« PreviousContinue »
classification hardly suggested itself. The mind must be bewildered by the multiplicity of facts before it has recourse to division. As long as the only languages studied were Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, the simple division into sacred and profane, or classical and oriental, sufficed. But when theologians extended their studies to Arabic, Chaldee, and Syriac, a step, and a very important step, was made towards the establishment of a class or family of languages. No one could help seeing that these lan
1 Hervas (Catalogo, i. 37) mentions the following works, published during the sixteenth century, bearing on the science of language:
“ Introductio in Chaldaicam Linguam, Siriacam, atque Armenicam, et decem alias Linguas," a Theseo Ambrosio. Papiæ, 1539, 4to. " De Ratione communi omnium Linguarum et Litterarum Commentarius," a Theodoro Bibliandro. Tiguri, 1548, 4to. It contains the Lord's Prayer in fourteen languages. Bibliander derives Welsh and Cornish from Greek, Greek having been carried there from Marseilles, through France. He states that Armenian differs little from Chaldee, and cites Postel, who derived the Turks from the Armenians, because Turkish was spoken in Armenia. He treats the Persians as descendants of Shem, and connects their language with Syriac and Hebrew. Servian and Georgian are, according to him, dialects of Greek.
Other works on language published during the sixteenth century are:"Perion, Dialogorum de Linguæ Gallicæ origine ejusque cum Græca cognatione, libri quatuor.” Parisiis, 1554. He says that as French is not mentioned among the seventy-two languages which sprang from the Tower of Babel, it must be derived from Greek. He quotes Cæsar (de Bello Gallico, vi. 14) to prove that the Druids spoke Greek, and then derives from it the modern French language!
The works of Henri Estienne (1528–1598) stand on a much sounder basis. He has been unjustly accused of having derived French from Greek. See his “ Traicté de la Conformité du Langage français avec le grec;
" about 1566. It contains chiefly syntactical and grammatical remarks, and its object is to show that modes of expression in Greek, which sound anomalous and difficult, can be rendered easy by a comparison of analogous expressions in French.
The Lord's Prayer was published in 1548 in fourteen languages, by Bibliander; in 1591 in twenty-six languages, by Roccha (" Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana," a fratre Angelo Roccha: Romæ, 1591, 4to.); in 1592 in forty languages, by Megiserus ("Specimen XL. Linguarum et Dialectorum ab Hieronymo Megisero à diversis auctoribus collectarum quibus Oratio Dominica est expressa :” Francofurti, 1592); in 1593, in fifty languages, by the same author (“Oratio Dominica L. diversis linguis," cura H. Megiseri: Francofurti, 1593, 8vo.).
guages were most intimately related to each other, and that they differed from Greek and Latin on all points on which they agreed among themselves. As early as 1606 we find Guichard, in his “Harmonie Etymologique,” placing Hebrew, Chaldee, and Syriac as a class of languages by themselves, and distinguishing besides between the Romance and Teutonic dialects.
What prevented, however, for a long time the progress of the science of language was the idea that Hebrew was the primitive language of mankind, and that, therefore, all languages must be derived from Hebrew. The fathers of the Church never expressed any doubt on this point. St. Jerome, in one of his epistles to Damasus, writes : “ the whole of antiquity (universa antiquitas) affirms that Hebrew, in which the Old Testament is written, was the beginning of all human speech." Origen, in his eleventh Homily on the book of Numbers, expresses his belief that the Hebrew language, origin
1 At the beginning of the seventeenth century was published “ Trésor de l'Histoire des Langues de cet Univers,” par Claude Duret; seconde edition: Iverdon, 1619, 4to. Hervas says that Duret repeats the mistakes of Postel, Bibliander, and other writers of the sixteenth century.
Before Duret came Estienne Guichard, “l'Harmonie Etymologique des Langues Hebraique, Chaldaique, Syriaque – Greque — Latine, Françoise, Italienne, Espagnole - Allemande, Flamende, Anglaise, &c.:" Paris, 1606.
Hervas only knows the second edition, Paris, 1618, and thinks the first was published in 1608. The title of his book shows that Guichard distinguished between four classes of languages, which we should now call the Semitic, the Hellenic, Italic, and Teutonic: he derives, however, Greek from Hebrew.
I. I. Scaliger, in his “ Diatriba de Europæorum Linguis” (Opuscula varia: Parisiis, 1610), p. 119, distinguishes eleven classes: Latin, Greek, Teutonic, Slavonic, Epirotic or Albanian, Tartaric, Hungarian, Finnic, Irish, British in Wales and Brittany, and Bask or Cantabrian.
