WILLIAM DWIGHT WHITNEY
LANGUAGE AND THE STUDY OF LANGUAGE,
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1892⁵, pp. 356-394
By the latter part of the nineteenth century, sufficient work had been done in linguistics to suggest the need for general handbooks. The most representative of these is Whitney's. In 1864 he was asked to present six lectures "on the principles of linguistic science" at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. These were expanded to twelve when presented in Boston, and published essentially in that form. In his preface Whitney acknowledges obligations to Heinrich Steinthal and August Schleicher, and refers to his frequent antagonist, the great popularizer Max Müller. Since Whitney was at home in the linguistic centers of Europe, his statements on the "science of language" may be taken as representative of views of the time. His book was first published in 1867. Bloomfield, Language 16, says of it and its successor The Life and Growth of Language (New York, 1874), "Today they seem incomplete, but scarcely antiquated, and still serve as an excellent introduction to language study." Readers may make their own judgements of Whitney's views through the segment presented here.
Lecture X surveys the problem which pervades much of nineteenth-century linguistics -- linguistic classification both genealogical and typological. It also deals with the relationship between language and other elements of culture, as well as race. Although some of Whitney's views may not have been immediately adopted, they are in large part the ones that we now hold, such as the view that there is little evidence for proposing a relationship between Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic; or that there is little likelihood of establishing interrelationships beyond a certain time, on the basis of the materials we now know. As Bloomfield indicated, the matter of Lecture X is therefore scarcely antiquated. Whitney's interest in Schleicher's attempts at linguistic formalization is also in keeping with current activities.
William Dwight Whitney (1827-1894) was called by Jespersen, Language 88, "the leading exponent of general linguistics after the death of Schleicher." We hold him in high regard for his temperate views; as Jespersen remarked, "he was opposed to all kinds of mysticism, and words were to him conventional signs." All who have used his Sanskrit Grammar (Leipzig and Boston, 1896³) can scarcely have failed to be amused by the first sentences of its preface: "It was in June, 1875, as I chanced to be for a day or two in Leipzig, that I was unexpectedly invited to prepare the Sanskrit grammar for the Indo-European series projected by Messrs. Breitkopf and Härtel. After some consideration, and consultation with friends, I accepted the task, and have since devoted to it what time could be spared from regular duties, after the satisfaction of engagements earlier formed. If the delay was a long one, . . ." In four years he completed, presumably in his spare time, the grammar which has remained standard ever since. A professor at Yale University, Whitney is responsible for its early eminence in linguistics. Any member of the Linguistic Society of America knows the veneration still accorded him.
Classification of languages. Morphological classifications; their defects. Schleicher's morphological notation. Classification by general rank. Superior value of genetic division. Bearing of linguistic science on ethnology. Comparative advantages and disadvantages of linguistic and physical evidence of race. Indo-European languages and race mainly coincident. Difficulty of the ethnological problem. Inability of language to prove either unity or variety of human species. Accidental correspondences; futility of root comparisons.
Our inquiries into the history and relations of human languages have last brought us to a review and brief examination of their groupings into families, so far as yet accomplished by the labors of linguistic students. The families may be briefly recapitulated as follows. First in rank and importance is the Indo-European, filling nearly the whole of central and southern Europe, together with no inconsiderable portion of south-west Asia, and with colonies in every quarter of the globe; it includes the languages of nearly all the modern, and of some of the most important of the ancient, civilized and civilizing races. Next is the Semitic, of prominence in the world's history second only to the Indo-European, having its station in Arabia and the neighboring regions of Asia and Africa. Then follows the loosely aggregated family of the Scythian dialects, as we chose to term them, ranging from Norway almost to Behring's Straits, and occupying a good part of central Asia also, with outliers in southern Europe (Hungary and Turkey), and possibly in southernmost Asia (the Dekhan, or peninsula of India). Further, the southeastern Asiatic or monosyllabic family, in China and Farther India, and countries adjacent to these; the Malay-Polynesian and Melanesian, scattered over the numberless islands of the Pacific and Indian Oceans; the Hamitic, composed of the Egyptian and its congeners, chiefly in northern Africa; the South-African, filling Africa about and below the equator; and the American, covering with its greatly varied forms our western continent, from the Arctic Ocean to the Antarctic. Besides these great families, we took note of several isolated languages or lesser groups, of doubtful or wholly unknown relationship: as those in extreme north-eastern Asia, in the Caucasian mountains, in central Africa; as the Basque in the Pyrenees, the Albanian in north-western Greece, the Yenisean in Siberia, and the extinct Etruscan in northern Italy.
The scheme of classification, as thus drawn out, was a genetical one, founded on actual historical relationship. Each family or group was intended to be made up of those tongues which there is found sufficient reason to regard as kindred dialects, as common descendants of the same original. We were obliged, however, to confess that our classification had not everywhere the same value, as the evidences of relationship were not of an equally unequivocal character in all the families, or else had been thus far incompletely gathered in and examined. Where, as in the case of Indo-European and Semitic speech, we find structural accordance combined with identity of material, as traced out and determined by long-continued and penetrating study on the part of many investigators, there the unity of the families is placed beyond the reach of reasonable doubt. But it is unfortunately true that these two are the only groups of wide extent and first-rate importance respecting which the linguistic student can speak with such fullness of confidence; everywhere else, there is either some present deficiency of information, which time may or may not remove, or the conditions are such that our belief in the genetic relationship must rest upon the more questionable ground of correspondence in structural development. We may by no means deny that morphological accordance is capable of rising to such a value as should make it a sufficient and convincing evidence of genetic unity; but it is evidently of a less direct and unmistakable character than material identity, and requires for its estimation a wider range of knowledge, a more acute insight, and a more cautious judgement. If two languages agree in the very material of which their words and apparatus of grammatical inflection are composed, to a degree beyond what can possibly be regarded as the effect of accident or of borrowing, the conclusion that they are akin is inevitable; nothing but community of linguistic tradition can explain such phenomena: but agreement in the style only in which words are composed and thought expressed admits of being attributed to cause other than historical -- to equality of mental endowment, of intellectual force and training. We may look hopefully forward to the time when linguistic science shall have reached such a pitch of perfection, shall have so thoroughly mastered the infinitely varied phenomena of universal human language and traced out their causes, that she shall be able to separate with certainty the effects of ethnic capacity from those of transmitted habit: but that time has certainly not yet come; and, as the value of morphological accordances as evidence of genetic connection has hitherto been repeatedly overrated, so it will long, and always in unskilful or incautious hands, be peculiarly liable to a like mistreatment.
We have already had occasions to refer to and describe some of the principal structural peculiarities which are illustrated in the variety of human tongues; but it will be worth while here to bestow a few words farther upon them, and upon the systems of morphological classification to which they have served as foundation.
The languages of mankind have been divided into two grand classes, the monosyllabic (otherwise called isolating, or radical) and the polysyllabic (or inflectional). To the former belong the tongues of China and Farther India, with their relatives in the same quarter of Asia, and perhaps one or two idioms in other parts of the world. In them there is a formal identity of root and word; none of their vocables are made up of radical and formative elements, the one giving the principal idea, the other indicating its limitation, application, or relation; they possess no formally distinguished parts of speech. Usage may assign to some of their roots the offices which in inflectional tongues are filled by inflective endings, suffixes or prefixes; it may also stamp some as adjectives, others as nouns, as pronouns, as verbs, and so on: yet means of this sort can only partially supply their lack of the resources possessed by more happily developed languages; categories undistinguished in expression are but imperfectly, if at all, distinguished in apprehension; thought is but brokenly represented and feebly aided by its instrument. To the latter, or inflectional class, belong all the other languages of the world, which, whatever and however great their differences, have at least this in common, that their signs of category and relation are not always separate words, but parts of other words, that their vocables are, to some extent, made up of at least two elements, the one radical, the other formative. There can be, it is evident, no more fundamental difference in linguistics structure than this. And yet, it is not an absolute and determinate one. It lies in the nature of the case that, as the inflectional languages have grown out of a monosyllabic and noninflecting stage, there should be certain tongues, as there are in other tongues certain forms, which stand so closely upon the line of division between the two stages, that it is hard to tell whether they are the one thing or the other. In our own tongue, there is no definite division-line to be drawn anywhere in the series of steps that conducts from a mere collocation to a pure form-word -- from house floor to house-top, from tear-filled to tearful, from godlike to godly; and, in like manner, it is often a matter of doubt, in languages of low development, where isolation ends and where a loose agglutination begins. Thus, even the Chinese, the purest type of all the isolating structure, is by some regarded as, in its colloquial forms, and yet more in some of its dialects, a language of compounded words; and the possession of one or two real formative elements has been claimed for the Burmese; while the Himalaya is likely to furnish dialects whose character, as isolated or agglutinative, will be much disputed.
