Imágenes de páginas

distinctions has disappeared, leaving almost no trace behind. Natural gender has replaced grammatical, and the pronominal forms he, she, it, his, him, her, its, are our only means for its indication.

These two processes—the production of new forms by the combination of old materials, and the wearing down and wearing out of the forms so produced, are the principal means by which the external life and growth of language are kept up, by whose operation spoken tongues are constantly becoming other than they were. But they are only auxiliary to a not less striking growth in the interior content of speech, in the meaning of words. It is as important a part of the historical study of a word to trace out its changes of signification as its changes of form; and the former are even richer in curious and unexpected developments, are fuller of instruction, than the latter. The internal content of language is plastic to the touch of the inspiring mind. But for this, no variability of form or facility of combination could make it aught but a stiff dead structure, incapable of supplying for any time the needs of a thinking, feeling, observing, and reasoning community. , Old words are applied to new uscs; the general is individualized, the individual generalized; the concrete becomes the abstract; a pregnant expression, a startling metaphor, is reduced to the level of an ordinary phrase; delicate shades of meaning are distinguished by the gradual differentiation of synonymous words, and so on.

The rate at which these processes of change go on is very various. It depends, in part, upon subtle and recondite causes, as upon the individual character of different languages and the qualitics of the peoples who speak them— qualities, perhaps, which exhibit themselves only in this way, and hardly admit of analysis and recognition elsewhere. In part, it depends also upon external circumstances, upon change of surroundings and mode of life, of mental and physical activity. An English family, wrecked on a coral island in the south seas, would soon find a great part of its vocabulary useless, and in a very few generations its language would have become vastly impoverished. A tribe from such an island, again, if suddenly transferred to the midst of northern variety of clime, product, and occupation, would have to expand rapidly its store of speech to keep pace with the growing wealth of its experiences. As regards grammatical change, all that assists the purity of linguistic tradition tends to keep language the same; so, especially, culture, literature, the habit of instruction. Careful and pervading education reduces to a minimum that immense and most important class of changes which begins in popular inaccuracies. On the other hand, the intermixture of races of diverse speech, rendering necessary the elaboration, by mutual compromise, of a new dialect for common use, tends powerfully to the disorganization of grammatical structure. It is such a course which has made of our English the language which, above all others, has yielded up most of the grammatical fabric which was its birthright and inheritance.

The processes of alteration illustrated in the last lecture are familiarly spoken of as going on in language itself, like fermentation in bread, or deplacement and replacement in animal tissues. But it must not be forgotten that every separate item of change is the work of an individual or individuals. In language, the ultimate atoms at work are not dead matter, but intelligent beings, acting for a purpose. Each, indeed, acts unpremeditatedly, and for the most . unconsciously; each only wants to use the common possession for his own

nefit, at his own convenience; yet each is also an actor in the great work of preserving and of shaping the general speech. Now, the infinite diversity of circumstances and of characters in the speakers of language tends toward infinite diversity in their action and its results; each would, acting independently, impress upon its progress a somewhat different course. Linguistic development is thus the product of an infinity of divergent or centrifugal forces. The great centripetal force which holds them in check, and combines them into a single direction, is the necessity of communication. Man is no soliloquist, and that would not be language which was understood and employed by one only. Each person is, in his own way, engaged in modifying language, but no one's action shapes the general speech unless it be accepted by the rest and become common usage. Each community must speak alike; whatever changes their tongue may undergo must be ratified and adopted by them all.

Communication icing thus the force which produces uniformity of speech, it is clear that whatever narrows communication and tends to isolate communities favors separation of a language into dialects; whatever extends communication and expands the limits of communities, tends to preserve language homogeneous. When a race is confined within narrow boundaries, however rapidly its tongue may undergo the inevitable processes of change, all will learn from each and each from all, and they will continue to understand one another. But if the race grow rapidly in numbers, spreading over region after region, and sending out distant colonies, only favoring circumstances and conditions can preserve its unity of speech. In a low state of civilization a maintenance of the bonds of community over a wide area is impracticable; the tendency is to clannish feeling, to separation into tribes; and multiplicity of dialects is the natural consequence. Culture and enlightenment give a wonderful cohesive force; political unity, national feeling, community of traditions and faith, make strongly in favor of linguistic unity also; a traditional literature helps yet more powerfully to the same result; but, most of all, a written literature, and a system of popular instruction. The same causes which restrict the variation of language in time, from generation to generation, restrict it also in space, from region to region. Moreover, as community occasions and preserves identity of speech, so it also has power to bring identity out of dissimilarity. The fusion of communities causes the fusion of their forms of speech; the multiplication and strengthening of the ties which bind together the sections of a people makes for the effacement of differences already existing, the assimilation of dialects, and the production of homogeneous language.

