Darwin and Modern Science: Essays in Commemoration of the Centenary of the Birth of Charles Darwin and of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of the Origin of Species

By A. C. Seward | Go to book overview

XXVI
EVOLUTION AND THE SCIENCE OF LANGUAGE

BY P. GILES M.A., LL.D. ( Aberdeen), Reader in Comparative Philology in the University of Cambridge.

IN no study has the historical method had a more salutary influence than in the Science of Language. Even the earliest records show that the meaning of the names of persons, places, and common objects was then, as it has always been since, a matter of interest to mankind. And in every age the common man has regarded himself as competent without special training to explain by inspection (if one may use a mathematical phrase) the meaning of any words that attracted his attention. Out of this amateur etymologising has sprung a great amount of false history, a kind of historical mythology invented to explain familiar names. A single example will illustrate the tendency. According to the local legend the ancestor of the Earl of Erroll -- a husbandman who stayed the flight of his countrymen in the battle of Luncarty and won the victory over the Danes by the help of the yoke of his oxen -- exhausted with the fray uttered the exclamation Hoch heigh! The grateful king about to ennoble the victorious ploughman at once replied:

Hoch heigh! said ye And Hay shall ye be.

The Norman origin of the name Hay is well-known, and the battle of Luncarty long preceded the appearance of Normans in Scotland, but the legend nevertheless persists.

Though the earliest European treatise on philological questions which is now extant -- the Cratylus of Plato, -- as might be expected from its authorship, contains some acute thinking and some shrewd guesses, yet the work as a whole is infantine in its handling of language, and it has been doubted whether Plato was more than half serious in some of the suggestions which he puts forward 1. In

____________________
1
For an account of the Cratylus with references to other literature see Sandys' History of Classical Scholarship, I. p. 92 ff., Cambridge, 1903.

-512-

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