But the main objection to the classification we are considering is not so much its want of absolute distinctness (a defect incident to all classification, in every department of science) as its one-sidedness: it is too much like the proverbial lover's division of the world into two parts, that where the beloved object is and that where she is not: it leaves almost all human tongues in one huge class together. Accordingly a much more popular and current system distinguishes three primary orders, separating the mass of inflectional languages into such as are agglutinative, or attach their formative elements somewhat loosely to a root which is not liable to variation; and such as are inflective, or unite more thoroughly their radical and formative elements, and make internal changes of the root itself bear their part, either primarily or secondarily, in the expression of grammatical relations. The distinction between these three orders is well expressed by Professor Max Müller in the following terms:
- Roots may be used as words, each root preserving its full independence.
- Two roots may be joined together to form words, and in these compounds one root may lose its independence.
- Two roots may be joined together to form words, and in these compounds both roots lose their independence.1
No better scheme of division, of a simple and comprehensive character, has yet been devised than this, and it is likely to maintain itself long in use. It faithfully represents, in the main, three successive stages in the history of language, three ascending grades of linguistic development. But its value must not be overrated, nor its defects passed without notice. In the first place, it does not include all the possible and actually realized varieties in the mode of formation of words. It leaves altogether out of account that internal change of vowels which, as was shown in the eighth lecture, is the characteristic and principal means of grammatical inflection in the Semitic tongues. The distinctions of qatala 'he killed', qutila 'he was killed', qattala 'he massacred', qātala 'he tried to kill', aqtala 'he caused to kill' and the like, are not explainable by any composition of roots and loss of their independence, even though the somewhat analogous differences of man and men, lead and led, sing and sang, sit and set, do admit of such explanation. In the second place, it is liable to something of the same reproach of one-sidedness which lies against the former, the double method of classification. It puts into a separate class, as inflective languages, only two families, the Indo-European and the Semitic: these are, to be sure, of wide extent and unapproached importance; yet the mass of spoken tongues is still left in one immense and heterogeneous body. And finally, a yet more fundamental objection to the scheme is this heterogeneity, which characterizes not its middle class alone, but its highest also. It classes Indo-European and Semitic speech together, as morphologically alike, while yet their structural discordance is vastly greater than that which separates Indo-European from many of the agglutinative tongues -- in some respects, even greater than that which separates Indo-European from the generality of agglutinative and from the isolating tongues. Not only are the higher Scythian dialects, as the Finnish and Hungarian, almost inflective, and inflective upon a plan which is sufficiently analogous with the Indo-European, but, from a theoretical point of view (however the case may be historically), Chinese, Scythian, and Indo-European are so many steps in one line and direction of progress, differing in degree but not in kind: Semitic speech, on the other hand, if it started originally from the same or a like center, has reached an equally distant point in a wholly different direction. The two inflective families may lie upon the same circumference, but they are separated by the whole length of the diameter, being twice as far from one another as is either from the indifferent middle. A less fundamental discordance, perhaps, but an equal variety of structure, belongs to those tongues which are classed together as agglutinative. The order includes such extremes in degree of agglutination as the barren and almost isolating Manchu or Egyptian, on the one hand, and, on the other, the exuberantly aggregative Turkish and the often excessively agglomerative American or Basque; it includes such differences in the mode of agglutination as are presented by the Scythian, which makes its combinations solely by suffixes, and the Malay or South-African, which form theirs mainly by prefixes. Here, again, it may be made a question whether the morphological relationship of Scythian and Indo-European be not closer than that of Scythian and Malay. The principle which divides the former is, it is true, reasonably to be regarded as of a higher order than that which divides the two latter; yet it is more teleological than morphological; it concerns rather the end attained than the means of attainment. The reach and value, too, of the distinctively inflective principle, as developed in Indo-European language, is, as I cannot but think, not infrequently overrated. In no small part of the materials of our own tongue, for example, the root or theme maintains its own form and distinction from the affixes, and these their distinction from one another, not less completely than is the case in Scythian. All the derivatives of love, as love-d, lov-ing, lov-er, loverly; the derivatives of true, as tru-ly, tru-th, tru-th-ful, tru-th-ful-ly, un-tru-th-ful-ly -- these, and the host of formations like them, are strictly agglutinative in type: but we do not recognize in them any inferiority as means of expression to those derivatives in which the radical part has undergone a more marked fusion, or disguising change. Loved from love is as good a preterit as led from lead, or sang from sing; truth from true is as good an abstract as length from long, or filth from foul; nor is the Latin lædo-r, 'I am hurt', from lædo, 'I hurt', inferior to the nearly equivalent Arabic qutila, from qatala. The claim might plausibly enough be set up that the unity which the Scythian gives to its derivative words by making the vowels of their suffixes sympathize with that of the principal or radical element, is at least as valuable, in itself considered, as the capacity of an Indo-European root to be phonetically affected by the ending that is attached to it -- a subjection of the superior to the inferior element. Not that the actual working-out of the latter principle in the tongues of our family has not produced results of higher value than the former has led to; but this may be owing in great measure to the way in which the two have been handled respectively.
The immensely comprehensive order of agglutinative languages is sometimes reduced a little by setting apart from it a polysynthetic or incorporative class, composed of the Basque and the American family. This, however, is rather a subdivision of one of the members of the triple system than the establishment of a new, a quadruple, scheme of classification.
Professor Müller2 seeks to find a support and explanation of the threefold division of human language which we are now considering by paralleling it with the threefold condition of human society, as patriarchal, nomadic, and political. Monosyllabic or "family languages" are in place, according to him, among the members of a family, whose intimacy, and full knowledge of one another's dispositions and thoughts, make it possible for each to understand the other upon the briefest and most imperfect hints. Agglutinative or "nomadic languages" are required by the circumstances of a wandering and unsettled life; the constantly separating and reassembling tribes could not keep up a mutual intelligence if they did not maintain the integrity of the radical elements of their speech. Inflective or "state languages" are rendered possible by a regulated and stable condition of society, where uninterrupted intercourse and constant tradition facilitate mutual comprehension, notwithstanding the fusion and integration of root and affix. Tne comparison is ingenious and entertaining, but it is too little favored by either linguistic philosophy or linguistic history to be entitled to any other praise. It would fain introduce into the processes of linguistic life an element of reflective anticipation, of prevision and deliberate provision, which is altogether foreign to them. That wandering tribes should, in view of their scanty intercourse, their frequent partings to be followed by possible meetings, conclude that they ought to keep their roots unmodified, is quite inconceivable; nor is it easy to see what purpose the resolution should serve, if the endings are at the same time to be suffered to vary so rapidly that mutual unintelligibility is soon brought about. In every uncultivated community, the language is left to take care of itself; it becomes what the exigencies of practical use make it, not what a forecasting view of future possibilities leads its speakers to think that it might with advantage be made to be: let two tribes be parted from one another, and neither has any regard to the welfare of its fellow in shaping its own daily speech. In point of fact, moreover, Indo-European languages were inflective, were "state languages", long before the tribes had formed states -- while many of them were as nomadic in their habits as the wildest of the so-called Turanian tribes. And to denominate the immense and highly-organized Chinese empire a mere exaggerated family, and account for the peculiarities of its speech by reference to the conditions of a family, is fanciful in the extreme. No nomenclature founded on such unsubstantial considerations has a good claim to the acceptance of linguistic scholars; and the one in question has, it is believed, won no general currency.
