« PreviousContinue »
an ancient Sabaean civilisation, remnants of which have been discovered in colossal monuments and in numerous inscriptions, written in a peculiar alphabet, generally called Himyaritic. Their age is doubtful, but some of them are supposed to date from before our era and to extend to the fourth century A.D. It is possible to distinguish traces of different dialects in these Sabaean inscriptions, but they are all closely connected with Arabic. The Sabaean language was probably spoken in the South of the Arabian peninsula till the advent' of Mohammedanism, which made Arabia the language of the whole of Yemen.
Ethiopic. In very early times a colony from Arabia, or, more correctly, from Sabaea, seems to have crossed to Africa. Here, south of Egypt and Nubia, an ancient and very primitive Semitic dialect, closely allied to Sabaean and Arabic, has maintained itself to the present day, the Ethiopic or Abyssinian, or Geez. We have translations of the Bible in Ethiopic, dating from the third or fourth century. Other works followed, all of a theological character.
There are inscriptions also in ancient Ethiopic, dating from the days of the kingdom of Axum, which have been referred to 350, and 500 A.D.
This ancient Ethiopic ceased to be spoken in the ninth century, but it remained in use as a literary language for a long time.
Beginning with the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a new language appears, the Amharic. In it the Semitic type has been intensely modified, probably owing to the fact that the tribes who spoke it were of Hamitic
origin. It is a spreading language, and has given rise in modern times to a new literature.
Other dialects, such as Tigré, Ehkili, and Harrari, so called from the localities in which they are spoken, have not yet been sufficiently explored to enable Semitic scholars to pronounce an opinion whether they are varieties of Amharic, or representatives of more ancient independent dialects 1.
The family likeness of the Semitic is quite as strong as that of the Aryan languages, nay even stronger. Their phonetic character is marked by the preponderance of guttural sounds, their etymological character by the triliteral form of most of the roots, and the manner in which these roots are modified by pronominal suffixes and prefixes; their grammatical character by the fixity of the vowels for expressing the principal modifications of meaning, a fixity which made it possible to dispense with writing the vowel signs. These characteristic features are so strongly developed that they render it quite impossible to imagine that a Semitic language could ever have sprung from an Aryan or an Aryan from a Semitic. Whether both could have sprung from a common source is a question that has often been asked, and has generally been answered according to personal predilections. Most scholars, I believe, would admit that it could not be shown that a common origin in far distant times is altogether impossible. But the evidence both for and against is by necessity so intangible and evanescent that it does not come within the sphere of practical linguistics.
1 The latest and best account of the Semitic languages is given by Nöldeke in the Cyclop. Britannica.
PRINCIPLES OF CLASSIFICATION.
Languages not Aryan and not Semitic. M HE two families of language which we have
1 hitherto examined, the Aryan and Semitic, are the most important to the student of religion. Not only are the principal Sacred Books of the East, with the exception of those of China, composed in Sanskrit, Pâli, Prakrit, Zend, Pehlevi, Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic, but the religious and mythological phraseology of the leading nations of Europe-Greeks, Romans, Germans, Slaves and Celts—are all embodied in Aryan and Semitic speech. It was necessary therefore to give a fuller account of these two families, so as to avoid the necessity of explaining again and again the linguistic evidence on which so much in the study of the great religions of the world depends.
With regard to the remaining families of speech, however, it will be sufficient if I place before you a short outline only. Though outside the pale of the Aryan and Semitic languages the progress of Comparative Philology has been very slow, still we know in many cases which languages in Asia, Africa, Polynesia and America are related and which are not, and to know this is of course of the greatest help in the study of religion. When we meet with the same religious ideas or religious customs in distant parts of the world, the question whether they are the result of our universal human nature or whether they have been transferred from one race to another, depends chiefly on the question whether there is a more or less distant relationship between the languages. If we know that the languages spoken on the East-coast of Africa from several degrees north of the equator to nearly the Cape belong to one and the same strongly marked family, that of the so-called Bântu languages, coincidences between the religious and mythological ideas of the races speaking these languages admit of an historical interpretation, and need not be accepted as the simple result of our common human faculties. If it could be proved that the Hottentots, the southern neighbours of these Bântu races, were really, as maintained by Lepsius and others, emigrants from Egypt, this again would throw a new light on certain coincidences in their customs and those of the ancient Egyptians.
The Hurons of the Anderdon reserve, visited by Mr. Horatio Hale in 1872 and 1874, tell the story of the earth being sustained by a tortoise, yet no one would think that they borrowed it from India. They likewise know of two supernatural beings who were to prepare the world to be the abode of man. The one was good, the other bad. The bad brother created monstrous creatures, the good brother innocent and useful animals, and though he could not destroy the evil animals altogether, he reduced them in size, so that man would be able to master them. Whatever beneficent work the good brother accomplished was counteracted by the bad brother. At last the two brothers fought, the evil spirit was overcome by
i Horatio Hale in Journal of American Folklore, vol. i, p. 180.
the good, but retired to the West where, as he declared, all men would go after death. All this might be taken from the Avesta ; yet though the two brothers are actually styled by the Húrons the Good Mind' and the ‘Bad Mind' (in Zend, Vanheus Mainyus, Anrô Mainyus), no one would suppose that the Hurons borrowed from Zoroaster or Zoroaster from the Hurons.
It is essential also that students of religion and mythology should possess a general knowledge of the grammatical character of the languages, for it has been clearly shown that such peculiarities as, for instance, the distinction of masculine, feminine, and neuter nouns, have been productive of a whole class of legends which are absent when the idea of gender has not been realised in language. My own conviction has always been that a truly scientific study of religion and mythology is impossible unless we know the language which forms the soil from which religion and mythology spring? All attempts therefore to study the religions, particularly of uncivilised tribes, whose dialects are but little known and whose linguistic affinities with other tribes are not yet clearly established, must be looked upon for the present as provisional only. These studies, though full of promise, are at the same time full of danger also.
Morphological Classification of Languages. It may be well to keep in mind that languages may be and have been classified, not only genealogically,
1 Professor Tiele, one of the highest authorities on Comparative Theology, agrees with me as to the intimate relationship between language, religion, and nationality. But he very wisely puts in a reservation, namely that, the farther history advances, the more does religion become independent of both language and nationality.'