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but one out of many dialects, though, no doubt, the most important; and the same holds good with regard to all so-called literary languages.
It is a mistake to imagine that dialects are everywhere corruptions of the literary language. Even in England, the local patois have many forms which are more primitive than the language of Shakespeare, and the richness of their vocabulary surpasses, on many points, that of the classical writers of any period. Dialects have always been the feeders rather than the channels of a literary language;' anyhow, they are parallel streams which existed long before one of them was raised to that temporary eminence which is the result of literary cultivation.
What Grimm says of the origin of dialects in general applies only to such as are produced by phonetic corruption. “Dialects,” he writes, 2 “ develop themselves progressively, and the more we look backward in the history of language the smaller is their number, and the less definite their features. All multiplicity arises gradually from an original unity.” So it seems, indeed, if we build our theories of language exclusively on the materials supplied by literary idioms, such as Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, and Gothic. No doubt these are the royal heads in the history of language. But as political history ought to be more than a chronicle of royal dynasties, so the historian of language ought never to
1 "Some people, who may have been taught to consider the Dorset dialect as having originated from corruption of the written English, may not be prepared to hear that it is not only a separate offspring from the AngloSaxon tongue, but purer, and in some cases richer, than the dialect which is chosen as the national speech.” — Barnes, Poems in Dorset Dialect, Preface, p. xiv.
2 Geschichte der Deutschen Sprache, s. 833.
lose sight of those lower and popular strata of speech from which these dynasties originally sprang, and by which alone they are supported.
Here, however, lies the difficulty. How are we to trace the history of dialects? In the ancient history of language, literary dialects alone supply us with materials, whereas the very existence of spoken dialects is hardly noticed by ancient writers.
We are told, indeed, by Pliny," that in Colchis there were more than three hundred tribes speaking different dialects; and that the Romans, in order to carry on any intercourse with the natives, had to employ a hundred and thirty interpreters. This is probably an exaggeration ; but we have no reason to doubt the statement of Strabo, who speaks of seventy tribes living together in that country, which, even now, is called “ the mountain of languages.” In modern times, again, when missionaries have devoted themselves to the study of the languages of savage and illiterate tribes, they have seldom been able to do more than to acquire one out of many dialects; and, when their exertions have been at all successful, that dialect which they had reduced to writing, and made the medium of their civilizing influence, soon assumed a kind of literary supremacy, so as to leave the rest behind as barbarous jargons. Yet, whatever is known of the dialects of savage tribes is chiefly or entirely due to missionaries; and it is much to be desired that their attention should again and again be directed to this interesting problem of the dialectical life of language which they alone have the means of elucidating. Gabriel Sagard, who was sent as a missionary to the Hurons in 1626, and published his “ Grand Voyage du pays des Hurons," at Paris, in 1631, states that among these North American tribes hardly one village speaks the same language as another ; nay, that two families of the same village do not speak exactly the same language. And he adds what is important, that their language is changing every day, and is already so much changed that the ancient Huron language is almost entirely different from the present. During the last two hundred years, on the contrary, the languages of the Hurons and Iroquois are said not to have changed at all. We read of missionaries2 in Central America who attempted to write down the language of savage tribes, and who compiled with great care a dictionary of all the words they could lay hold of. Returning to the same tribe after the lapse of only ten years, they found that this dictionary had become antiquated and useless. Old words had sunk to the ground, and new ones had risen to the surface; and to all outward appearance the language was completely changed.
1 Pliny, vi. 5; Hervas, Catalogo, i. 118. 2 Pliny depends on Timosthenes, whom Strabo declares untrustworthy (ii. p. 93, ed. Casaub.) Strabo himself says of Dioscurias, ovvépxeoja és αυτήν εβδομήκοντα, οι δε και τριακόσια έθνη φασίν οίς ουδέν των όντων ué el (x. p. 498). The last words refer probably to Timosthenes.
Nothing surprised the Jesuit missionaries so much as the immense number of languages spoken by the natives of America. But this, far from being a proof of a high state of civilization, rather showed that the various races of America had never submitted, for any length of time, to a powerful political concentration, and that they had never succeeded in founding great
1 Du Ponceau, p. 110.
2 S. F. Waldeck, Lettre à M. Jomard des environs de Palenque, Amérique Centrale. (“Il ne pouvait se servir, en 1833, d'un vocabulaire composé avec beaucoup de soin dix ans auparavant.")
national empires. Hervas reduces, indeed, all the dialects of America to eleven families 1 four for the south, and seven for the north ; but this could be done only by the same careful and minute comparison which enables us to class the idioms spoken in Iceland and Ceylon as cognate dialects. For practical purposes the dialects of America are distinct dialects, and the people who speak them are mutually unintelligible.
We hear the same observations everywhere where the rank growth of dialects has been watched by intelligent observers. If we turn our eyes to Burmah, we find that there the Burmese has produced a considerable literature, and is the recognized medium of communication not only in Burmah, but likewise in Pegu and Arakan. But the intricate mountain ranges of the peninsula of the Irawaddy2 afford a safe refuge to many independent tribes, speaking their own independent dialects; and in the neighborhood of Manipura alone Captain Gordon collected no less than twelve dialects. “ Some of them,” he says, are spoken by no more than thirty or forty families, yet so different from the rest as to be unintelligible to the nearest neighborhood.” Brown, the excellent American missionary, who has spent his whole life in preaching the Gospel in that part of the world, tells us that some tribes who left their native village to settle in another valley, became unintelligible to their forefathers in two or three generations.
In the north of Asia the Ostiakes, as Messerschmidt informs us, though really speaking the same language 1 Catalogo, i. 393.
2 Turanian Languages, p. 114. 3 Ibid., p. 233.
everywhere, have produced so many words and forms peculiar to each tribe, that even within the limits of twelve or twenty German miles, communication among them becomes extremely difficult. Castrèn, the heroic explorer of the languages of northern and central Asia, assures us that some of the Mongolian dialects are actually entering into a new phase of grammatical life; and that while the literary language of the Mongolians has no terminations for the persons of the verb, that characteristic feature of Turanian speech had lately broken out in the spoken dialects of the Buriates and in the Tungusic idioms near Njertschinsk in Siberia.
One more observation of the same character from the pen of Robert Moffat, in his “ Missionary Scenes and Labors in Southern Africa." “ The purity and harmony of language,” he writes, “ is kept up by their pitchos, or public meetings, by their festivals and ceremonies, as well as by their songs and their constant intercourse. With the isolated villagers of the desert it is far otherwise ; they have no such meetings; they are compelled to traverse the wilds, often to a great distance from their native village. On such occasions fathers and mothers, and all who can bear a burden, often set out for weeks at a time, and leave their children to the care of two or three infirm old people. The infant progeny, some of whom are beginning to lisp, while others can just master a whole sentence, and those still further advanced, romping and playing together, the children of nature, through their livelong day, become habituated to a language of their own. The more voluble condescend to the less precocious; and
i Turanian Languages, p. 30.