A very noteworthy attempt has been made within a short time by Professor Schleicher, of Jena,3 to give greater fulness and precision to the morphological classification and description of language, by a more thorough analysis, and a kind of algebraic notation, of morphological characteristics. A pure root, used as a word without variation of form or addition of formative elements, he denotes by a capital letter, as A: a connected sentence expressed by a series of such elements, as is sometimes the case in Chinese, he would represent by A B C, and so on. Such a sentence we may rudely illustrate by an English phrase like fish like water in which each word is a simple root or theme, without formal designation of relations.4 A root which, while retaining its substantial independence, is so modified in signification and restricted in application as to form an auxiliary or adjunct to another root (which was shown in the last lecture to be a frequent phenomenon in the isolating languages), is marked by an accented letter, as A': thus, in the English shall like would be represented by A' + A; shall have put, by A' + B' + A: the interposed sign of addition indicating the closeness of relation between the elements. The position of the accented letters in the formula would point out whether the auxiliaries are placed after the main word, as in Burmese, or before it, as in Siamese, or on either or both sides, as sometimes in Chinese.
If, now, the formative element is combined with the radical into a single word, it is indicated by a small letter, which is put before or after the capital which stands for the root, according to the actual position of the elements in combination. Thus, if we represent true by A, untrue would be aA; truly or truth would be Aa; untruly, aAb; untruthfully, aAbcd; and so on. Expressions of this kind belong to the agglutinative type of structure; and they are, it is plain, capable of very considerable variation, so as to be made to denote the various kinds and degrees of agglutination. It is possible, for example, to distinguish the endings of inflection from those of derivation, or elements of pronominal from those of predicative origin, by the use of a different series of letters (as the Greek) to indicate one of the classes: thus, truths might be Aaα, but truthful, Aab; babalarumdan, in Turkish (see above, p. 318), might be Aαβγ, but sevishdirilememek, Aabcdef. An adroit use of such means of distinction might enable one even to set forth with sufficient clearness the peculiarities and intricacies of polysynthetic tongues.
Again, an inflective change of the root itself for the expression of grammatical relations is denotable by exponents attached to the root-symbol. Thus, man being A, men would be Aa; men's, Aaa, sang, sung, song, from sing, would be denoted by Aa, Ab, Ac; spoken from speak, would be Aaa; its German counterpart, gesprochen, aAab. And in the Semitic tongues, where the root never appears without a vocalization which is formal and significant, the constant radical emblem would be Aa.5
Compounds, finally, would be expressed in this method by putting side by side the symbols expressive of their separate members, the capital letters with their modifications and adjuncts. House-top, would be AB; songwriter, AaBa; and so on.
It is unnecessary to explain with any more of detail Professor Schleicher's system of morphological notation, or to spend many words in pointing out its convenience and value. It may evidently be made a means of apprehending distinctly, and setting forth clearly, the main structural features of any language. It will not, indeed, enable us to put in a brief and compact form of statement the whole morphological character of every spoken tongue. Most tongues admit no small variety of formations; each must be judged by its prevailing modes of formation, by the average of highest and lowest modes, by their respective frequency of application, and the purposes they are made to serve. It does not help us to a simple and facile scale and classification of all the dialects of mankind; but this is to be imputed to it as a merit, not as a fault: it thus fairly represents the exceeding variety of languages, the complexity of the characteristics which distinguish them, and their incapacity of separation into a few sharply defined classes.
No single trait or class of traits, however fundamental may be its importance, can be admitted as a definite criterion by which the character of a language shall be judged, and its rank determined. We saw reason above to challenge the absolute superiority of the inflective principle, strongly as it may indicate a valuable tendency in language-making. Certainly it is wholly conceivable that some language of the agglutinative class may decidedly surpass in strength and suppleness, in adaptedness to its use as the instrument and aid of thought, some other language or languages of the inflective class. Not morphological character alone is to be taken account of; for not every race of equal mental endowment has originated and shaped a language, any more than an art, of equivalent formal merit. Some one needed item of capacity was wanting, and the product remains unartistic; or the work of the earliest period, which has determined the grand features of the whole after-development, was unadroitly performed; the first generations left to their successors a body of constraining usages and misguiding analogies, the influence of which is not to be shaken off; and the mental power of the race is shown by the skill and force, with which it wields an imperfect instrument. Many a tongue thus stands higher, or lower, in virtue of the sum of its qualities, than its morphological character would naturally indicate. The Chinese is one of the most striking instances of such a discordance; though so nearly formless, in a morphological sense, it is nevertheless placed by Wilhelm von Humboldt and Steinthal6 in their higher class of "form languages", along with the Indo-European and Semitic, as being a not unsuitable incorporation of clear logical thought; as, though not distinctly indicating relations and categories, yet not cumbering their conception, their mental apprehension, by material adjuncts which weaken and confuse the thought.
But further, apart from this whole matter of morphological form, of grammatical structure, of the indication, expressed or implied, of relations, another department contributes essentially to our estimate of the value of a language: namely, its material content, or what is signified by its words. The universe, with all its objects and their qualities, is put before the language-makers to be comprehended and expressed, and the different races, and tribes, and communities, have solved the problem after a very different fashion. Names-giving implies not merely the distinction of individual things, but no less, classification and analysis, in every kind, and of every degree of subtlety. There are conceptions, and classes of conceptions, of so obvious and practical character, that their designations are to be found in every language that exists or ever has existed: there are hosts of others which one community, or many, or the most, have never reached. Does a given tongue show that the race which speaks it has devoted its exclusive attention to the more trivial matters in the world without and within us, or has it apprehended higher things? Has it, for example, so studied and noted the aspects of nature that it can describe them in terms of picturesque power ? Has it distinguished with intellectual acuteness and spiritual insight the powers and operations of our internal nature, our mind and soul, so that it can discuss psychological questions with significance and precision? Any dialect, isolating or inflective, monosyllabic or polysynthetic, may be raised or lowered in the scale of languages by the characteristics which such inquiries bring to light. In these, too, there is the widest diversity, depending on original capacity, on acquired information and civilization, and on variety of external circumstance and condition -- a diversity among different branches of the same race, different periods of the same history, and, where culture and education introduce their separating influences, between different classes of the same community. Our earliest inquiries (in the first three lectures) into the processes of linguistic growth showed us that the changes which bring about this diversity, the accretions to the vocabulary of a tongue, the deepening of the meaning of its words, are the easiest of all to make, the most pervading and irrepressible in their action, throughout every period of its existence. Here, then, more than in any other department, it is practicable for later generations to amend and complete the work of earlier; and yet, such is the power of linguistic habit that, even here, original infelicities sometimes adhere to a language during its whole development.
To make out a satisfactory scheme of arrangement for all human tongues upon the ground of their comparative value, accordingly, will be a task of extreme difficulty, and one of the last results reached by linguistic science. It will require a degree of penetration into the inmost secrets of structure and usage, an acuteness of perception and freedom from prejudice in estimating merits of diverse character, and a breadth and reach of learning, which will be found attainable only by a few master-minds. Great play is here afforded for subjective views, for inherited prepossessions, for sway of mental habits. Who of us can be trusted fairly to compare the advantages of his own and of any other language?
There can be no question that, of all the modes of classification with which linguistic scholars have had to do, the one of first and most fundamental importance is the genetical, or that which groups together, and holds apart from others, languages giving evidence of derivation from the same original. It underlies and furnishes the foundation of all the remaining modes. There can be no tie between any two dialects so strong as that of a common descent. Every great family has a structural character of its own, whereby, whatever may be the varying development of its members, it is made a unit, and more or less strikingly distinguished from the rest. Whatever other criterion we may apply is analogous in its character and bearings with the distinction of apetalous, monopetalous, and polypetalous, or of monogynous, digynous, etc., or of exogenous and endogenous, or of phenogamous and cryptogamous, in the science of botany -- all of them possessing real importance in different degrees, variously crossing one another, and marking out certain general divisions; while the arrangement of linguistic families corresponds with the division of plants into natural orders, founded upon a consideration of the whole complicate structure of the things classified, contemplating the sum of their characteristic qualities; fixing, therefore, their position in the vast kingdom of nature of which they are members, and determining the names by which they shall be called. The genetical classification is the ultimate historical fact which the historical method of linguistic study directly aims at establishing. With its establishment are bound up those more general historical results, for the ethnological history of mankind, which form so conspicuous a part of the interest of our science.
To subjects connected with this department of interest, the bearing of linguistic science on ethnology, we have next to turn our attention, occupying with them the remainder of the present lecture.
