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mind. “What is language?” was a question asked quite as early as “What am I?” and, “What is all this world around me ?” The problem of language was in fact a recognized battle-field for the different schools of ancient Greek philosophy, and we shall have to glance at their early guesses on the nature of human speech, when we come to consider the third or theoretical stage in the science of language.
At present, we have to look for the early traces of the first or empirical stage. And here it might seem doubtful what was the real work to be assigned to this stage. What can be meant by the empirical treatment of language? Who were the men that did for language what the sailor did for his stars, the miner for his minerals, the gardener for his flowers ? Who was the first to give any thought to language? — to distinguish between its component parts, between nouns and verbs, between articles and pronouns, between the nominative and accusative, the active and passive? Who invented these terms, and for what purpose were they invented ?
We must be careful in answering these questions, for, as I said before, the merely empirical analysis of language was preceded in Greece by more general inquiries into the nature of thought and language; and the result has been that many of the technical terms which form the nomenclature of empirical grammar, existed in the schools of philosophy long before they
were handed over, ready made, to the grammarian. . The distinction of noun and verb, or more correctly,
of subject and predicate, was the work of philosophers. Even the technical terms of case, of number, and gender, were coined at a very early time for the purpose
of entering into the nature of thought; not for the practical purpose of analyzing the forms of language. This, their practical application to the spoken language of Greece, was the work of a later generation. It was the teacher of languages who first compared the categories of thought with the realities of the Greek language.
It was he who transferred the terminology of Aristotle and the Stoics from thought to speech, from logic to grammar; and thus opened the first roads into the impervious wilderness of spoken speech. In doing this, the grammarian had to alter the strict ac
ceptation of many of the terms which he borrowed 7
from the philosopher, and he had to coin others before he could lay hold of all the facts of language even in the roughest manner. For, indeed, the distinction between noun and verb, between active and passive, between nominative and accusative, does not help us much towards a scientific analysis of language. It is no more than a first grasp, and it can only be compared with the most elementary terminology in other branches of human knowledge. Nevertheless, it was a beginning, a very important beginning; and if we preserve in our histories of the world the names of those who are said to have discovered the four physical elements, the names of a Thales and Anaximenes, we ought not to forget the names of the discoverers of the elements of language — the founders of one of the most useful and most successful branches of philosophy — the first Grammarians.
Grammar then, in the usual sense of the word, or the merely formal and empirical analysis of language, owes its origin, like all other sciences, to a very natural and practical want. The first practical grammarian
was the first practical teacher of languages, and if we want to know the beginnings of the science of language, we must try to find out at what time in the history of the world, and under what circumstances, people first thought of learning any language besides their own. At that time we shall find the first practical grammar, and not till then. Much may have been ready at hand through the less interested researches of philosophers, and likewise through the critical studies of the scholars of Alexandria on the ancient forms of their language as preserved in the Homeric poems.
But rules of declension and conjugation, paradigms of regular and irregular nouns and verbs, observations on syntax, and the like, these are the work of the teachers of languages, and of no
Now, the teaching of languages, though at present so large a profession, is comparatively a very modern ? invention. No ancient Greek ever thought of learning
a foreign language. Why should he? He divided the whole world into Greeks and Barbarians, and he would have felt himself degraded by adopting either the dress or the manners or the language of his barbarian neighbors. He considered it a privilege to speak Greek, and even dialects closely related to his own, were treated by him as mere jargons. It takes time before people conceive the idea that it is possible to express oneself
in any but one's own language. The Poles called 7
their neighbors, the Germans, Niemiec, niemy meaning dumb;' just as the Greeks called the Barbarians
i The Turks applied the Polish name Niemiec to the Austrians. As early as Constantinus Porphyrogeneta, cap. 30, NeuétĞLOL was used for the German race of the Bavarians. (Pott, Indo-Germ. Sp. s. 44. Leo, Zeitschrift für Vergleichende Sprachforschung, b. ii. s. 258.) Russian, njemez'; Slo
Aglossoi, or speechless. The name which the Germans gave to their neighbors, the Celts, Walh in old High German, vealh in Anglo-Saxon, the modern
Welsh, is supposed to be the same as the Sanskrit • mlechha, and means a person who talks indistinctly.
Even when the Greeks began to feel the necessity of communicating with foreign nations, when they felt a desire of learning their idioms, the problem was by no means solved. For how was a foreign language to be learnt as long as either party could only speak their own ? The problem was almost as difficult as when, as we are told by some persons, the first men, as yet speechless, came together in order to invent speech, and to discuss the most appropriate names that should be given to the perceptions of the senses and the abstractions of the mind. At first, it must be supposed that the Greek learned foreign languages very much as children learn their own. The interpreters mentioned by ancient historians were probably children of parents speaking different languages. The son of a Scythian and a Greek would naturally learn the utterances both of his father and mother, and the lucrative nature of his services would not fail to increase the supply. We are told, though on rather mythical authority, that the Greeks were astonished at the multiplicity of languages which they encountered during the Argonautic expedition, and that they were much inconvenienced by the want of skilful interpreters. We need not wonder at this, for the venian, němec; Bulgarian, némec; Polish, niemiec; Lusatian, njemc, mean German. Russian, njemo, indistinct; njemyi, dumb; Slovenian, něm, dumb; Bulgarian, nêm, dumb; Polish, njemy, dumb; Lusatian, njemy, dumb.
1 Leo, Zeitschrift, für Vergl. Sprachf. b. ii. s. 252.
English army was hardly better off than the army of Jason ; and such is the variety of dialects spoken in the Caucasian Isthmus, that it is still called by the inhabitants “the Mountain of Languages.” If we turn our eyes from these mythical ages to the historical times of Greece, we find that trade gave the first encouragement to the profession of interpreters. Herodotus tells us (iv. 24), that caravans of Greek merchants, following the course of the Volga upwards to the Oural mountains, were accompanied by seven interpreters, speaking seven different languages. These must have comprised Slavonic, Tataric, and Finnic dialects, spoken in those countries in the time of Herodotus, as they are at the present day. The wars with Persia first familiarized the Greeks with the idea that other nations also possessed real languages.
Themistocles studied Persian, and is said to have spoken it fluently. The expedition of Alexander contributed still more powerfully to a knowledge of other nations and languages. But when Alexander went to converse with the Brahmans, who were even then considered by the Greeks as the guardians of a most ancient and mysterious wisdom, their answers had to be translated by so many interpreters that one of the Brahmans remarked, they must become like water that had passed through many impure channels. We hear, indeed, of more ancient
1 This shows how difficult it would be to admit that any influence was exercised by Indian on Greek philosophers. Pyrrhon, if we may believe Alexander Polyhistor, seems indeed to have accompanied Alexander on his expedition to India, and one feels tempted to connect the scepticism of Pyrrhon with the system of Buddhist philosophy then current in India. But the ignorance of the language on both sides must have been an insurmountable barrier between the Greek and the Indian thinkers. (Fragmenta Histor. Græc., ed. Müller, t. iii. p. 243, 6.; Lassen, Indische Alterthumskunde, b. ii. s. 380.)