Page images

everywhere, have produced so many words and forms peculiar to each tribe, that even within the limits of twelve or twenty German miles, communication among them becomes extremely difficult. Castrèn, the heroic explorer of the languages of northern and central Asia, assures us that some of the Mongolian dialects are actually entering into a new phase of grammatical life; and that while the literary language of the Mongolians has no terminations for the persons of the verb, that characteristic feature of Turanian speech had lately broken out in the spoken dialects of the Buriates and in the Tungusic idioms near Njertschinsk in Siberia.

One more observation of the same character from the pen of Robert Moffat, in his “ Missionary Scenes and Labors in Southern Africa." “ The purity and harmony of language,” he writes, “is kept up by their pitchos, or public meetings, by their festivals and ceremonies, as well as by their songs and their constant intercourse. With the isolated villagers of the desert it is far otherwise ; they have no such meetings ; they are compelled to traverse the wilds, often to a great distance from their native village. On such occasions fathers and mothers, and all who can bear a burden, often set out for weeks at a time, and leave their children to the care of two or three infirm old people The infant progeny, some of whom are beginning to lisp, while others can just master a whole sentence, and those still further advanced, romping and playing together, the children of nature, through their livelong day, become habituated to a language of their own. The more voluble condescend to the less precocious; and

1 Turanian Languages, p. 30.

thus, from this infant Babel, proceeds a dialect of a host of mongrel words and phrases, joined together without rule, and in the course of one generation the entire character of the language is changed.

Such is the life of language in a state of nature; and in a similar manner, we have a right to conclude, languages grew up which we only know after the bit and bridle of literature were thrown over their necks. It need not be a written or classical literature to give an ascendency to one out of many dialects, and to impart to its peculiarities an undisputed legitimacy. Speeches at pitchos or public meetings, popular ballads, national laws, religious oracles, exercise, though to a smaller extent, the same influence. They will arrest the natural flow of language in the countless rivulets of its dialects, and give a permanency to certain formations of speech which, without these external influences, could have enjoyed but an ephemeral existence. Though we cannot fully enter, at present, on the problem of the origin of language, yet this we can clearly see, that, whatever the origin of language was, its first tendency must have been towards an unbounded variety. To this there was, however, a natural check, which prepared from the very beginning the growth of national and literary languages. The language of the father became the language of a family; the language of a family that of a clan. In one and the same clan different families would preserve among themselves their own familiar forms and expressions. They would add new words, some so fanciful and quaint as to be hardly intelligible to other members of the same clan. Such expressions would naturally be suppressed, as we suppress provincial peculiarities and

pet words of our own, at large assemblies where all clansmen meet and are expected to take part in general discussions. But they would be cherished all the more round the fire of each tent, in proportion as the general dialect of the clan assumed a more formal character. Class dialects, too, would spring up; the dialects of servants, grooms, shepherds, and soldiers. Women would have their own household words; and the rising generation would not be long without a more racy phraseology of their own. Even we, in this literary age, and at a distance of thousands of years from those early fathers of language, do not speak at home as we speak in public. The same circumstances which give rise to the formal language of a clan, as distinguished from the dialects of families, produce, on a larger scale, the languages of a confederation of clans, of nascent colonies, of rising nationalities. Before there is a national language, there have always been hundreds of dialects in districts, towns, villages, clans, and families ; and though the progress of civilization and centralization tends to reduce their number and to soften their features, it has not as yet annihilated them, even in our own time.

Let us now look again at what is commonly called the history, but what ought to be called, the natural growth, of language, and we shall easily see that it consists chiefly in the play of the two principles which we have just examined, phonetic decay and dialectical regeneration or growth. Let us take the six Romance languages. It is usual to call these the daughters of Latin. I do not object to the names of parent and daughter as applied to languages; only we must not allow such apparently clear and simple terms to cover

obscure and vague conceptions. Now if we call Italian the daughter of Latin, we do not mean to ascribe to Italian a new vital principle. Not a single radical element was newly created for the formation of Italian. Italian is Latin in a new form. Italian is modern Latin, or Latin ancient Italian. The names mother and daughter only mark different periods in the growth of a language substantially the same. To speak of Latin dying in giving birth to her offspring is again pure mythology, and it would be easy to prove that Latin was a living language long after Italian had learnt to run alone. Only let us clearly see what we mean by Latin. The classical Latin is one out of many dialects spoken by the Aryan inhabitants of Italy. It was the dialect of Latium, in Latium the dialect of Rome, at Rome the dialect of the patricians, It was fixed by Livius Andronicus, Ennius, Nævius, Cato, and Lucretius, polished by the Scipios, Hortensius, and Cicero. It was the language of a restricted class, of a political party, of a literary set. Before their time, the language of Rome must have changed and fluctuated considerably. _ Polybius tells us iii. 22), that the best-informed Romans could not make out without difficulty the language of the ancient treaties between Rome and Carthage. Horace admits (Ep. ii. 1, 86), that he could not understand the old Salian poems, and he hints that no one else could. Quintilian (i. 6, 40) says that the Salian priests could hardly understand their sacred hymns. If the plebeians had obtained the upperhand over the patricians, Latin would have been very different from what it is in Cicero, and we know that even Cicero, having been brought up at Arpinum, had to give up some of his

It was

provincial peculiarities, such as the dropping of the final 8, when he began to mix in fashionable society, and had to write for his new patrician friends. After having been established as the language of legislation, religion, literature, and general civilization, the classical Latin dialect became stationary and stagnant. It could not grow, because it was not allowed to change or to deviate from its classical correctness. haunted by its own ghost. Literary dialects, or what

are commonly called classical languages, pay for their • temporary greatness by inevitable decay. They are

like stagnant lakes at the side of great rivers. They form reservoirs of what was once living and running speech, but they are no longer carried on by the main current. At times it may seem as if the whole stream of language was absorbed by these lakes, and we can hardly trace the small rivulets which run on in the main bed. But if lower down, that is to say, later in history, we meet again with a new body of stationary language, forming or formed, we may be sure that its tributaries were those very rivulets which for a time were almost lost from our sight. Or it may

be more accurate to compare a classical or literary idiom with the frozen surface of a river, brilliant and smooth, but stiff and cold. It is mostly by political commotions that this surface of the more polite and cultivated speech is broken and carried away by the waters rising underneath. It is during times when the higher classes are either crushed in religious and social struggles, or

i Quintilian, ix. 4. “Nam neque Lucilium putant uti eadem (s) ultima, cum dicit Serenu fuit, et Dignu loco. Quin etiam Cicero in Oratore plures antiquorum tradit sic locutos.” In some phrases the final s was omitted in conversation; e. g. abin for abisne, viden for videsne, opu'st for opus est,

conabere for conaberis.

« PreviousContinue »