One of the first considerations which will be apt to strike the notice of any one who reviews our classification of human races according to the relationship of their languages, is its non-agreement with the current divisions based on physical characteristics. The physicists, indeed, are far from having yet arrived at accordance in their own schemes of classification, and the utter insufficiency of that old familiar distinction of Caucasian, Mongol, Malay, African, and American, established by Blumenbach, and probably learned by most of us at school, is now fully recognized. But it does not seem practicable to lay down any system of physical races which shall agree with any possible scheme of linguistic races. Indo-European, Semitic, Scythian, and Caucasian tongues are spoken by men whom the naturalist would not separate from one another as of widely diverse stock; and, on the other hand, Scythian dialects of close and indubitable relationship are in the mouths of peoples who differ as widely in form and feature as Hungarians and Lapps; while not less discordance of physical type is to be found among the speakers of various dialects belonging to more than one of the other great linguistic families.
Such facts as these call up the question, as one of high practical consequence, respecting the comparative value of linguistic and of physical evidence of race, and how their seeming discrepancy is to be reconciled. Some method of bringing about a reconciliation between them must evidently be sought and found. For neither linguistic nor physical ethnology is a science of classification merely; both claim to be historical also. Both are working toward the same end -- namely, a tracing out of the actual connection and genealogical history of human races -- and, though each must follow its own methods, without undue interference from without, they cannot labor independently, careless each of the other's results. To point out the mode of reconciliation, to remove the difficulties which lie in the way of harmonious agreement between the two departments of ethnological science, I shall not here make the least presence; such a result can be attained only when the principles and conclusions of both are advanced and perfected far beyond their present point. All that we can attempt to do is to notice certain general considerations bearing upon the subject, and requiring not to be lost from sight by either party; and especially, to point out the limitations and imperfections of both physical and linguistic evidence, and how necessary it is that each should modestly solicit and frankly acknowledge the aid of the other.
How language proves anything concerning race, and what it does and does not prove, was brought clearly to light in the course of our earliest inquiries into its nature and history. What we then learned respecting the mode of acquisition and transmission of each man's, and each community's, "native tongue" was sufficient to show us the total error of two somewhat different, and yet fundamentally accordant, views of language, which have been put forth and defended by certain authorities -- the one, that speech is to man what his song is to the bird, what their roar, growl, bellow are to lions, bears, oxen; and that resemblances of dialect therefore no more indicate actual genetic connection among different tribes of men than resemblances of uttered tone indicate the common descent of various species of thrushes, or of bears, inhabiting different parts of the world: the other, that language is the immediate and necessary product of physical organization, and varies as this varies: that an Englishman, a Frenchman, and a Chinaman talk unlike one another because their brains and organs of articulation are unlike; and that all Englishmen talk alike, as do all Frenchmen, or all Chinamen, because, in consequence of their living amid similar physical conditions, and their inheritance of a common race-type, their nervous and muscular systems minutely correspond. And doctrines akin with these are more or less distinctly and consciously implied in the views of those who hold that language is beyond the reach of the free-agency of men, and can be neither made nor changed by human effort. All who think thus virtually deny the existence of such a thing as linguistic science, or reduce it to the position of a subordinate branch of physiology: speech becomes a purely physical characteristic, one among the many which by their common presence make up man, and by their differences distinguish the different varieties of men; and it would be for the physicist to determine, here, as in the case of other physical characteristics, how far its joint possession indicated specific unity, or how far its diversities of kind indicated specific variety. All these false theories are brushed away at once by our recognition of the fact that we do not produce our speech from within, but acquire it from without ourselves; that we neither make nor inherit the words we use, whether of our native tongue or of any other, but learn them from our instructors.
But from this it also follows that no individual's speech directly and necessarily marks his descent; it only shows in what community he grew up. Language is no infallible sign of race, but only its probable indication, and an indication of which the probability is exposed to very serious drawbacks. For it is evident that those who taught us to speak, of whose means of expression we learned to avail ourselves, need not have been of our own kith and kin. Not only may individuals, families, groups of families, of almost every race on earth, be, as at present in America, turned into and absorbed by one great community, and made to adopt its speech, but a strange tongue may be learned by whole tribes and nations of those who like our negroes, are brought away from their native homes, or, like the Irish, have lived long under a foreign yoke, or like the Celts of ancient Gaul and Spain, have received laws, civilization, and religion from another and a superior race. Languages unnumbered and innumerable have disappeared from off the face of the earth since the beginning of human history; but only in part by reason of the utter annihilation of the individuals who had spoken them; more often, doubtless, by their dispersion, and incorporation with other communities, of other speech. Everywhere, too, where the confines of different forms of speech meet, there goes on more or less of mixture between them, or of effacement of the one by the other. Yet, on the other hand, mixture of language is not necessarily proof of mixture of race. We can trace the genesis of a very large part of our own vocabulary to the banks of the Tiber, but hardly the faintest appreciable portion of our ancestry is Roman. We obtained our Latin words in the most strangely roundabout way: they were brought us by certain Germanic adventurers, the Normans, who had learned them from a mixed people, the French, chiefly of Celtic blood; and these, again, had derived them from another heterogenous compound of Italian races, among whom the Latin tribe was numerically but a feeble element.
Of such nature are the difficulties in the way of our inferring the race-connections of an individual or of a community with certainty from the relations of the language which either speaks. They are of undeniable force and importance, and must be borne constantly in mind by every one who is pursuing investigations, and laying down conclusions, in linguistic ethnology. They drive him to seek after some other concurrent test of descent, which shall serve to check and control his own results; and they make him court and welcome the aid of the physicist, as well as of the archaeologist and the historian.
But, notwithstanding this, their consequence, and their power to invalidate linguistic evidence, must not be overrated. They concern, after all, what in the grand sum of human history are the exceptions to a general rule. It still remains true that, upon the whole, language is a tolerably sure indication of race. Since the dawn of time, those among whom individuals were born, of whom they learned how to express their mental acts, have been usually of their own blood. Nor do these difficulties place linguistic evidence at any marked disadvantage as compared with the physical. They are, to no small extent, merely the effect, on the side of language, of the grand fact which comes in constantly to interfere with ethnological investigations of every kind: namely, that human races do not maintain themselves in purity, that men of different descent are all the time mingling, mixing their blood, and crossing all their race-characteristics. Fusion and replacement of languages are impossible, except when men of different native speech are brought together as members of the same community, so that there takes place more or less of an accompanying fusion of races also; and then the resulting language stands at least a chance of being a more faithful and intelligible witness of the mixture than the resulting physical type. That the modern French people, for example, is made up of a congeries of Celtic, Germanic, and Italian elements is to a certain extent -- although only the aid of recorded history enables us fully to interpret the evidences -- testified by the considerable body of the Celtic and Germanic words mixed with the Latin elements of the French language; but no physicist could ever have derived the same conclusion from a study of the French type of structure. The physicist claims that there may be a considerable infusion of the blood of one race into that of another, without perceptible modification of the latter's race-type; the intruded element, if not continuously supplied afresh, is overwhelmed and assimilated by the other and predominant one, and disappears: that is to say, as we may interpret the claim, its peculiarities are so diluted by constant remixture that they become at last inappreciable. In any such case, then, traces discoverable in the language may point out what there is no other means of ascertaining. It is true that, on the other hand, the spread and propagation of a language may greatly exceed that of the race to which it originally belonged, and that the weaker numerical element in a composite community may be the one whose dialect becomes the common tongue of all. Thus the Latin swept away the primitive tongues of a great part of southern and central Europe, and has become mingled with the speech of all civilized nations, in the Old world and the New. But we are not rashly to infer that such things have happened over and over again in the history of the world. We have rather to inquire what influences make possible a career like that of the Latin, what lends the predominant and assimilating force to a single element where many are combined. And, as was pointed out in the fourth lecture, we shall find that only superior culture and the possession of a literature can give to any tongue such great extensibility. The Persians, the Mongols, have at one period and another exercised sway over an empire not less extensive than the Roman, but their languages were never spread far beyond the limits of the peoples to which they properly belonged. The German tribes, too, conquered in succession nearly every kingdom of Europe; but it was only in order to lose themselves and their dialects together, almost undiscoverably, in the communities and languages into which they entered. Nay, even the wide-spread Greek colonies, with the superiority of Greek culture to aid them, were not able to make the Greek the tongue of many nations. There was an organizing and assimilating force in Roman dominion which the world has nowhere else seen equalled. And if the career of the Arabic furnishes something like a parallel to that of the Latin, it is due, not to the sword of Islam, but to the book, and to the doctrine and policy which the book enjoined and the sword imposed. Since, then, such movements must be connected with culture and literature, they cannot but leave their record in written history, and find there their explanation. Nor could there occur in every region or in every period such an inpouring and assimilation of nationalities as is now going on among us; it is only possible under the conditions of civilized life in the nineteenth century, and the historical conditions which have been created here. The wild and uncultivated races of the earth generally are simply maintaining themselves by growth from generation to generation, taking in no immigrants, sending out no emigrants. Culture makes an astonishing difference in the circumstances and fates of those portions of mankind over which its influence is extended, and it would be the height of folly to transfer to barbarous races and uncivilized periods of human history analogies and conclusions drawn from the history of cultivated nations and tongues. The farther we go back into the night of the past, the greater is the probability that the limits of race and speech approximately coincide, and that mixture of either is accompanied by that of the other.
