Page images

work on-"The Language and Wisdom of the Indians," which, says Professor Miiller, " was like the wand of a magician." It pointed out the place where a new mine of knowledge should be opened, and it was not long before the most distinguished scholars of the day were sinking their shafts and raising the ore. The savants of the continent — as Bopp, Schlegel, Lassen, Rosen, and Burnouf—resorted to England for the purpose of copying manuscripts at the East India House, and receiving assistance from Wilkins, Colebrooke, Wilson, and other distinguished members of the old Indian civil service. The first elaborate comparison of the Sanskrit with the Greek and Latin was by Francis Bopp, in an essay published in 1816. Other works of his soon followed, and in 1833 appeared the first volume of his " Comparative Grammar of the Sanskrit, Zend, Greek, Latin, Lithuanian, Sclavonic, Gothic, and German languages." This work was not completed till 1852, nearly twenty years later. Other scholars entered the same rich field, and gathered from it very important and valuable fruits.

But why, it may naturally be asked, should the discovery of the Sanskrit have wrought so great a change in the classificatory study of languages? The answer is, that it furnished a key to the puzzle which had previously existed in the problem of languages. It showed that the Sanskrit was intimately related to the Greek, Latin, and most of the. European languages, not as their parent, but as a sister in the same family. And as the modern Italian, French, Spanish, and other Romance languages are sisters, derived from the Latin as their parent, so the Sanskrit, with its affiliated tongues, must have had a common parent. When this was ascertained, " all languages," says Muller, " seemed to fall of themselves into their right position;" i. e., they all took their places as members of groups having natural relations to each other. The classification, however, is not complete, there being some languages, as, for instance, the Chinese, respecting which philologists differ Jn opinion as to the place they should occupy.

Languages are comprehended, as is well known, by philologists under three general families — the Aryan, the Semitic, and the Turanian. My limits do not permit, nor does my object require, more than a bare enumeration of the different branches of these several families, with a" mention of the geographical limits to which they properly belong.

I. The Aryan * family, or, as it is frequently

* By some, Arian. Both forms are found in Mailer's writings. "The Sanskrit has Ary&. It is the same as the Arioi of Herodotus and other Greek writers.

[ocr errors]

called, the Indo-european, the former " being the most ancient name by which the ancestors of this family distinguished themselves" (Muller), the latter indicating the geographical extent of the family in Asia and Europe. The former is the shortest, and contains a valuable historical reminiscence; the latter shows at a glance the localities where it is to be found. It is subdivided into two groups—the northern or European, and the southern or Asiatic.

At the head of the Asiatic group we, of course, place the Sanskrit with its dialects, the old Pali, and the Prakrit, ancient and modern, including the Bengali, the Hindi, the Punjaubi, and, according to some,.the Urya, Marathi, and Guzerathi. Coming further west we find the languages of Afghanistan, Bokhara, Kurdistan, Media, Persia, Armenia, and some others, extending to the Black and Mediterranean Seas. The Europeap group embraces the Greek, the Latin, the Sclavonic including the Lithuanian, the Germanic, and the Celtic, with the various dialects derived from them.

II. The Semitic family, so called because spoken mostly among the descendants of Shem. This has usually been subdivided into three branches — the Hebrew, the Aramaic, and the Arabic.

The Hebrew — now a dead language— was spoken in Palestine from or before the days of Moses to the time of Nehemiah and the Maccabees, when it was replaced by the Chaldee or Aramaic. The language of the Phoenicians and Carthaginians belonged to this branch.

The Aramaic consists of the Syrian (ancient and modern) and the Chaldean, the geographical limits of which are Syria, Mesopotamia, and part of Babylonia. Here are classed the dialects of the Assyrian and Babylonian ruins, written in the cuneiform or arrow-shaped characters.

The Arabic had for its original seat the Arabian peninsula. Here it is still spoken by a compact mass of aboriginal inhabitants, and the ancient inscriptions there (Himyaritic) testify to its early presence. In its more modern form, it has spread over Egypt and the northern coast of Africa, and is largely spoken in Turkey and Persia — indeed, wherever the Mohammedan religion has extended.

There is a fourth group of languages, which by many are assigned a place in the Semitic family, but by others are established as a distinct family by themselves, called The Hamitic, from the Egyptian,— its most important member, — supposed to have been spoken by the descendants of Ham. This also is subdivided into three branches — the Egyptian — which was an older form of the modern Coptic, —the Ethiopian, the Libyan, or Berber, extending along the northern coast of Africa, and the Hottentot, embracing the dialects of tribes at the southern extremity of the continent. This family of languages present many analogies with the Semitic. Both the Egyptian and Babylonian, says Miiller, "though clearly marked with a Semitic stamp, represent two scions of the Semitic stem, which branched off at a period of history so early, or rather so long before the beginning of all history, that they may be considered as independent colonies, rather than as constituent parts of the kingdom of. Shem. The same remark applies to Semitic tribes in the north of Africa, the number and extent of which is almost daily increased by the researches of African travelers and missionaries." *

III. The third family of languages is the TuraNian. The name is derived from Tur, who, in an old Persian legend, was one of the three brothers from whom, it is said, the races of mankind are descended. Ire/, another brother, was the founder of the race of Iran, i. e., the native Persians; Tur, of the Turans, their neighbors on the north-east, between which two races was an incessant warfare, f It comprises all the languages of Asia and Europe not included in the two preceding- families, except,

* Languages spoken at the Seat of War, p. 23. t Whitney, Language, etc., p. 325.

« PreviousContinue »