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Letter 10194

Max Müller, Friedrich to Darwin, C. R.

13 Oct [1875]

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    Sends CD his answers to W. D. Whitney's articles. Sees man as separated from other animals by the possession of language. There is no scientific evidence for even the slightest attempt at language in the higher animals, which cannot, therefore, be reasonably regarded as "stunted man". [See "In self-defence", Chips from a German workshop 4 (1875): 473–549.]


Parks End, | Oxford

13 Oct.

My dear Sir,

Allow me to present you my defence against Prof. Whitney's attacks. I think you will see from what I have stated, that Professor Whitney is not an ally whom either you or your son would approve of. I should never have noticed him, had not your son brought him so prominently before the English public. However even controversy helps sometimes, though not often, to clear away error & bring out truth, and so I hope I have not simply wasted my time in answering Prof. Whitney's charges.

The point at issue between you & me is a very simple one: is that which can pass a certain line in nature the same as that which cannot? It may be, no doubt, & in that case the highest animal would simply be a stunted man. But this seems to me a narrow view of nature, particularly if we consider that everything organic is after all much more truly that which it can be than that which it is. In the higher animals the potential traces of language are smaller than in some of the lower, but even where the phonetic organs are most perfect, there has never been the slightest attempt at language in the true sense of the word. Why should natural science be unwilling to admit this— why should it not at all events leave the question an open question until some truly scientific evidence has been brought forward showing at least the potentiality of language in any known animal. ``More facts & fewer theories'' is what we want, at least in the Science of Language, and it is a misfortune if the collectors of facts are discouraged by being told that facts are useless against theories. I have no prejudice whatever against the faculty of language in animals: it would help to solve many difficulties. All I say is, let us wait, let us look for facts, & let us keep la carri`ere ouverte.

Believe me, | Yours sincerely | F. Max M¨uller

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