And if, in certain circumstances, a race may change its tongue, while yet retaining in its physical structure evidence of its descent, a race may also undergo a modification of physical type, and still offer in its speech plain indications of its real kindred. If the talk of our colored citizens does not show that they were brought from Africa, neither do the shape and bearing of the Magyars show that they came from beyond the Ural, nor those of the Osmanli Turks that their cousins are the nomads of the inhospitable plateau of central Asia. This is the grand drawback to the cogency of physical evidence of race, and it fully counterbalances those which affect the cogency of linguistic evidence, rendering the aid of the linguist as necessary to the physical ethnologist as is the latter's to the linguistic ethnologist. Physical science is as yet far from having determined the kind, the rate, and the amount of modification which external conditions, as climate and mode of life, can introduce into a race-type; but that, within certain undefined limits, their influence is very powerful, is fully acknowledged. There is, to be sure, a party among zoologists and ethnologists who insist much upon the dogma of "fixity of type," and assert that all human races are original; but the general tendency of scientific opinion is in the other direction, toward the fuller admission of variability of species. The first naturalists are still, and more than ever, willing to admit that all the differences now existing among human races may be the effects of variation from a single type, and that it is at least not necessary to resort to the hypothesis of different origins in order to explain them. In the fact that Egyptian monuments of more than three thousand years' antiquity show us human varieties and canine varieties, bearing the same characteristics as at the present day, there is nothing to disturb this conclusion; for, on the one hand, a period of three thousand years is coming to be regarded as not including a very large part of man's existence on the earth; and, on the other hand, such a fact only proves the persistency which a type may possess when fully developed, and is of very doubtful avail to show the originality of the type. Something analogous is to be seen in language. The speech of our rude Germanic ancestors of the same remote period, had we authentic record of it, would beyond question be found to have possessed already a general character clearly identifying it with Germanic tongues still existing, and sharply sundering it from Greek, from Slavonic, from Celtic, and all the other Indo-European branches; yet we do not doubt that the Germanic type of speech is derived, a secondary one. In settling all these controverted points, in distinguishing between original diversity and subsequent variation, in establishing a test and scale for the possibilities and the rate of physical change, the physical ethnologist will need all the assistance which historical investigations of every kind can furnish him; and the greater part must come to him from the student of language.
As the Indo-European family of language is that one of which the unity, accompanying a not inconsiderable variety of physical type in the peoples who speak its dialects, is most firmly established, and as therefore it may naturally be regarded as furnishing a prominent illustration of the bearing of linguistic conditions on physical inquiries into the history of man, it is perhaps worth our while to refer to a theory respecting Indo-European speech which has found of late a few supporters of some note and authority, and which, if accepted, would altogether deprive it of ethnological value. The assertion, namely, is put forth, that the apparent unity of languages of this family is not due to a prevailing identity of descent in the nations to which they belong, but to the influence of some single tribe, whose superior character, capacity, and prowess enabled it to impose its linguistic usages on distant and diverse races. By some it is even assumed that the correspondence of words and forms exhibited by the so-called Indo-European tongues are not fundamental and pervading, but superficial, consisting in scattered particulars only, in such designations of objects and conceptions as one race might naturally make over into the keeping of another, along with a knowledge of the things designated. This assumption, however, the expositions, and reasonings of our fifth and seventh lectures will have shown to be wholly erroneous: the correspondences in question are fundamental and pervading: they constitute an identity which can only be explained by supposing those who founded these tongues to have been members together of the same community. Others, who know the European languages too well to maintain respecting their relations any so shallow and untenable theory, yet try to persuade themselves that the analogy of the Latin will sufficiently account for their extension over so wide a region; that, as Etruscans, Celts, Iberians, Germans, learned to speak a tongue of Roman origin, so the populations of Europe and Asia, of diverse lineage, learned to speak a common Indo-European dialect; and that, accordingly, the differences of Greek, Sanskrit, Celtic, and Slavonic are parallel to those of Italian, French, and Spanish. But this theory, though more plausible and defensible than the other, is hardly less untenable. It exhibits a like neglect of another class of linguistic principles: of those, namely, which underlie and explain the abnormal extension of tongues like the Latin and the Arabic: we have more than once had occasion to set them forth above. In order to establish an analogy between the history of Latin and that of Indo-European speech, and to make the former account satisfactorily for the latter, it would be necessary to prove, or at least to render probable, the existence in a very remote antiquity of those conditions which in modern times have been able to give such a career to the language of Rome. But, so far as we can at present see, there must have been a total lack of the required conditions. Force of character, warlike prowess, superiority of inherent mental capacity, undeveloped or partially developed, the Indo-Europeans may probably have possessed, as compared with the more aboriginal races of Europe; but these are not the forces which enable the language of a small minority to stifle that of the masses of a people and to take its place; if it were so, southern Europe would now be talking Germanic instead of Romanic dialects. The rude beginnings of a higher civilization, as metals, instruments, seeds, domestic animals, arts, may possibly have been theirs; yet even these would merely engraft upon the languages of the peoples to whom they were made known certain words and phrases. Only the resources of an enlightened culture, supplemented by letters, literature, and instruction, could give to any tongue the expansive force demanded by the theory we are considering; and of these, it is needless to say, no traces are to be found in Indo-European antiquity. We have no good ground, then, for doubting that the great extension of the languages of our family was effected by the usual causes which act among uncultivated tongues: that is to say, mainly by the growth, spread and emigration of a single race; by its occupancy of ever new territory, accompanied with the partial destruction and partial expulsion, sometimes also with the partial incorporation and absorption, of the former inhabitants; the element of population which inherited the speech and institutions of the original Indo-European tribe being ever the predominant one in each new community that was formed. How many fragments of other races may have been worked in during the course of the family's migrations -- how far the purity of blood of one or another of its branches or sub-branches may have been thus affected by successive partial dilutions, so that some of their present peculiarities of type are attributable to the mixture -- is, of course, a legitimate matter for inquiry, and one upon which we may even look for information from their languages, when these shall have been more narrowly examined. But upon the whole, in the light of our present knowledge, we are justified in regarding the boundaries of Indo-European speech as approximately coinciding with those of a race; the tie of language represents a tie of blood.
If the limitations and imperfections of the two kinds of evidence are thus in certain respects somewhat evenly balanced, there are others in which linguistic evidence has a decidedly superior practical value and availability. The differences of language are upon a scale almost infinitely greater than those of physical structure. They are equal in their range and variety to those found in the whole animal kingdom, from the lowest organisms to the highest, instead of being confined within the limits of the possible variation of a single species. Hence they can be much more easily and accurately apprehended, judged, and described. Linguistic facts admit of being readily collected, laid down with authentic fidelity, and compared coolly, with little risk of error from subjective misapprehension. They are accessible to a much greater number of observers and investigators. Exceptional capacity, special opportunity, and a very long period of training, are needed to make a reliable and authoritative describer of race-characteristics. It is true, that to distinguish from one another very diverse types, like the European and African, is a task which presents no difficulty. But, though we should all, in nine cases out of ten, recognize a native of Ireland at sight, who among us could trust himself to make a faithful and telling description of the ideal Irishman, such that, by its aid, a person not already by long experience made familiar with the type would recognize it when met with? The peculiarities of the native Irish dialect, however, are capable of being made unmistakably plain to even the dullest apprehension. A few pages or phrases, often even a few words, brought back by a traveller or sojourner in distant lands from some people with which he has made acquaintance, are likely to be worth vastly more for fixing their place in the human family than the most elaborate account he can give of their physical characteristics. Photography, with its utter truth to nature, can now be brought in as a most valuable aid to physical descriptions, yet cannot wholly remove the difficulty, giving such abundant illustration as shall enable us to analyze and separate that which is national and typical from that which is individual and accidental. This last, indeed, is one of the marked difficulties in physical investigations. Two persons may readily be culled from two diverse races who shall be less unlike than two others that may be chosen from the same race. While, on the contrary, words and phrases taken down from the lips of an individual, or written or engraved by one hand, can be no private possession; they must belong to a whole community.
