters, daughters of the Latin language. ‘When we observe the prodigious remoteness’, continues the Abbot Girard, ‘of the spirit of these languages from that of the Latin language ; when we pay attention to the fact that etymology indicates only the origin of borrowed words and indicates nothing about the anteriority of the language from which the words are borrowed; when we know that subjugated peoples had their own languages ...When, finally, we see with our own eyes today these living languages decorated with an article that they could not have taken from Latin, a language in which articles never existed, and which is diametrically opposed to the transpositive constructions and inflections of ordinary cases of that language , we could never claim, simply on the basis of a few borrowed words, that they are its daughters, or else it is necessary to give them more than one mother. The Greek language might then also lay claim to this honor, and an infinity of words that come neither from Greek or Latin might also lay claim to this honor on behalf of another. I will admit that they have taken a large part of their wealth from it, but I deny that they are accountable to it for their birth. Borrowed words or etymologies are not sufficient to indicate the origin and kinship of a language ; instead, these can be found in its spirit, as we gradually follow their development and their changes. The fortunes of new words and the ease with which the words of one language pass into another, especially when different peoples mix, will always mislead us here, whereas the spirit independent of the body, and consequently less susceptible to alterations and changes, subsists in the midst of the inconstancy of words and preserves the real mark of a language's origin (ibid. p. 27).

The same academician, a little further on speaking once again about the so-called daughters of Latin, adds with as much eloquence as truth: ‘one should not view the pillaging of Latin that foreign languages carried out as an act of legitimation, nor its remains as a maternal inheritance. If it is sufficient to claim the honor of this rank (the rank of mother tongue) not to have to owe its birth to another and to show that it was established at the dawn of time, there would only be one single mother tongue in our system of creation, and who would be sufficiently bold to dare to gratify one of the languages that we know with this sort of antiquity? If this advantage depends only on dating back to the confusion of Babel, who can produce the authentic and decisive titles necessary to confirm it? Who is capable of putting all the languages of the universe in the correct balance? The most learned hardly know five or six. Where finally can unimpugnable and trustworthy accounts and very solid proofs be found to show that the first languages that immediately followed the flood were those subsequently spoken by the Jews, the Greeks, and the Romans, or that they were among those that are still spoken by men in our century?’

Hence, if I am not mistaken, the true principles that should direct us in the examination of the birth of languages are founded on the nature of language and on the ways that the Creator himself suggested to us as means to express our thoughts externally.

We have seen several kinds of words introduced necessarily into all idioms by natural causes whose influence is anterior and superior to our reasoning, conventions and whims; we have observed that in all languages , or at least in many, there can be a certain quantity of analogous or similar words that common causes, although accidental, have introduced there since the birth of these different idioms. For this reason, word analogies can not be a sufficient proof of the filiation among languages , unless we wish to claim that all the modern languages of Europe are daughters and mothers, respectively, of each other, since they are continually occupied with expanding their vocabulary by the incessant exchange that the exchange of ideas or new viewpoints makes indispensable. The word analogies between two languages are only proof of this exchange, when these are not from the category of natural words.

It is thus necessary to consider the way that words are used to recognize the identity or the difference between the various spirits of languages, and to judge if they have any affinity or not. If they have some in this respect, I will agree that the analogy of words confirms the filiation of these languages, and that one should be recognized as the mother language in respect to the other, just as we observe in the case of the Russian language , the Polish language and the Illyrian language with respect to the Slavonic language from which it is likely that they derive their origin. But if there is no other connection between two languages than the one that arises from word analogies and no other essential resemblance can be found, then they are foreign to one another: such are the Spanish, Italian and French languages with respect to Latin. If we take a great number of words from Latin, we do not derive our syntax from it, our constructions, our grammar, our articles le, la, les , our auxiliary verbs, the indeclinability of our nouns, the usage of personal pronouns in verb conjugations, a multitude of tenses differentiated in our conjugations and undifferentiated in Latin conjugations. Our grammatical processes are irreconcilable with the gerundive, with the uses that the Romans made of the infinitive, with their arbitrary inversions, with their accumulated ellipses, and with their interminable periods.

