Page images

be solved is this: How can we account for the origin of those predicative and demonstrative roots which form the constituent elements of all human speech, and which have hitherto resisted all attempts at further analysis ? This problem will form the subject of our two next Lectures.



We finished in our last Lecture our analysis of language, and we arrived at the result that predicative and demonstrative roots are the sole constituent elements of human speech. We now turn back in order to discover how

many possible forms of language may be produced by the free combination of these constituent elements; and we shall then endeavor to find out whether each of these possible forms has its real counterpart in some or other of the dialects of mankind. We are attempting in fact to carry out a morphological classification of speech, which is based entirely on the form or manner in which roots are put together, and therefore quite independent of the genealogical classification which, according to its very nature, is based on the formations of language handed down ready made from generation to generation.

Before, however, we enter on this, the principal subject of our present Lecture, we have still to examine, as briefly as possible, a second family of speech, which, like the Aryan, is established on the strictest principles of genealogical classification, namely, the Semitic.

The Semitic family is divided into three branches, the Aramaic, the Hebraic, and the Arabic.1

1 Histoire Générale et Système Comparé des Langues sémitiques, par Ernest Renan. Seconde édition. Paris, 1858.

The Aramaic occupies the north, including Syria, li , part

Babylonia and Assyria. It is known to us chiefly in two dialects, the Syriac and Chaldee. The former name is given to the language which has been preserved to us in a translation of the Bible (the Peshito ?) ascribed to the second century, and in the rich Christian literature dating from the fourth. It is still spoken, though in a very corrupt form, by the Nestorians of Kurdistan, near the lakes of Van and Urmia, and by some Christian tribes in Mesopotamia ; and an attempt has been made by the American missionaries, 2 stationed at Urmia, to restore this dialect to some grammatical correctness by publishing translations and a grammar of what they call the Neo-Syriac language.

The name of Chaldee has been given to the language adopted by the Jews during the Babylonian captivity. Though the Jews always retained a knowledge of their sacred language, they soon began to adopt the dialect of their conquerors, not for conversation only, but also for literary composition. The book of Ezra contains fragments in Chaldee, contemporaneous with the cuneiform inscriptions of Darius and Xerxes, and several of the apocryphal books, though preserved to us in Greek only, were most likely composed originally in Chaldee,

1 Peshito means simple. The Old Testament was translated from Hebrew, the New Testament from Greek, about 200, if not earlier. Ephraem Syrus lived in the middle of the fourth century. During the eighth and ninth centuries the Nestorians of Syria acted as the instructors of the Arabs. Their literary and intellectual supremacy began to fail in the tenth century. It was revived for a time by Gregorius Barhebræus (Abulfaraj) in the thirteenth century. See Renan, p. 257.

2 Messrs. Perkins and Stoddard, the latter the author of a grammar, published in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. v. 1.

8 Renan, p. 214 seq., “Le chaldéen biblique serait un dialecte araméen légèrement hébraisé."

and not in Hebrew. The so-called Targums 1 again, or translations and paraphrases of the Old Testament, written during the centuries immediately preceding and following the Christian era, give us another specimen of the Aramaic, or the language of Babylonia, as transplanted to Palestine. This Aramaic was the dialect spoken by Christ and his disciples. The few au thentic words preserved in the New Testament as spo

ken by our Lord in His own language, such as Talitha ? kumi, Ephphatha, Abba, are not in Hebrew, but in the Chaldee, or Aramaic, as then spoken by the Jews.3

After the destruction of Jerusalem the literature of the Jews continued to be written in the same dialect.

The Talmud 4 of Jerusalem of the fourth, and that * of Babylon of the fifth, century exhibit the Aramean,

as spoken by the educated Jews settled in these two localities, though greatly depraved and spoiled by an admixture of strange elements. This language remained the literary idiom of the Jews to the tenth century. The Masora, and the traditional commentary of the Old Testament, was written in it about that time. Soon after the Jews adopted Arabic as their literary language, and retained it to the thirteenth century. They then returned to a kind of modernized Hebrew, which they still continue to employ for learned discussions.

1 Arabic, tarjam, to explain; Dragoman, Arabic, tarjamân.

2 The most ancient are those of Onkelos and Jonathan, in the second century after Christ. Others are much later, later even than the Talmud. Renan, p. 220.

8 Renan, pp. 220–222.

4 Talmud (instruction) consists of Mishna and Gemara. Mishna means repetition, viz. of the Law. It was collected and written down about 218, by Jehuda.

Gemara is a continuation and commentary of the Mishna; that of Jerusalem was finished towards the end of the fourth, that of Babylon towards the end of the fifth, century.

6 First printed in the Rabbinic Bible, Venice, 1525.


It is curious that the Aramaic branch of the Semitic family, though originally the language of the great kingdoms of Babylon and Nineveh, should have been • preserved to us only in the literature of the Jews, and of the Christians of Syria. There must have been a Babylonian literature, for the wisdom of the Chaldeans had acquired a reputation which could hardly have been sustained without a literature. Abraham must have spoken Aramaic before he emigrated to Canaan. Laban spoke the same dialect, and the name which he gave to the heap of stones that was to be a witness between him and Jacob, (Jegar-sahadutha) is Syriac, whereas Galeed, the name by which Jacob called it, is Hebrew. If we ever to recover a knowledge of that ancient Babylonian literature, it must be from the cuneiform inscriptions lately brought home from Babylon and Nineveh. They are clearly written in a Semitic language. About this there can be no longer any doubt. And though the progress in deciphering them has been slow, and slower than was at one time expected, yet there is no reason to despair. In a letter, dated April, 1853, Sir Henry Rawlinson wrote:

“ On the clay tablets which we have found at Nineveh, and which now are to be counted by thousands, there are explanatory treatises on almost every subject under the sun : the art of writing, grammars, and dictionaries, notation, weights and measures, divisions of time, chronology, astronomy, geography, history, mythology, geology, botany, &c. In fact we have now at our disposal a perfect cyclopædia of Assyrian science." Considering what has been achieved in deciphering one

i Quatremère, Mémoire sur les Nabatéens, p. 139.

« PreviousContinue »