An essay towards a real character, and a philosophical language by John Wilkins ...
Wilkins, John, 1614-1672., Wilkins, John, 1614-1672. Alphabetical dictionary.

CHAP. V. I. That neither Letters nor Languages have been regularly established by the rules of Art. II. The natural Ground or Principle of the several ways of Communication amongst men. III. The first thing to be pro∣vided for in the establishing of a Philosophical Character or Language, is a just enumeration of all such things and notions to which names are to be assigned.

FRom what hath been already said it may appear, that there are no Letters or Languages that have been at once invented and established according to the Rules of Art; but that all, except the first,* (of which we know nothing so certain as, that it was not made by human Art upon Experience) have been either taken up from that first, and derived by way of Imitation; or else, in a long tract of time, have, upon several emergencies, admitted various and casual alterations; by which means they must needs be liable to manifold defects and imperfections, that in a Language at once invented and according to the rules of Art might be easily avoided. Nor could this otherwise be, because that very Art by which Language should be regulated, viz. Grammar, is of much la∣ter invention then Languages themselves, being adapted to what was al∣ready in being, rather then the Rule of making it so.

Though the Hebrew Tongue be the most ancient, yet Rabbi Iudah Chiug of Fez in Afric,* who lived A. D. 1040. was the first that reduced it to the Art of Grammar. And though there were both Greek and Latin Grammarians much more ancient; yet were there none in either, till a long time after those Languages flourished: which is the true reason of Page  20 all those Anomalisms in Grammar; because the Art was suted to Lan∣guage,* and not Language to the Art. Plato is said to be the first that con∣sidered Grammar: Aristotle the first that by writing did reduce it into an Art: and Epicurus the first that publickly taught it amongst the Grecians.

And for the Latin, Crates Mallotes, Embassador to the Roman Senate from King Attalus, betwixt the second and third Punic War, presently af∣ter the death of Ennius, U. C. 583. was the first that brought in the Art of Grammar amongst the Romans, saith Suetonius.

These being some of the Defects or Imperfections in those Letters or Languages, which are already known, may afford direction, what is to be avoided by those who propose to themselves the Invention of a new Character or Language, which being the principal end of this Discourse, I shall in the next place proceed to lay down the first Foundations of it.

As men do generally agree in the same Principle of Reason, so do they likewise agree in the same Internal Notion or Apprehension of things.*

The External Expression of these Mental notions, whereby men com∣municate their thoughts to one another, is either to the Ear, or to the Eye.

To the Ear by Sounds, and more particularly by Articulate Voice and Words.

To the Eye by any thing that is visible, Motion, Light, Colour, Figure; and more particularly by Writing.

That conceit which men have in their minds concerning a Horse or Tree, is the Notion or mental Image of that Beast, or natural thing, of such a nature, shape and use. The Names given to these in several Lan∣guages, are such arbitrary sounds or words, as Nations of men have agreed upon, either casually or designedly, to express their Mental notions of them. The Written word is the figure or picture of that Sound.

So that if men should generally consent upon the same way or man∣ner of Expression, as they do agree in the same Notion, we should then be freed from that Curse in the Confusion of Tongues, with all the unhap∣py consequences of it.

Now this can onely be done, either by enjoyning some one Language and Character to be universally learnt and practised, (which is not to be expected, till some person attain to the Vniversal Monarchy; and per∣haps would not be done then:) or else by proposing some such way as, by its facility and usefulness, (without the imposition of Authority) might invite and ingage men to the learning of it; which is the thing here attempted.

In order to this, The first thing to be considered and enquired into is, Concerning a just Enumeration and description of such things or notions as are to have Marks or Names assigned to them.*

The chief Difficulty and Labour will be so to contrive the Enumera∣tion of things and notions, as that they may be full and adaequate, without any Redundancy or Deficiency as to the Number of them, and regular as to their Place and Order.

Page  21If to every thing and notion there were assigned a distinct Mark, to∣gether with some provision to express Grammatical Derivations and In∣flexions; this might suffice as to one great end of a Real Character, name∣ly, the expression of our Conceptions by Marks which should signifie things, and not words. And so likewise if several distinct words were assigned for the names of such things, with certain in variable Rules for all such Grammatical Derivations and Inflexions, and such onely, as are natural and necessary; this would make a much more easie and conveni∣ent Language then is yet in being.

But now if these Marks or Notes could be so contrived, as to have such a dependance upon, and relation to, one another, as might be sutable to the nature of the things and notions which they represented; and so likewise, if the Names of things could be so ordered, as to contain such a kind of affinity or opposition in their letters and sounds, as might be some way answerable to the nature of the things which they signified; This would yet be a farther advantage superadded: by which, besides the best way of helping the Memory by natural Method, the Vnderstanding likewise would be highly improved; and we should, by learning the Character and the Names of things, be instructed likewise in their Na∣tures, the knowledg of both which ought to be conjoyned.

For the accurate effecting of this, it would be necessary, that the Theo∣ry it self, upon which such a design were to be founded, should be exact∣ly suted to the nature of things. But, upon supposal that this Theory is defective, either as to the Fulness or the Order of it, this must needs add much perplexity to any such Attempt, and render it imperfect. And that this is the case with that common Theory already received, need not much be doubted; which may afford some excuse as to several of those things which may seem to be less conveniently disposed of in the follow∣ing Tables, or Schemes proposed in the next part.