Yet if the filiation of languages entails that the derived language has the same syntax and constructions, or in a word, the same essence as the mother language , as well as a marked analogy between the terms of the former and the latter, then how is the birth of languages possible, and what do we mean by a new language ?

‘Some have thought’, said de Grandval in his Discours historique – which has already been cited – ‘that we could describe it as such when it has undergone a considerable change; so that, from this perspective, the language of the times of François I should been seen as new with respect to the language of the time of Saint Louis, and similarly with the language that we speak today in respect to the time of François I, even if we recognize in these different eras a common base language , whether due to its words or sentence constructions. From this point of view there is no language that did not successively become new, when compared to itself in its different past ages. Others only qualify as new languages those whose previous form is no longer intelligible, but this still requires some explanation, since people who are little familiarized with the past form of their language do not understand anything while those who have some familiarity with it understand it very well and easily discover in it all the seeds of their modern language . It is therefore only a question of name here, but one that needed to be taken into account in order to determine our ideas. For my part, I say that a language is the same, despite its variations, as long as we can follow its traces and find a great part of its current words and main grammatical points in its original form. Whether I read the Laws of the Twelve Tables, Ennius or Cicero, regardless of whatever differences there are in their language , is it not still Latin? Otherwise one would have to say that the grown man is not the same person as he was in his childhood. I would also add that a language is truly the mother or the source of another when it is the first that has given the second its being, when this derivation was the result of the passage of time, and when the changes that occurred have not erased all of its ancient remnants.’

These successive changes that insensibly transform one language into another are related to an infinity of causes of which each only has an imperceptible effect, but the sum of these effects, enlarged by time and accumulated in the long run, finally produces a difference that distinguishes two languages despite their common foundation. The ancient and the modern are equally analogous or equally transpositive, but even in this respect they may still differ slightly.

Even if analogous syntax is their common characteristic, the modern language , by imitating the transpositive language of peoples who have contributed to its formation by their ties of proximity, commerce, religion, politics, conquests, etc., might have taken a few liberties in this regard; it will allow a few inversions that would have been barbarisms in the ancient language . If several languages are derived from a single one, they may be nuanced in some way by the more or less greater alteration of its fundamental character; thus, our French, English, Spanish and Italian, which seem to be descendants of Celtic and to have absorbed its analytic syntax, have nonetheless turned away from it in a proportion that increases following the same order that I have just mentioned these languages . French is the least bold and closest to the original language ; its inversions are rarer, less complicated and less bold; English permits of more discrepancies in this regard; Spanish is the boldest; while in a way Italian only refuses what the formation of its nouns and verbs combined with the indispensable need to be understood have not allowed. These differences have their causes just like all the rest, and they pertain to the diverse relations that each people has had with those whose language had the possibility to make these changes.

If, on the contrary, the original language and the derived one are formed in such a way that they must follow a transpositive syntax, then the modern language might have contracted something from the constraints of the analogous languages of the nations from which it has drawn the successive alterations to which it owes its birth and constitution. It is thus without doubt that the German language , originally having free transpositions, was finally subjected to all the constraints of the European languages among which it was established, since all allowable inversions are fixed in this language to the extent that any other, which in itself would not be more obscure, or at least not less obscure, is proscribed by usage as depraved and barbaric.

In both cases, the most marked difference between the older and modern language still concerns its words: some of its ancient words are abolished, verborum vetus interit oetas , [23] since chance circumstances have suggested others, used by other peoples, that seem more energetic, or else the national ear in perfecting itself has corrected the former pronunciation to the point of disfiguring the word in order to give it more harmony ( Ars Poetica 61). New words are introduced, et juvenum ritu florent modo nata, vigentque , [24] since new ideas or new combinations of ideas make it necessary and force a recourse to the language of the people to whom one is indebted for these new discoveries (ibid. v. 62.). It is thus that the word compass has been passed to all the peoples who know its usage, and the Italian origin of this word simultaneously proves to whom the universe owes this important discovery that has today become the link between the most distant nations. Finally, words are in perpetual movement, a fact well-known and well expressed by Horace (ibid. v. 70.).