2 " Initium oris et communis eloquii, et hoc omne quod loquimur, Hebræam esse linguam qua vetus Testamentum scriptum est, universa antiquitas tradidit.” In another place (Isaia, c. 7) he writes, “Omnium enim fere linguarum verbis utuntur Hebræi."
ally given through Adam, remained in that part of the world which was the chosen portion of God, not left like the rest to one of His angels. When, therefore, the first attempts at a classification of languages were made, the problem, as it presented itself to scholars such as Guichard and Thomassin, was this: “As Hebrew is undoubtedly the mother of all languages, how are we to explain the process by which Hebrew became split into so many dialects, and how can these numerous dialects, such as Greek, and Latin, Coptic, Persian, Turkish, be traced back to their common source, the Hebrew ?
It is astonishing what an amount of real learning and ingenuity was wasted on this question during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It finds, perhaps, but one parallel in the laborious calculations and constructions of early astronomers, who had to account for the movements of the heavenly bodies, always taking it for granted that the earth must be the fixed centre of our planetary system. But, although we know now that the labors of such scholars as Thomassin were, and could not be otherwise than fruitless, it would be a most discouraging view to take of the progress of the human race, were we to look upon the exertions of eminent men in former ages, though they may have been in a wrong direction, as mere vanity and vexation of spirit. We must not forget that the very fact of the failure of such men contributed powerfully to a general conviction that there must be something wrong in the problem itself, till at last a bolder genius inverted the problem and thereby solved it. When books after books had been
1 “ Mansit lingua per Adam primitus data, ut putamus, Hebræa, in ea parte hominum, quæ non pars alicujus angeli, sed quæ Dei portio permansit."
written to show how Greek and Latin and all other languages were derived from Hebrew, and when not one single system proved satisfactory, people asked at last — “Why then should all languages be derived from Hebrew ?” — and this very question solved the problem. It might have been natural for theologians in the fourth and fifth centuries, many of whom knew neither Hebrew nor any language except their own, to take it for granted that Hebrew was the source of all languages, but there is neither in the Old nor the New Testament a single word to necessitate this view. Of the language of Adam we know nothing; but if Hebrew, as we know it, was one of the languages that sprang from the confusion of tongues at Babel, it could not well have been the language of Adam or of the whole earth, “when the whole earth was still of one speech.
Although, therefore, a certain advance was made towards a classification of languages by the Semitic scholars of the seventeenth century, yet this partial advance became in other respects an impediment. The purely scientific interest in arranging languages according to their characteristic features was lost sight of, and erroneous ideas were propagated, the influence of which has even now not quite subsided.
The first who really conquered the prejudice that 1 Guichard went so far as to maintain that as Hebrew was written from right to left, and Greek from left to right, Greek words might be traced back to Hebrew by being simply read from right to left.
2 Among the different systems of Rabbinical exegesis, there is one according to which every letter in Hebrew is reduced to its numerical value, and the word is explained by another of the same quantity; thus, from the passage,
"And all the inhabitants of the earth were of one language." (Gen. xi. 1), is deduced that they all spoke Hebrew, 175 iny being changed for its synonym 712, and w7777, (5+100+4+300=409) is substituted for its equivalent PN, (1+84400=409). Coheleth, ed. Ginsburg, p. 31.
Hebrew was the source of all language was Leibniz, the cotemporary and rival of Newton. “ There is as much reason,” he said, “for supposing Hebrew to have been the primitive language of mankind, as there is for adopting the view of Goropius, who published a work at Antwerp, in 1580, to prove that Dutch was the language spoken in Paradise.”] In a letter to Tenzel, Leibniz writes: “To call Hebrew the primitive language, is like calling branches of a tree primitive branches, or like imagining that in some country hewn trunks could grow instead of trees. Such ideas may be conceived, but they do not agree with the laws of nature, and with the harmony of the universe, that is to say with the Divine Wisdom.”
But Leibniz did more than remove this one great stumbling-block from the threshold of the science of language. He was the first to apply the principle of sound inductive reasoning to a subject which before him had only been treated at random. He pointed
1 Hermathena Joannis Goropii Becani: Antuerpiæ, 1580. Origines Antverpianæ, 1569. André Kempe, in his work on the language of Paradise, maintains that God spoke to Adam in Swedish, Adam answered in Danish, and the serpent spoke to Eve in French.
Chardin relates that the Persians believe three language to have been spoken in Paradise; Arabic by the serpent, Persian by Adam and Eve, and Turkish by Gabriel.
J. B. Erro, in his “El mundo primitivo," Madrid, 1814, claims Bask as the language spoken by Adam.
A curious discussion took place about two hundred years ago in the Metropolitan Chapter of Pampeluna. The decision, as entered in the minutes of the chapter, is as follows:- 1. Was Bask the primitive language of mankind? The learned members confess that, in spite of their strong conviction on the subject, they dare not give an affirmative answer. 2. Was Bask the only language spoken by Adam and Eve in Paradise ? On this point the chapter declares that no doubt can exist in their minds, and that " it is impossible to bring forward any serious or rational objection.” See Hennequin, “ Essai sur l'Analogie des Langues," Bordeaux, 1838, p. 60.
2 Guhrauer's Life of Leibniz, ii. p. 129.