The superior capacity of the remains of language to cast light upon the affinities of races needs only be illustrated by an instance or two. What could have impregnably established the ethnological position of the ancient Persians like the decipherment of the inscriptions of Darius and his successors, which show that they spoke a dialect so nearly akin with those of Bactria and India that it can be read by the latter's aid? What could exhibit the intimate mixture of races and cultures in the valley of the Euphrates and Tigris, and the presence there of an important element which was neither Indo-European, nor Semitic, except the trilingual inscriptions of the Mesopotamian monuments? What a pregnant fact in African ethnology will be, if fully and irrefragably proved, the relationship of the Hottentot dialects with the ancient Egyptian! What but the preserved fragments of their speech could have taught us that the Etruscans had no kindred with any other of the known races inhabiting Europe? And when would physical science ever have made the discovery that the same thing is true of the Basques, whom yet it has all the opportunity which it could desire to study? But the most important of the advantages belonging to linguistic science, in its relation to ethnology, is that to which allusion was made at the very outset of our discussions: namely, that language tells so much more respecting races than lies within the reach or scope of the physicist. In every part and particle, it is instinct with history. It is a picture of the internal life of the community to which it belongs; in it their capacities are exhibited, their characters expressed; it reflects their outward circumstances, records their experiences, indicates the grade of knowledge they have attained, exhibits their manners and institutions. Being itself an institution, shaped by their consenting though only half-conscious action, it is an important test of national endowment and disposition, like political constitution, like jural usage, like national art. Even where it fails to show strict ethnic descent, it shows race-history of another sort -- the history of the influence which, by dint of superior character and culture, certain races have exercised over others. The spread of the Latin has swept away and obliterated some of the ancient landmarks of race, but it has done so by substituting another unity for that of descent; its present ubiquity illustrates the unparalleled importance of Rome in the history of humanity.
For these reasons, and such as these, the part which language has to perform in constructing the unwritten history of the human race must be the larger and more important. There are points which physical science alone can reach, or upon which her authority is superior: but in laying out and filling up the general scheme, and especially in concerting what would else be a barren classification into something like a true history, the work must chiefly be done by linguistic science.
The considerations we have been reviewing will, it is hoped, guide us to a correct apprehension of the relations of these two branches of ethnological study. Discord between them, questions as to respective rank, there is or should be none. Both are legitimate and necessary methods of approaching the solution of the same intricate and difficult question, the origin and history of man on the earth -- a question of which we are only now beginning to understand the intricacy and difficulty, and which we are likely always to fall short of answering to our satisfaction. There was a time, not many years since, when the structure and history of the earth-crust were universally regarded as a simple matter, the direct result of a few fiats, succeeding one another within the space of six days and nights: now, even the school-boy knows that in the brief story of the Genesis are epitomized the changes and developments of countless ages, and that geology may spend centuries in tracing them out and describing them in detail, without arriving at the end of her task. In like manner has it been supposed that the first introduction of man into the midst of the prepared creation was distant but six or seven thousand years from our day, and we have hoped to be able to read the record of so brief a career, even back to its beginning; but science is accumulating at present so rapidly, and from so many quarters, proofs that the time must be greatly lengthened out, and even perhaps many times multiplied, that this new modification of a prevailing view seems likely soon to win as general an acceptance as the other has already done. And the different historical sciences are seeing more and more clearly their weakness in the presence of so obscure a problem, and confessing their inability to give categorical answers to many of the questions it involves.
Such a confession on the part of linguistic science, with reference to one point of the most fundamental interest and importance in human history, it next devolves upon us to make.
A second question, namely, which cannot but press itself upon our attention, in connection with the survey we have taken of the grand divisions of human speech, is this: What is the scope and bearing of the division into families? Does it separate the human race into so many different branches, which must have been independent from the very beginning? Does linguistic science both fail to find any bond of connection between the families and see that no such bond exists? Or, in short, what has the study of language to say respecting the unity of the human race?
This is an inquiry to which, as I believe, the truths we have established respecting the character and history of language will enable us readily to find a reply. But that reply will be only a negative one. Linguistic science is not now, and cannot hope ever to be, in condition to give an authoritative opinion respecting the unity or variety of our species. This is not an acknowledgement which any student of language likes to make; it may seem to savor, too, of precipitation on the part of him who makes it; of a lack of faith in the future of his science -- a science which, although it has already accomplished so much, has yet confessedly only begun its career. That those linguistic scholars -- for such there are -- are over-hasty and over-credulous who suppose themselves to have proved already, by the evidence of language, that all mankind are akin by blood as well as by nature, will be conceded by many who are yet unwilling to give up all hope of seeing the proof one day satisfactorily made out. Let us, then, enter into a brief examination of the point, and a consideration of the grounds upon which is founded the view we have taken.
To show, in the first place, that linguistic science can never claim to prove the ultimate variety of human races will be no long or difficult task. That science, as we have seen, regards language as something which has grown up, in the manner of an institution, from weak and scanty beginnings; it is a development out of germs; it started with simple roots, brief in form and of indeterminate meaning, by the combination of which words came later into being. And the existing differences of speech among men are, at least to a very considerable extent, the result, not of original diversity, but of discordant growth. Now we cannot presume to set any limits to the extent to which languages once the same may have grown apart from one another. It matters not what opinion we may hold respecting the origin of the first germs of speech: if we suppose them to have been miraculously created and placed in the mouths of the first ancestors of men, their present differences would not justify us in believing that different sets must have been imparted to different pairs, or groups, of ancestors; for the same influences which have so obscured the common descent of English, Welsh, and Hindustani, for example, may, by an action more prolonged or more intense, have transformed germs originally common beyond even the faintest possibility of recognition. And if, on the other hand, we regard them as originated by the same agency which has brought about their later combinations and mutations, by men, namely, using legitimately and naturally the faculties with which they have been endowed, under the guidance of the instincts and impulses implanted in them -- and no linguist, certainly, as such, has any right to deny at least the possibility of this origin of language -- then the case is yet clearer. For we cannot venture to say how long a time the formation of roots may have demanded, or during what period universal language may have remained nearly stationary in this its inceptive stage. It is entirely conceivable that the earliest human race, being one, should have parted into disjoined and thenceforth disconnected tribes before the formation of any language so far developed and of so fixed forms as to be able to leave traceable fragments in the later dialects of the sundered portions. These possibilities preclude all dogmatic assertion of the variety of human species on the part of the linguist. Among all the known forms of speech, present and past, there are no discordances which are not, to his apprehension, fully reconcilable with the hypothesis of unity of race, allowing the truth of that view of the nature and history of speech which is forced upon him by his researches into its structure. It is certain that no one, upon the ground of linguistic investigations alone, will ever be able to bear witness against the descent of all mankind from a single pair.
That no one, upon the same grounds, can ever bear witness in favor of such descent is, as it appears to me, equally demonstrable, although not by so simple and direct an argument, and although the opinions of eminent authorities are at variance upon the point, and may fairly continue to be so for some time to come, until more of the fundamental facts and principles in linguistic science shall have been firmly established and universally accepted than is the case at present. We have here no theoretical impossibility to rely upon; no direct argument from necessary conditions, cutting off all controversy. As the linguist is compelled to allow that a unique race may have parted into branches before the development of abiding germs of speech, so he must also admit the possibility that the race may have clung together so long, or the development of its speech have been so rapid, that, even prior to its separation, a common dialect had been elaborated, the traces of which no lapse of time, with all its accompanying changes, could entirely obliterate. Nay, he was bound to keep that possibility distinctly before his mind in all his researches,to cherish a hope of making language prove community of blood in all members of the human family, until conscientious study should show the hope to be groundless. The question was one of fact, of what existing and accessible testimony was competent to prove; it was to be settled only by investigation. But I claim that investigation, limited as its range and penetration have hitherto confessedly been, has already put us in condition to declare the evidence incompetent, and the thesis incapable of satisfactory proof.
