Page images

Ural-Altaic Languages. West of China there stretches a cluster of languages which are on the point of leaving or have left the isolating stage, which show the development of agglutination in high perfection, and in some instances rise to the level of inflectional grammar. They are called Ural-Altaic or Ugro-Tataric. In one of my earliest essays, ' A Letter on the Turanian Languages,' 1854, I proposed to comprehend these languages under the name of Turanian. I went even further, and distinguished them as North-Turanian, in opposition to what in my youth I ventured to call the South-Turanian languages, namely the Tamulic, Taic, Gangetic, Lohitic, and Maluic. During the last thirty years, however, the principles of the Science of Language have been worked out with so much greater exactness, and the study of some of these languages has made such rapid progress, that I should not venture at present to suggest such wide generalisations, at all events so far as the Tamulic, Taic, Gangetic, Lohitic, and Malaic languages are concerned.

It is different, however, with the languages I comprehended as North-Turanian. They share not only common morphological features, but they are held together by a real genealogical relationship, though not a relationship so close as that which holds the Aryan or Semitic languages together.

Rask's and Prichard's Classification. Though I am responsible for the name Turanian, and for the first attempt at a classification of the Turanian languages in the widest sense, similar attempts to comprehend the languages of Asia and

Europe, which are not either Aryan or Semitic, under a common name had been made long ago by Rask, by Prichard and others. Rask admitted three families, the Thracian (Aryan), the Semitic, and the Scythian, the latter comprising most of what I call the Turanian languages. During his travels in India, Rask, in a letter dated 30th July, 1821, claimed for the first time the Dravidian languages also, Tamil, Telugu, etc., as decidedly Scythian 1.

The name Allophylian, proposed by Prichard, is in some respects better than Turanian.

Rask's Scythian and Prichard's Allophylian race was supposed to have occupied Europe and Asia before the advent of the Aryan and Semitic races, a theory which has lately been revived by Westergaard, Norris, Lenormant, and Oppert, who hold that a Turanian civilisation preceded likewise the Semitic civilisation of Babylon and Nineveh, that the cuneiform letters were invented by that Turanian race, and that remnants of its literature have been preserved in the second class of the Cuneiform Inscriptions, called sometimes Scythian, sometimes Median, and possibly in that large class of inscriptions now called Akkadian or Sumerian?

Whatever may be thought of these far-reaching

1 Professor De Lagarde has stated that F. Rückert lectured at Berlin in 1843 on the relationship of the Dravidian and Turanian languages, and that I received the first impulse from him. It may be so, though I am not aware of it. Anyhow, the first impulse came from Rask ; Samlede Afhandlinger af R. K. Rask, Kobenhavn, 1836, pp. 323 seq.

? The affinity of Akkadian and Sumerian with the Finno-Ugric languages has been disproved by Donner. Their affinity with the Altaic languages is maintained by Hommel, · Die Sumero-Akkaden, ein altaisches Volk,' in Correspondez-Blatt der deutschen Ges. für Anthropologie, xv. Jahrg. No. 8, 1884, p. 63.

theories, no one, I believe, doubts any longer a close relationship between Mongolic and Turkic, a wider relationship between these two and Tungusic, and a still wider one between these three and Finnic and Samoyedic. Hence the Mongolic, Turkic, and Tungusic languages have been comprehended under the name of Altaic, the Finnic languages are called Ugric (including Hungarian), while Samoyedic forms, according to some, a more independent nucleus. All five groups together constitute what is called the Ugro-Altaic family.

Vocalic Harmony. There is one peculiarity common to many of the Ugro-Altaic languages which deserves a short notice, the law of Vocalic Harmony. According to this law the vowels of every word must be changed and modulated so as to harmonise with the key-note struck by its chief vowel. This law pervades the Tungusic, Mongolic, Turkic, Samoyedic, and Finnic classes; and even in dialects where it is disappearing, it has often left traces of its former existence behind. The same law has been traced in the Tamulic languages also, particularly in Telugu, and in these languages it is not only the radical vowel that determines the vowels of the suffixes, but the vowel of a suffix also may react on the radical vowell. The vowels in Turkish, for instance, are divided into two classes, sharp and flat. If a verb contains a sharp vowel in its radical portion, the vowels of the terminations are all sharp, while the same terminations, if following a root with a flat vowel, modulate their vowels into a flat key. Thus

1 Cf. Caldwell, Dravidian Grammar, second ed., p. 78.

we have sev-mek, to love, but bak-mak, to regard, mek or mak being the termination of the infinitive. Thus we say ev-ler, the houses, but at-lar, the horses, ler or lar being the termination of the plural. · No Aryan or Semitic language has preserved a similar freedom in the harmonic arrangement of its vowels, while traces of it have been found among the most distant members of the Turanian family, as in Hungarian, Mongolian, Turkish, the Yakut, spoken in the north of Siberia, in Telugu, Tulu', and in dialects spoken on the eastern frontier of India.

1.In Tulu final short u is left unchanged only after words containing labial vowels (bududu, having left); it is changed into `ü after all other vowels (pandüdü, having said).'-Dr. Gundert.



The Ural-Altaio Family. W E now proceed to examine the principal languages belonging to the Ural-Altaic family.

The Samoyedic. The tribes speaking Samoyedic dialects are spread along the Yenisei and Ob rivers, and were pushed more and more North by their Mongolic successors. They have now dwindled down to about 16,000 souls. Five dialects, however, have been distinguished in their language by Castrén, the Yurakian, Tawgyan, Yeniseian, Ostjako-Samoyede, and Kamassinian, with several local varieties.

The vocalic harmony is most carefully preserved in the Kamassinian dialect, but seems formerly to have existed in all. The Samoyedic has no gender of nouns, but three numbers, singular, dual, and plural, and eight cases. The verb has two tenses, an Aorist (present and future) and a Preterite. Besides the indicative, there is a subjunctive and an imperative.

Altaic Languages. This name comprehends the Tungusic, Mongolic, and Turkic languages. Some of the Tungusic and Mongolic dialects represent the lowest phase of agglutination, which in some cases is as yet no more than juxtaposition, while in Turkish agglutination has

« PreviousContinue »