Multa renascentur qua jàm cecidêre, cadentque

Quoe nunc sunt in honore vocabula, si volet usus

Quem penès arbitrium est, et jus, et norma loquendi . [25]

2°. The question of the respective merit of languages and of the degree of preference to which they can lay claim over their rivals cannot be resolved by any simple and precise decision. There is no language that does not have its merits, and that might not, depending on circumstances, become preferable to all others. In order to establish this judgment on solid ground, it is thus necessary to distinguish between the various circumstances in which we find ourselves, and the different ways in which languages can be envisaged.

The simple expression of thought is the first goal of speech and the common object of all languages ; it is thus the first way in which they should be considered in order to establish reasonable principles for the matter at hand. Yet it is evident in this respect that there is no language that has all its possible and necessary perfection for the nation that speaks it. A language , as I have already said, is the sum of a nation’s distinctive usages in order to express thoughts by the voice, and these usages determine its words and syntax. Words are signs of ideas, born with them in the way that a nation, formed and distinguished by its language , cannot acquire a new idea without also acquiring a new word that represents it. If it takes this idea from a neighboring people it will also take from it its vocal sign, and at the very most, will only modify its material form to make it analogous to those of its own langage ; instead of pastor , it says pasteur ; instead of embaxada , embassade; instead of batten , battre , etc. However, if it produces this idea itself, it can only be by means of a combination of older signs; and in this way the path is established that leads to the formation of the word that will signify it; puissance is derived from puissant , since the abstract idea is taken from the concrete idea; parasol is composed of parer (to guarantee) and soleil , as the idea of this object is the result of a combination of the separate ideas of a celestial body that emits burning rays, and an obstacle that can ward off its blows. There is thus no known idea in a nation that is not designated by a distinctive word in the language of this nation, and since all new words introduced into it always bear the stamp of the national analogy that is the necessary seal of its naturalization, it is as proper as the ancient words from all syntactical points of view in this language . Each individual that comprises this people find in their language everything necessary to express all the thoughts that they could possibly have, since they can only think in accordance with these known ideas. This is even the most obvious and strongest evidence for the necessity that everybody should study their own language before all others, since the needs of national communication are the most urgent, universal and common.