In order to make clear the justice of this claim, it will be necessary to recapitulate some of the results we have won in our previous discussions.
The processes of change which are constantly at work in language, altering both the form and the meaning of its constituent words, were set forth and illustrated with sufficient fulness in our early lectures. The degree of alteration which they may effect, and the variety of their results, are practically unlimited. As they can bring utter apparent diversity out of original identity, so they can impress an apparent similarity upon original diversity. Hence the difficulties which beset etymological science, its abuse by the unlearned and incautious, the occasional seeming arbitrariness and violence of its procedures, even in skilled and scientific hands. Voltaire's witty saying, that in etymologizing the vowels are of no account at all, and the consonants of very little -- to which he might have added, that the meaning is equally a matter of indifference -- was true enough as regarded the science of his day; but we must also confess that in a certain way it possesses an applicability to that of our own times. Even modern etymology acknowledges that two words can hardly be so different, in form or in meaning, or in both form and meaning, that there is not a possibility of their being proved descendants of the same word: any sound, any shade of idea, may pass by successive changes into any other. The difference between the old hap-hazard style of etymologizing and the modern scientific methods lies in this: that the latter, while allowing everything to be theoretically possible, accepts nothing as actual which is not proved such by sufficient evidence; it brings to bear upon each individual case a wide circle of related facts; it imposes upon the student the necessity of extended comparison and cautious education; it makes him careful to inform himself as thoroughly as circumstances allow respecting the history of every word he deals with.
Two opposing possibilities, therefore, interfere with the directness of the etymologist's researches, and cast doubt on his conclusions. On the one hand, forms apparently unconnected may turn out to be transformations of the same original: since, for example, the French évêque and the English bishop, words which have no common phonetic constituent, are yet both descended, within no very long time, from the Greek episkopos; since our alms comes from the Greek eleēmosunē; since our sister and the Persian χāhar are the same word; since the Latin filius has become in Spanish hijo; and so on. On the other hand, what is of not less importance in its bearing upon the point we are considering, he must be equally mindful that an apparent coincidence between two words which he is comparing may be accidental and superficial only, covering radical diversity. How easy it is for words of different origin to arrive at a final identity of form, as the result of their phonetic changes, is evident enough from the numerous homonyms in our own language, to which we have more than once had occasion to refer. Thus, sound in "safe and sound" comes from one Germanic word, and sound in "Long Island Sound" from another; while sound, 'noise', is from the Latin sonus. So we have a page of a book from the Latin pagina, and a page in waiting from the Greek paidion, 'a little boy', we have cleave, 'to stick together', from the Anglo-Saxon clifian, and cleave, 'to part asunder', from the Anglo-Saxon clufan; and numberless other instances of the same kind. Fortuitous coincidences of sound like these, in words of wholly independent derivation, are not less liable to occur between the vocables of different languages than between those of the same language; and they do so occur. It is, further, by no means infrequently the case that, along with a coincidence, or a near correspondence, or a remoter analogy, of sound, there is also an analogy, or correspondence, or coincidence, of meaning -- one so nearly resembling that which would be the effect of a genetic relationship between the two words compared as to give us an impression that they must be related, when in fact they are not. Resemblances of this sort, of every degree of closeness, do actually appear in abundance among languages related and unrelated, demonstrably as the result of accident alone, being mistaken for signs of genetic connection only by incompetent or heedless inquirers. Thus, an enterprising etymologist, turning over the pages of his Hebrew lexicon, discovers that the Hebrew root kophar means 'cover'; and he is at once struck with this plain proof of the original identity of Hebrew and English: whereas, if he only looks a little into the history of the English word, he finds that it comes, through the Old French covrir, from the Latin coöperire, made up of con and opertre; which latter is gotten by two or three steps of derivation and composition, from a root par, 'pass': and this puts upon him the necessity, either of giving up his fancied identification, or of making out some degree of probability that the Hebrew word descended, through a like succession of steps, from a like original. Another word-genealogist finds that lars in ancient Etruscan meant 'a chief, a headman', and he parades it as an evidence that the Etruscan was, after all, an Indo-European language: for is not lars clearly the same with the Scottish word laird, our lord? He is simply regardless of the fact that laird and lord are the altered modern representatives of the Anglo-Saxon hlaford, with which lars palpably has about as little to do as with brigadier-general or deputy-sheriff. A Polynesian scholar, intent on proving that South Sea islanders and Europeans are tribes of the same lineage, points out the almost exact coincidence of the Polynesian mate and the modern Greek mati, both signifying 'eye': which is just as sensible as if he were to compare a (hypothetical) Polynesian busa, 'a four-wheeled vehicle', with our bus from omnibus): for mati in Greek is abbreviated from ommation, diminutive of omma, 'eye', and has lost its originally significant part, the syllable om, representing the root op, 'see.'
These are only a few samples of false etymologies, selected from among the thousands and tens of thousands with which all linguistic literature, ancient and modern, teems; which have been drawn out, with infinite expenditure of ill-directed ingenuity and misapplied labor, from the vocabularies of tongues of every age and every clime. There is not one among them which has not a much higher primâ facie plausibility than the identity of évêque and bishop, or of filius and hijo, or than numberless others of the true etymologies established upon sufficient evidence, by the scientific student of languages: but their value is in seeming only; they are baseless and worthless, mere exemplifications of the effects wrought by the process we are considering -- the process which brings out accidental analogies, phonetic and significant, between words historically unrelated. The greater portion of false etymologies are to be ascribed directly to its influence; and their number is a sufficient and striking proof of the wide extent of its action, the frequency and variety of the results it produces.
The fact is well established, that there are no two languages upon the face of the earth, of however discordant origin, between which may not be brought to light by diligent search a goodly number of these false analogies of both form and meaning, seeming indications of relationship, which a little historical knowledge, when it is to be had, at once shows to be delusive, and which have no title to be regarded as otherwise, even if we have not the means of proving their falsity. It is only necessary to cast out of sight the general probabilities against a genetic connection of the languages we are comparing (such as their place and their period, their nearer connections, and the pervading discordance of their structure and material), and then to assume between them phonetic transitions not more violent than are actually proved to be exhibited by other tongues -- and we may find a goodly portion of the vocabulary of each hidden in that of the other. Dean Swift has ridiculed the folly which amuses itself with such comparisons and etymologies, in a well-known caricature, wherein he derives the names of ancient Greek worthies from honest modern English elements, explaining Achilles as 'a kill-ease', Hector as 'hacked-tore', Alexander the Great as "all eggs under the grate!" and so on. This is very absurd; and yet, save that the absurdity of it is made more palpable to us by being put in terms of our own language and another with which we are somewhat familiar, it is hardly worse than what has been done, and is done, in all soberness, by men claiming the name of linguistic scholars. It is even now possible for such a man to take an African vocabulary, and sit deliberately down to see what words of the various other languages known to him, he can explain out of it, producing a batch of correspondences like these: abetele, 'a begging beforehand' (which he himself defines as composed of a, formative prefix, be, 'beg', and tele, 'previously'), and German betteln, 'beg' (from the simpler root bit, bet, our bid); idaro, 'that which becomes collected into a mass', and English dross; basile, 'landlord' (ba for oba, 'master', si, 'of', and ile, 'land'), and Greek basileus, 'king': and the comparer, who is especially versed in the mathematical doctrine of chances, gravely informs us that the chances against the merely accidental character of the last coincidence are "at least a hundred million to one." More than one unsound linguist has misled himself and others by calculating, in the strictest accordance with mathematical rules, how many thousand or million of chances to one there are against the same word meaning the same thing in two different and unconnected languages. The calculation is futile, and its result a fallacy. The relations of language are not to be so simply reduced to precise mathematical expression. If words were wholly independent entities, instead of belonging to families of connected derivatives; if they were of such precise constitution and application as so many chemical formulas; if the things they designated were as distinct and separate individualities as are fixed stars, or mineral species, or geographical localities -- then the calculations of chances would be in place respecting them. But none of these things are true. The evidences on which linguistic science relies to prove genetical connection are not identities of form combined with identities of meaning: forms may differ as much as hijo and filius; meanings may differ as much as German bekommen, 'get', and English become, 'come to be' and become, 'suit'; form and meaning may differ together to any extent, and yet the words may be one and the same, and good evidences of relationship between the languages to which they respectively belong. Not literal agreement, but such resemblances, nearer or more distant, clearer or more obscure, as are proved by supporting facts to have their ground in original identity, make satisfactory evidence of common descent in language.