Both classes of influences—those which lead to diversity and those which produce assimilation—are always at work, and a consideration of their joint and mutual action is necessary to the explanation of the history of any lan. guage, or family of languages; but the former are more fundamental and inseparable from linguistic growth; the latter are more external and incidental, more varying in their mode and scale of operation. Language everywhere tends to diversity, but circumstances connected with its use check, control, and even reverse the tendency. The division of a formerly homogeneous language into dialects has been the rule in human history; the extinction of dialectic differences, whether by the extinction or fusion with others of the peoples em. ploying them, or by extension of the sway of single dialects, has been the exception, connected with the great facts of history, as the spread of empire and civilization under the auspices of certain races. Misled by a too exclusive attention to facts of the latter class, one or two modern authors of high rank have been guilty of the paradox of holding that infinite dialectic division is the of primitive state of language, which tends to coalescence and assimilation. A greater and more pernicious error could hardly be maintained.

#. principles here laid down teach us how we are to proceed in classifying and arranging the infinity of tongues now prevailing on the earth. Many of them, at least, are the divergent branches of more original stocks. Languages are to be grouped by their affinities: we are to rank together first those which

are of closest and most evident relationship, and gradually to extend our scheme till we have done all which the nature of the case permits; tih the evidence on which we found our classification fails us. That the slightly distinguished forms of speech prevailing in the different sections of our own country, and even the more notable dialects which are to be found among the lower orders of population in the British isles, constitute together a single language, is too evident to call for proof. Let the man most ignorant of history go about the world, from British colony to colony, finding here and there, on coast and island, in fortress and city, communities of Englishspeaking people, and he will not think of doubting that they were all scattered thither from a common centre, and have their common language by community of linguistic tradition. A like conclusion is almost equally palpable when we seek after kindred for our language on the continent of Europe. There is a large class of evidently related dialects, occupying the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, the Scandinavian peninsula, and Iceland, which a very little study shows us to be akin with the more important half of our own tongue, that which comes to us from the Anglo-Saxon. There is another large class in southern Europe, comprising the French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, RhaetoRomanic, and Wallachian, which exhibit an equally clear connexion with the non-Saxon part of our familiar speech. If we say true, while the Dutchman says trouw, the German treu, the Swede and Dane tro, &c., it is because we have all received the same word in the same sense by uninterrupted tradition from some community which used a form coincident with one of these, or nearly resembling them all. So, also, if we say verity, while the Frenchman says rérité, the Italian verità, the Spaniard verdad, &c. Recorded history, in fact, fully explains the descent of this latter class of languages from a single mother, the Latin, as it also makes clear why our English is composed of materials derived from both classes. What recorded history does not explain is the more recondite, but not less undeniable evidence of relationship which we discover between these two classes themselves, as well as between them both and most of the other languages of Europe, together with some of those of Asia. These are, namely, the Greek, ancient and modern; the Slavonic, occupying Russia, Poland, Bohemia, Servia, and other provinces in the eastern part of Austria and the northern of Turkey; the Lithuanic, around the southern shore of the Baltic; the Celtic, of which the scanty remains are now found in Ireland, the Scotch highlands, Wales, and Brittany; and, outside of Europe, the tongues of Iran, as the Persian, with its ancient and modern congeners, and its remoter kindred, Kurdish, Armenian, Afghan, and Ossetic; and, finally, the languages of India, the Sanscrit and its descendants. These various branches go together to make up the great family of related languages which we call the Indo-European. Their relation to one another is the same in kind with that of the various Germanic dialects, or the Romanic, and differs only in degree. The resemblances and coincidences which they exhibit are explainable only upon the hypothesis of a common linguistic tradition; their differences are fully accounted for by their divergent growth and development during the ages which have passed since their separation. A few selected specimens of their accordance will be enough to give here, as their relation is now a matter of general knowledge, and few or none are found to doubt or deny it. Examples of words corresponding in all or nearly all the branches are as follows (the equivalent words in two or three unconnected languages are also added for the sake of more fully exhibiting the value of the coincidences):

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed]

But, to the historical student of language, correspondences of grammatical structure are more unequivocal signs of near relationship than correspondences of words, being less exposed to imputation of accidental origin. As striking and convincing an example of this kind of evidence, perhaps, as any other is furnished in the inflection of the verbal tenses, as follows:

