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[4arg] How Publius Nigidius with great cleverness showed that words are not arbitrary, but natural.

PUBLIUS NIGIDIUS in his Grammatical Notes shows that nouns and verbs were formed, not by a chance use, but by a certain power and design of nature, a subject very popular in the discussions of the philosophers; for they used to inquire whether words originate by “nature” or are man-made. 1 Nigidius employs many arguments to this end, to show that words appear to be natural rather than arbitrary. Among these the following seems particularly neat and ingenious 2 : “When we say vos, or 'you,'” says Nigidius, “we make a movement of the mouth suitable to the meaning of the word; for we gradually protrude the tips of our lips and direct the impulse of the breath towards those with whom we are speaking. But on the other hand, when we say nos, or 'us,' we do not pronounce the word with a powerful forward impulse of the voice, nor with the lips protruded, but we restrain our breath and our lips, so to speak, within ourselves. The same thing happens in the words tu or 'thou,' ego or ' I,' tibi ' to thee,' and mihi 'to me.' For just as when we assent or dissent, a movement of the head or eyes corresponds with the nature of the expression, so too in the pronunciation of these words there is a kind of natural gesture made with the mouth and breath. The same principle that we have noted in our own speech applies also to Greek words.”

[p. 231]

1 That is, whether language is a natural growth or a conscious product.

2 Fr. 41, Swoboda.

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    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), LEX
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