Here, then, is the practical difficulty in the way of him who would prove all human speech a unit. On the one hand, those fortuitous coincidences and analogies which any given language may present with any other with which it is compared form a not inconsiderable body, an appreciable percentage of its general stock of words. On the other hand, the historical coincidences and analogies traceable between two languages of common descent are capable of sinking to as low, or even to a lower, percentage of its vocabulary. That is to say, there may be two related tongues, the genuine signs of whose relationship shall be less numerous and conspicuous than the apparent but delusive signs of relationship of two others which derive themselves from independent origins. The former have been so long separated from one another, their changes in the meantime have been so pervading, that their inherited points of resemblance are reduced in number and obscured in character, until they are no longer sufficient to create a reasonable presumption in favor of their own historical reality; they are undistinguishable from the possible results of chance. As we saw in the sixth lecture, evidences of genetic connection are cumulative in their character; no single item of correspondence is worth anything until there are found kindred facts to support it; and its force is strengthened with every new accession. And, in the comparison of languages, the point is actually reached where it becomes impossible to tell whether the few coincidences which we discover are the genuine traces of a community of linguistic tradition, or only accidental, and evidence of nothing. When we come to holding together the forms of speech belonging to the diverse families, linguistic testimony fails us; it no longer has force to prove anything to our satisfaction.
To demonstrate that this is so, we do not need to enter into a detailed examination of two tongues claimed to be unrelated, and show that their correspondences fall incontestably short of the amount required to prove relationship: we may take a briefer and directer argument. We have seen that the established linguistic families are made up of those dialects which exhibit traceable signs of a common historic development; which have evidently grown together out of the radical stage (unless, as in the case of the monosyllabic tongues, they have together remained stationary in that stage); which possess, at least in part, the same grammatical structure. There are some linguistic scholars who cherish the sanguine hope that trustworthy indications of this kind of correspondence may yet be pointed out between some two or three of the great families; but no one whose opinion is of one straw's weight thinks of such a thing with reference to them all. So discordant is the whole growth of many of the types of speech that we can find no affinities among them short of their ultimate beginnings: if all human speech is to be proved of one origin, it can only be by means of an identification of roots. To give the investigation this form, however, is virtually to abandon it as hopeless. The difficulties in the way of a fruitful comparison of roots are altogether overwhelming. To trace out the roots of any given family, in their ultimate form and primitive signification, is a task whose gravity the profoundest investigators of language are best able to appreciate. Notwithstanding the variety of the present living dialects of the Indo-European family, and the noteworthy preservation of original forms on the part of some among them, their comparison would be far enough from furnishing us the radical elements of Indo-European speech. Even the aid of the ancient tongues but partially removes the difficulty; and, but for the remarkable and exceptional character of the Sanskrit, our knowledge of that stage in the history of our language out of which its present grammatical structure was a development would be but scanty and doubtful; while we have been compelled to confess (in the seventh lecture) that we know not how far even so primitive a stage may lie from the absolute beginning. The corresponding condition of Semitic speech, its foundations of triliteral roots, is to no small extent restorable; but we have seen that these roots are themselves the products of a strange and highly perplexing deyelopment, beneath which their actual origin is not yet discernible. Among the different great branches of the Scythian family, the recognizable radical coincidences are hardly sufficient, if they are sufficient, to establish their unity as proceeding from the same stock: a reliable basis for comparison with other families is certainly not furnished us here. Nor was the Scythian the only family in establishing whose unity we were obliged to add the evidence of morphological structure to that of material correspondences: there were at least two, the monosyllabic in south-eastern Asia and the American, which were founded almost solely on accordance of type. And the former of them is a striking illustration of the power of phonetic corruption to alter and disguise the bare roots of language, without help from composition and fusion of elements. If we cannot find material correspondences enough between the pure radicals of Chinese, Siamese, and Burmese to prove these three tongues akin, but must call in, to aid the conclusion, their common characteristic of monosyllabism, what hope can we possibly entertain of proving either of them akin with Mongolian or Polynesian, for example, with which they have no morphological affinity? Who will be so sanguine as to expect to discover, amid the blind confusion of the American languages, where there are scores of groups which seem to be totally diverse in constituent material, the radical elements which have lain at the basis of their common development? Apparent resemblances among apparent roots of the different families are, indeed, to be found: but they are wholly worthless as evidences of historical connection. To the general presumption of their accidental nature is to be farther added the virtual certainty that the elements in which they appear are not ultimate roots at all, but the products of recent growth. There is nothing, it may be remarked, in the character of ultimate roots which should exempt them from the common liability to exhibit fortuitous coincidences, but rather the contrary. The system of sounds employed in the rudimentary stage of linguistic growth was comparatively scanty, the circle of ideas represented by the roots was narrow and limited, the application of each root more vague and indeterminate; hence accidental analogies of form and meaning might even more reasonably be looked for between the radical elements of unconnected families than between their later developed words.
For these reasons it is that the comparison of roots is not likely to lead to any satisfactory results even in the most favorable cases, and cannot possibly be made fruitful of valuable and trustworthy conclusions through the whole body of human language. There are, it is true, not a few philologists -- and among them some authorities deserving of the highest respect -- who hold that correspondences enough have been found between Indo-European and Semitic roots to prove the ultimate connection of those two families of language: but the number is yet greater of those who regard the asserted proof as altogether nugatory. The attempt has been made above (in the eighth lecture) to show that the governing presumption in the case is not a purely linguistic one, but rather a historical; and it is one which is quite as likely to be weakened as to be strengthened by the results of future researches. But, as regards the point now under discussion, the admission or rejection of a genetic tie between these two particular families, or even between these and the Scythian and Chinese, would make no manner of difference; there would still remain the impossibility of extending a like tie, by linguistic means, to the other great families.
Our general conclusion, then, which may be looked upon as incontrovertibly established, is this: if the tribes of men are of different parentage, their languages could not be expected to be more unlike than they in fact are; while, on the other hand, if all mankind are of one blood, their tongues need not be more alike than we actually find them to be. The evidence of language can never guide us to any positive conclusion respecting the specific unity or diversity of human races.
- Lectures, first series, eighth lecture. [return to text]
- In his Letter on the Classification of the Turanian Languages, p. 21 seq.; see also his Lectures, first series. [return to text]
- See his paper, "Contribution to the Morphology of Language," in the Memoirs of the Academy of St. Petersburg, Vol. i, No. 7 (1859); also, the Introduction to his work, the German Language (Stuttgart, 1860), p. 11 seq. [return to text]
- Of course the parallel is to be regarded as only an imperfect one; though these three words are to our apprehension primitives, they are far from being ultimate roots; they all either contain formative elements added to such a root, or have possessed and lost them; each is, to be sure, employable as noun, adjective, or verb, without change of form, yet not, like Chinese roots, in virtue of an original indefiniteness of meaning, but as one distinct part of speech is in our usage convertible directly into others; nor can it be said that, even as they stand, they are altogether formless; for each is defined in certain relations by the absence of formative elements which it would otherwise exhibit: water is shown to be singular by lacking an s, fish and like to be plural by the absence of s from like. [return to text]
- Professor Schleicher, indeed, adopts this emblem as that of the Indo-European root also, since he holds the view, briefly stated and controverted above (in the eighth lecture), that the radicals of our family were originally liable to a regular variation, of symbolic significance, for purposes of grammatical expression. I regard it, on the contrary, as the weak point in his system, as applied by himself, that it does not distinguish an internal flection like the Semitic -- which, so far as we can trace its history, is ultimate and original, and which continues in full force, in old material and in new formations, through the whole history of the languages -- from one like the Indo-European, which is rather secondary and accidental, constantly arising in new cases under the influence of phonetic circumstances, but never winning a pervading force, and in many members of the family hardly taking on anywhere a regular form and office, as significant of relations. [return to text]
- See the latter's Charakteristik etc., pp. 70, 327. [return to text]