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

These are specimens, taken from among a host of others which crowd every part of the grammar and vocabulary of the languages in question, and their convincing weight it is impossible to deny. It is certain that at some time in the past, and in some limited region of Asia or Europe, there lived a tribe from whose rude speech have descended all those rich and cultivated tongues now spoken and written by so many great nations of both the eastern and western continents; but to know just where and when is beyond our power. The claim often set up that the home of the family was in the northeastern part of the Iranian plateau, not far from the mountains of the Hindu-Koh, rests upon no sufficient grounds. The traditions of no race reach back far enough to be authoritative upon such a point. Nor is the testimony derivable from language more conclusive. And to define, even with distant approach to confidence, the time which the tongues of the family must have occupied in running their career of development is wholly impracticable. That the time of Indo-European unity must have been thousands of years before Christ is very certain. Recent discoveries are proving that man's antiquity is much greater than has hitherto been usually supposed. Respecting the origin of particular races our knowledge is likely ever to continue exceedingly indefinite. As to the grade of civilization and mode of life, however, of the Indo-European family before its dispersion, their language gives us reliable, though incomplete, information. Words which are found in the speech of all the separated branches must have appertained to the mother tongue, and must imply the knowledge or possession, in that primitive period, of what they indicate. By such means we learn that the tribe was not nomadic, and that it addicted itself to agriculture and the raising of cattle. It reared our chief domestic animals. The region it inhabited was varied, and not near the ocean; its most marked season was winter. Barley, and perhaps wheat also, was raised for food. Certain metals were worked, perhaps iron among them. Weaving was practiced. The arms of offence and defence were those usual among primitive peoples--the bow, sword,

spear, and shield. Boats were built and managed by oars. The political organization was probably that of petty tribes. The relations of the family were well and distinctly established. Some of the stars were noticed and named; the moon was the chief measurer of time. The religion was polytheistic-a worship of the personified powers of nature, and its rites were practiced without a priesthood.

The present lecture is to be devoted to the further consideration of the IndoEuropean family, to a brief exposition of its importance, and of the special interest attaching to its language, and to some account of the history of the letter.

One source of the especial interest which we feel in Indo-European speech is found in the fact that our own language is one of its branches. This would call for and justify a particular attention to it on our part, even did it lack claims to the same from men of other races. But it does, in fact, possess such claims, and that partly by reason of the historical importance of the peoples which speak it, and their superior gifts, which lend prominent value to inquiries into a matter which illustrates both. Since the first rise of the Persian empire, the various branches of this family have borne a leading part in the drama of universal history. Greece, however, the bitter foe and final conqueror of Persia, was the chief founder of Indo-European greatness, and the most brilliant example of Indo-European genius; in art and literature what the Hebrew race has been in religion, and exerting an influence as unlimited in space and in time. Rome next, inheriting the fruits of Greek culture, gained the empire of the world, and impressed upon all nations a political and social unity. Christianity itself, rejected by the Semitic race among whom it appeared, was taken up by Indo-Europeans, and added a new bond of unity, a rcligious one, to the ties by which Rome bound the world together. The Germans were mainly instrumental in overthrowing the power of Rome; they gave monarchs to nearly every throne in Europe, and infused new blood into the effete populations; but their devastations ushered in a period of darkness, during which it seemed for a time as if the Semites, inspired with the fury of a new religion, (Mohammedanism,) were to succeed to the empire of humanity. With their repulse and downfall began the last and most glorious era of Indo-European supremacy, in the midst of which we live; when the races of that family are the undisputed leaders, the acknowledged guardians and propagators of civilization. The establishment of the unity of this family, and the light thrown from language upon its history, constitute the most brilliant achievement of the new science of language, which began with its recognition, and has developed along with its investigation. Indo-European language furnished such a grand body of related facts as the science needed for its sure foundation. Its dialects have a range, in period and variety of development, to which those of no other family approach; they illustrate the processes of linguistic growth upon an unrivalled scale. The records of Chinese literature go back, perhaps, to an antiquity as great, or greater ; but the Chinese language is almost without a history. There are Egyptian written documents which are older than anything else the world has to show, but they are scanty and obscure, and the Egyptian tongue also stands comparatively isolated. The Semitic languages come nearest to offering a parallel ; but they, too, fall far short of it. While their age is nearly the same, their variety is greatly inferior; they are a group of closely related dialects, not presenting greater differences than some single branches of the Indo-European family, as, for instance, the Germanic. And the other divisions of the human race bardly cover, to any notable extent, time as well as space with their known dialects; they offer us only their extant forms of specch. Now, much may be

« AnteriorContinuar »