« PreviousContinue »
80 LANGUAGE INDEPENDENT OF HISTORICAL EVENTS.
old woman that spoke Cornish, and to whose memory it is now intended to raise a monument, represented by herself alone the ancient language of Cornwall. A Celt may become an Englishman, Celtic and English blood may be mixed; and who could tell at the present day the exact proportion of Celtic and Saxon blood in the population of England ? But languages are never mixed. It is indifferent by what name the language spoken in the British Islands be called, whether English or British or Saxon; to the student of language English is Teutonic, and nothing but Teutonic. The physiologist may protest, and point out that in many instances the skull, or the bodily habitat of the English language, is of a Celtic type ; the genealogist may protest and prove that the arms of many an English family are of Norman origin; the student of language must follow his own way. Historical information as to an early substratum of Celtic inhabitants in Britain, as to Saxon, Danish, and Norman invasions may be useful to him. But though every record were burned, and every skull mouldered, the English language, as spoken by any ploughboy, would reveal its own history, if analyzed according to the rules of comparative grammar. Without the help of history, we should see that English is Teutonic, that like Dutch and Friesian it belongs to the LowGerman branch; that this branch, together with the High-German, Gothic, and Scandinavian branches, constitute the Teutonic class; that this Teutonic class, together with the Celtic, Slavonic, the Hellenic, Italic, Iranic, and Indic classes constitute the great IndoEuropean or Aryan family of speech. In the English dictionary the student of the science of language
can detect, by his own tests, Celtic, Norman, Greek, and Latin ingredients, but not a single drop of foreign blood has entered into the organic system of the English language. The grammar, the blood and soul of the language, is as pure and unmixed in English as spoken in the British Isles, as it was when spoken on the shores of the German Ocean by the Angles, Saxons, and Juts of the continent.
In thus considering and refuting the objections which have been, or might be, made against the admission of the science of language into the circle of the physical sciences, we have arrived at some results which it may be useful to recapitulate before we proceed further. We saw that whereas philology treats language only as a means, comparative philology chooses language as the object of scientific inquiry. It is not the study of one language, but of many, and in the end of all, which forms the aim of this new science. Nor is the language of Homer of greater interest, in the scientific treatment of human speech, than the dialect of the Hottentots.
We saw, secondly, that after the first practical acquisition and careful analysis of the facts and forms of any language, the next and most important step is the classification of all the varieties of human speech, and that only after this has been accomplished would it be safe to venture on the great questions which underlie all physical research, the questions as to the what, the whence, and the why of language.
We saw, thirdly, that there is a distinction between what is called history and growth. We determined the true meaning of growth, as applied to language, and perceived how it was independent of the caprice of man, and governed by laws that could be discovered by careful observation, and be traced back in the end to higher laws, which govern the organs both of human thought, and of the human voice. Though admitting that the science of language was more intimately connected than any other physical science with what is called the political history of man, we found that, strictly speaking, our science might well dispense with this auxiliary, and that languages can be analyzed and classified on their own evidence particularly on the strength of their grammatical articulation, without any reference to the individuals, families, clans, tribes, nations, or races by whom they are or have been spoken.
In the course of these considerations, we had to lay down two axioms, to which we shall frequently have to appeal in the progress of our investigations. The first declares grammar to be the most essential element, and therefore the ground of classification in all languages which have produced a definite grammatical articulation; the second denies the possibility of a mixed language.
These two axioms are, in reality, but one, as we shall see when we examine them more closely. There is hardly a language which in one sense may not be called a mixed language. No nation or tribe was ever so completely isolated as not to admit the importation of a certain number of foreign words. In some instances these imported words have changed the whole native aspect of the language, and have even acquired a majority over the native element. Turkish is a Turanian dialect; its grammar is purely Tataric or Turanian. The Turks, however, pos
sessed but a small literature and narrow civilization before they were converted to Mohammedanism. Now, the language of Mohammed was Arabic, a branch of the Semitic family, closely allied to Hebrew and Syriac. Together with the Koran, and their law and religion, the Turks learned from the Arabs, their conquerors, many
of the arts and sciences connected with a more advanced stage of civilization. Arabic became to the Turks what Latin was to the Germans during the Middle Ages; and there is hardly a word in the higher intellectual terminology of Arabic, that might not be used, more or less naturally, by a writer in Turkish. But the Arabs, again, at the very outset of their career of conquest and conversion, had been, in science, art, literature, and polite manners, the pupils of the Persians, whom they had conquered; they stood to them in the same relation as the Romans stood to the Greeks. Now, the Persians speak a language which is neither Semitic, like Arabic, nor Turanian, like Turkish ; it is a branch of the Indo-European or Aryan family of speech. A large infusion of Persian words thus found its way into Arabic, and through Arabic into Turkish ; and the result is that at the present moment the Turkish language, as spoken by the higher ranks at Constantinople, is so entirely overgrown with Persian and Arabic words, that a common clod from the country understands but little of the so-called Osmanli, though its grammar is exactly the same as the grammar which he uses in his Tataric utterance.
There is, perhaps, no language so full of words evidently derived from the most distant sources as English. Every country of the globe seems to have brought some of its verbal manufactures to the intellectual market of
England. Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Celtic, Saxon, Danish, French, Spanish, Italian, German — nay, even Hindustani, Malay, and Chinese words, lie mixed together in the English dictionary. On the evidence of words alone it would be impossible to classify English with any other of the established stocks and stems of human speech. Leaving out of consideration the smaller ingredients, we find, on comparing the Teutonic with the Latin, or Neo-Latin or Norman elements in English, that the latter have a decided majority over the home-grown Saxon terms. This may seem incredible; and if we simply took a page of any English book, and counted therein the words of purely Saxon and Latin origin, the majority would be no doubt on the Saxon side. The articles, pronouns, prepositions, and auxiliary verbs, all of which are of Saxon growth, occur over and over again in one and the same page. Thus, Hickes maintained that nine tenths of the English dictionary were Saxon, because there were only three words of Latin origin in the Lord's prayer. Sharon Turner, who extended his observations over a larger field, came to the conclusion that the relation of Norman to Saxon was as four to six. Another writer, who estimates the whole number of English words at 38,000, assigns 23,000 to a Saxon, and 15,000 to a classical source. On taking, however, a more accurate inventory, and counting every word in the dictionaries of Robertson and Webster, M. Thommerel has established the fact that of the sum total of 43,566 words, 29,853 came from classical, 13,230 from Teutonic, and the rest from miscellaneous sources. On the
1 Some excellent statistics on the exact proportion of Saxon and Latin in various English writers, are to be found in Marsh's Lectures on the Eng. lish Language, p. 120, seq. and 181, seq.