The New Tongue

When two people who know no common language try to express their ideas to each other, their means of conveying thought are limited to signs, gestures, and facial expressions, and only in modest degree can they grasp each other's meanings. Such human experiences as hunger and thirst are so readily expressed that even a savage and a civilized man can understand each other perfectly. Mirth and sadness may also be expressed and understood very readily by civilized people without the utterance of a word. In such ways thought, not speech, is proved to be the universal language, and words of the so-called mother tongue are merely the signs or symbols agreed upon by different peoples, races, or tribes to designate thoughts. Thus words become the limiting counterfeits of thought to those who do not grasp their full meaning, and in a sense the statement that words were invented by man to conceal his thoughts is seen to be rather nearer the truth than at first appears.

Every science, art, or business uses distinctive terms,—terms which, to those who have not learned their application, are as meaningless as are the words of unlearned foreign languages. In the acquisition of a working knowledge of the language used in any department of thought, whether a science, a trade, or a religion, it is of fundamental importance to understand its terms. Not only so, but it is absolutely necessary that this understanding be exact and that the participant be able to give so cogent and convincing a definition and explanation of each term that the inquirer who knows nothing of the trade or science may grasp clearly the idea for which the term is used and, further, be able to use that term with exactness when himself essaying to convey his ideas. Unless this exact knowledge be acquired the participant cannot claim proficiency. He must recognize the fact that in order to make himself clear in audible or written speech he most broaden his understanding, and as he views a wider horizon he must step down from the little summit of his acquisition to the level of those striving to attain his point of view, because having scaled thus high he will be in a position to lend a helping hand to seekers of the light.

A Reminiscence
August 4, 1906

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