If one would like to look beyond the simple enunciation of thought and envisage all that art can draw from the different constitution of languages in order to please the ear, touch the heart and enlighten the mind, it is necessary to consider the procedures employed in their analogous or transpositive constructions. Hebrew and our French follow the analytical order the most scrupulously; Greek and Latin depart from it in a boundless freedom; German, English, Spanish and Italian have found a middle ground between these two extremes since the inversions which are permitted in them are determined in every respect by the same principles as underpin the distinctive spirit of each of these languages . The author of the Lettre sur les sourds et muets , having envisaged languages in this respect, makes the following judgment, ‘the communication of thought being the principal object of language , our language is the most disciplined, the most exact and the most respected; in a word, it is the one that has retained the fewest of those negligences that I would voluntarily term the remains of the stammering of the first centuries’ (page 135). This claim is in accordance with the author’s system of the origin of languages ! But the one that is adopted in this article is quite opposed to it insofar as it suggests that inversions, far from being remains of the stammering of the first centuries, are in contrast the first attempts at an oratory art many centuries after the birth of language . Our language’s resemblance to the analytical syntax of Hebrew gives a degree of credibility that merits some attention to his conjecture, since Hebrew is born close to the first ages. Whatever the case, the author continues as follows: ‘to continue the parallel without bias, I would say that we have gained in having no inversions – or at least not having any that are too bold or too frequent – in clearness, clarity and precision, essential qualities in speech, and that we have lost warmth, eloquence and energy. I would gladly add to this that the didactic and regulated syntax to which our language is subject makes it more appropriate for the sciences; and because of the expressions and inversions of which Greek, Latin, Italian and English permit, they are more advantageous for literature. That we may make the mind speak better than any other people, and therefore common sense would choose the French language, but that the imagination and the passions have a preference for the ancient languages and those of our neighbors. That French should be spoken in high society and in schools of philosophy, but Greek, Latin and English in academic chairs and in the theaters. That our language is the language of truth...and Greek, Latin and the others are the languages of fables and lies. The French language is perfect to instruct, enlighten and convince; Greek, Latin, Italian and English in order to persuade, upset and deceive. Speak Greek, Latin, and Italian to the common people, but speak French to the wise.’ To reduce this judgment to its true value, we need only conclude that transpositive languages find more resources in their character for all the parts of the art of oratory; and that the character of the analogous languages makes them much more suited to the clear and precise exposition of truth, since they follow more scrupulously the analytical syntax of the spirit. All this is self-evident, and the author has tried to say nothing else. Our analytical syntax does not strip us of warmth, eloquence and energy without resource; it only strips us of a means to express them in our speech, just as the transpositive syntax of Latin, for instance, only exposes it to the danger of being less clear, without making a lack of clarity an inevitable necessity. It is in the same letter, on page 239, that I see the proof of the explication that I have just given of this text: ‘Is there any character,’ the author says, ‘that our language has not adopted without success? It is exuberant in Rabelais, naïve in La Fontaine and Brantome, harmonious in Malherbe and Fléchier, sublime in Corneille and Bossuet; what is it not in Boileau, Racine and Voltaire, and a crowd of other writers of verse and prose? Let us not complain: if we know how to use it, our works will be as precious for posterity as the works of the Ancients are for us. In the hands of an ordinary man, Greek, Latin, English and Italian only produce common things, but French produces miracles if written by a man of genius. No matter what their language is, the works of a genius never falter.’

If we envisage languages as instruments knowledge of which can be used to reach other insights, they each have their merits and the preference of some over the others can only be decided by the nature of our objectives or our needs.

The Hebrew language and the other oriental languages that are connected to it, like Chaldaic, Syriac, Arabic, etc., provide infinite resources to Theology through the precise knowledge of the true meaning of the original texts of our holy books. Yet this is not the only advantage that we can expect from studying Hebrew; it is also in the sacred original that one can discover the origins of peoples, languages , idolatry and fables – in a word, the most certain foundations of history and the most reasonable keys to Mythology . One needs only to see the Géographie Sacrée [ Geographiae sacrae ] of Samuel Bochart to form a high opinion of the immense erudition that knowledge of the oriental languages can provide.

The Greek language is no less useful for Theology, not only because of the original texts of a few of the books of the New Testament, but also because it is the language of the Chrysostomoses, the Basiles, and the Gregories of Nazianzus and a crowd of other priests whose works represent the glory and edification of the Church. Yet in which part of literature is this language not in perpetual use? It provides masters and models in all genres: poetry, eloquence, history, moral philosophy, physics, natural history, medicine, ancient geography, etc. It is with reason that Erasmus states: ‘ Hoc unum expertus, video nullis in litteris nos esse aliquid sine graecitate’  [26] ( Epistles book X).

The Latin language is of an indispensable necessity; it is the language of the Catholic Church and of all other schools of Christendom, as much in Philosophy and Theology as in Jurisprudence and Medicine. It is moreover, and for this same reason, the common language of all the educated people of Europe. We can only hope that perhaps its use will become even more general and widespread so as to facilitate even more the exchange of the respective insights of the various nations that today cultivate the sciences. Of how many excellent works in all genres of knowledge are we deprived because we do not understand the languages in which they are written?

