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indicative mood, of the present tense, in the active voice.
We have necessarily confined ourselves in our analysis of language to that family of languages to which our own tongue, and those with which we are best acquainted, belong; but what applies to Sanskrit and the Aryan family applies to the whole realm of human speech. Every language, without a single exception, that has as yet been cast into the crucible of comparative grammar, has been found to contain these two substantial elements, predicative and demonstrative roots. In the Semitic family these two constituent elements are even more palpable than in Sanskrit and Greek. Even before the discovery of Sanskrit, and the rise of comparative philology, Semitic scholars had successfully traced back the whole dictionary of Hebrew and Arabic to a small number of roots, and as every root in these languages consists of three consonants, the Semitic languages have sometimes been called by the name of triliteral.
To a still higher degree the constituent elements are, as it were, on the very surface in the Turanian family of speech. It is one of the characteristic features of that family, that, whatever the number of prefixes and suffixes, the root must always stand out in full relief, and must never be allowed to suffer by its contact with derivative elements.
There is one language, the Chinese, in which no analysis of any kind is required for the discovery of its component parts. It is a language in which no coalescence of roots has taken place : every word is a root, and every root is a word. It is, in fact, the most primitive stage in which we can imagine human language . to have existed. It is language comme il faut ; it is what we should naturally have expected all languages to be.
1 Each verb in Greek, if conjugated through all its voices, tenses, moods, and persons, yields, together with its participles, about 1300 forms.
There are, no doubt, numerous dialects in Asia, Africa, America, and Polynesia, which have not yet been dissected by the knife of the grammarian; but we may be satisfied at least with this negative evidence, that, as yet, no language which has passed through the ordeal of grammatical analysis has ever disclosed any but these two constituent elements,
The problem, therefore, of the origin of language, which seemed so perplexing and mysterious to the ancient philosophers, assumes a much simpler aspect with
We have learnt what language is made of; we have found that everything in language, except the roots, is intelligible, and can be accounted for. There is nothing to surprise us in the combination of the predicative and demonstrative roots which led to the building up of all the languages with which we are acquainted, from Chinese to English. It is not only conceivable, as Professor Pott remarks, “that the formation of the Sanskrit language, as it is handed down to us, may have been preceded by a state of the greatest simplicity and entire absence of inflections, such as is exhibited to the present day by the Chinese and other monosyllabic languages. It is absolutely impossible that it should have been otherwise. After we have seen that all languages must have started from this Chinese or monosyllabic stage, the only portion of the problem of the origin of language that remains to
be solved is this: How can we account for the origin of those predicative and demonstrative roots which form the constituent elements of all human speech, and which have hitherto resisted all attempts at further analysis ? This problem will form the subject of our two next Lectures.
We finished in our last Lecture our analysis of language, and we arrived at the result that predicative and demonstrative roots are the sole constituent elements of human speech.
We now turn back in order to discover how many possible forms of language may be produced by the free combination of these constituent elements; and we shall then endeavor to find out whether each of these possible forms has its real counterpart in some or other of the dialects of mankind. We are attempting in fact to carry out a morphological classification of speech, which is based entirely on the form or manner in which roots are put together, and therefore quite independent of the genealogical classification which, according to its very nature, is based on the formations of language handed down ready made from generation to generation.
Before, however, we enter on this, the principal subject of our present Lecture, we have still to examine, as briefly as possible, a second family of speech, which, like the Aryan, is established on the strictest principles of genealogical classification, namely, the Semitic.
The Semitic family is divided into three branches, the Aramaic, the Hebraic, and the Arabic.1
1 Histoire Générale et Système Comparé des Langues sémitiques, par Ernest Renan. Seconde édition. Paris, 1858.
The Aramaic occupies the north, including Syria, Mesopotamia, and part of the ancient kingdoms of Babylonia and Assyria. It is known to us chiefly in two dialects, the Syriac and Chaldee. The former name is given to the language which has been preserved to us in a translation of the Bible (the Peshito ?) ascribed to the second century, and in the rich Christian literature dating from the fourth. It is still spoken, though in a very corrupt form, by the Nestorians of Kurdistan, near the lakes of Van and Urmia, and by some Christian tribes in Mesopotamia ; and an attempt has been made by the American missionaries, stationed at Urmia, to restore this dialect to some grammatical correctness by publishing translations and a grammar of what they call the Neo-Syriac language.
The name of Chaldee has been given to the language adopted by the Jews during the Babylonian captivity. Though the Jews always retained a knowledge of their sacred language, they soon began to adopt the dialect of their conquerors, not for conversation only, but also for literary composition. The book of Ezra contains fragments in Chaldee, contemporaneous with the cuneiform inscriptions of Darius and Xerxes, and several of the apocryphal books, though preserved to us in Greek only, were most likely composed originally in Chaldee,
1 Peshito means simple. The Old Testament was translated from Hebrew, the New Testament from Greek, about 200, if not earlier. Ephraem Syrus lived in the middle of the fourth century. During the eighth and ninth centuries the Nestorians of Syria acted as the instructors of the Arabs. Their literary and intellectual supremacy began to fail in the tenth century.
It was revived for a time by Gregorius Barhebræus (Abulfaraj) in the thirteenth century. See Renan, p. 257.
2 Messrs. Perkins and Stoddard, the latter the author of a grammar, published in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. v. 1.
8 Renan, p. 214 seq., “Le chaldéen biblique serait un dialecte araméen légèrement hébraisé."