Until educated people have agreed among themselves on one language of communication to spare themselves respectively the long, tedious and always insufficient study of several foreign languages , they need to have the courage to apply themselves to those that promise the most assistance to them in the kinds of study that they have embraced by taste or due to the needs of their state. The German language has numerous good works on public law, on medicine and all that depends on it, and on natural history, especially metallurgy. The English language has immense riches in respect to mathematics, physics and commerce. The Italian language offers the widest range of beautiful literature and for the study of art and of history; but the French language, despite the denunciations of those who criticize its pedestrian syntax and who reproaches it its monotony, its supposed poverty and its perpetual anomalies, still has masterpieces in almost all genres. What treasures are the dissertations of the French Academy of Sciences and those of the Belles-lettres and Inscriptions ! And if we look at the distinguished writers of our nation, we find philosophers and geometricians of the first order, great metaphysicians, wise and laborious scholars of antiquity, skillful artists, profound legal scholars, poets who have made the French muses the equal of those of the Greeks, sublime and poignant orators, and politicians whose opinions honor humanity. If any other language than Latin is ever to become the common language of the educated people of Europe, the French language should have the honor of this preference. It has already won the approval of all the courts where it is spoken almost as it is in Versailles, and one must not doubt that this universal taste is as much due to the riches of our literature as it is to the influence of our government on the general politics of Europe.


1. Antoine Furetière’s Dictionnaire universel defines langue as the collection of sounds and expressions that a people uses to understand itself and to communicate its thoughts; whereas langage is the particular or idiosyncratic way in which individual speakers communicate. The latter is termed idiolect in English, but the way Beauzée uses langage in this article also refers to dialect or shared assumptions or culture, and perhaps additional uses. For this reason, all further occurrences of this term will be kept in French.

2. Translation by Léonard de Malpeines (1744) of book IV, vol. 2 of William Warburton’s The Divine Legation of Moses (1737).

3. And so in the beginning, no group of this kind was formed, and he who has reason, will understand that never were there humans on the earth who did not speak on account of insanity.

4. She-goat

5. Irrational/unintelligible things are commonly believed.

6. For perceiving, he gave them reason, and speech and eyes and ears and a heart; and he filled them with the faculty of comprehension.

7. And so, when all the animals of the earth and all the birds of the sky had been formed from the ground, the Lord God brought them to Adam to see what he would call them; for whatever he called each of the living animals, that was its name. Adam called all the animals by their names, all the birds of the sky and all the creatures of the land.

8. Beauzée’s footnote: In Hebrew shem , a mark. The Greek, a mark, comes from it. This word also means a name ; but this is not the case here.

9. Moreover the earth was of a single language and the same words.

10. of a single language

11. of the same words

12. And (the Lord) said: Behold, it is one people and One Language for all: and they have begun to do this, and they will not stop from their purposes until they complete them with their effort. The Lord said, “Come therefore, let us go down and confuse their language there, so that each person won’t perceive the voice of his neighbor.”

13. one lip (mouth) for all

14. and the Lord divided them so.

15. let us confuse/mix up their tongues

16. let us confuse (it) there

17. And for this reason, its name was called Babel, because there the language of the whole earth was confused.

18. For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?

19. This is probably an error in the original version; given what follows it should likely be declinable .

20. This ajoutez is presumably a personal reminder or something similar in the late edition to the manuscript that was not erased.

21. Langue in the original. Although langue means language in French, it also signifies "tongue" and it is the physical tongue that is meant here. This and further occurrences of langue in this sense are translated here as "tongue."

22. Or do you not know that the French, Italian and Spanish languages arose from the Latin language?

23. in this manner words perish with old age. (, accessed 4/25/15)

24. and those lately invented flourish and thrive, like men in the time of youth. (, accessed 4/25/15)

25. Many words shall revive, which now have fallen off; and many which are now in esteem shall fall off, if it be the will of custom, in whose power is the decision and right and standard of language. (, accessed 4/26/15)

26. After testing this one thing, I see that in no literature are we anything without the Greek language (and culture).