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Lecture 12. Principles of Classification.

Lecture 12.
Principles of Classification.
Languages not Aryan and not Semitic.
THE two families of language which we have hitherto examined the Aryan and Semitic are the most important to the student of religion. Not only are the principal Sacred Books of the East with the exception of those of China composed in Sanskrit Pâli Prakrit Zend Pehlevi Hebrew Greek and Arabic but the religious and mythological phraseology of the leading nations of Europe—Greeks Romans Germans Slaves and Celts—are all embodied in Aryan and Semitic speech. It was necessary therefore to give a fuller account of these two families so as to avoid the necessity of explaining again and again the linguistic evidence on which so much in the study of the great religions of the world depends.

With regard to the remaining families of speech however it will be sufficient if I place before you a short outline only. Though outside the pale of the Aryan and Semitic languages the progress of Comparative Philology has been very slow still we know in many cases which languages in Asia Africa Polynesia and America are related and which are not and to know this is of course of the greatest help in the study of religion. When we meet with the same religious ideas or religious customs in distant parts of the world the question whether they are the result of our universal human nature or whether they have been transferred from one race to another depends chiefly on the question whether there is a more or less distant relationship between the languages. If we know that the languages spoken on the East-coast of Africa from several degrees north of the equator to nearly the Cape belong to one and the same strongly marked family that of the so-called Bântu languages coincidences between the religious and mythological ideas of the races speaking these languages admit of an historical interpretation and need not be accepted as the simple result of our common human faculties. If it could be proved that the Hottentots the southern neighbours of these Bântu races were really as maintained by Lepsius and others emigrants from Egypt this again would throw a new light on certain coincidences in their customs and those of the ancient Egyptians.

The Hurons1 of the Anderdon reserve visited by Mr. Horatio Hale in 1872 and 1874 tell the story of the earth being sustained by a tortoise yet no one would think that they borrowed it from India. They likewise know of two supernatural beings who were to prepare the world to be the abode of man. The one was good the other bad. The bad brother created monstrous creatures the good brother innocent and useful animals and though he could not destroy the evil animals altogether he reduced them in size so that man would be able to master them. Whatever beneficent work the good brother accomplished was counteracted by the bad brother. At last the two brothers fought the evil spirit was overcome by the good but retired to the West where as be declared all men would go after death. All this might be taken from the Avesta; yet through the two brothers are actually styled by the Hurons the ‘Good Mind’ and the ‘Bad Mind’ (in Zend Vaṅheus Mainyus Aṅrô Mainyus) no one would suppose that the Hurons borrowed from Zoroaster or Zoroaster from the Hurons.
It is essential also that students of religion and mythology should possess a general knowledge of the grammatical character of the languages for it has been clearly shown that such peculiarities as for instance the distinction of masculine feminine and neuter nouns have been productive of a whole class of legends which are absent when the idea of gender has not been realised in language. My own conviction has always been that a truly scientific study of religion and mythology is impossible unless we know the language which forms the soil from which religion and mythology spring2. All attempts therefore to study the religions particularly of uncivilised tribes whose dialects are but little known and whose linguistic affinities with other tribes are not yet clearly established must be looked upon for the present as provisional only. These studies though full of promise are at the same time full of danger also.
Morphological Classification of Languages.
It may be well to keep in mind that languages may be and have been classified not only genealogically but morphologically also and that a morphological similarity between certain languages though it does in no way prove their common descent indicates a common bent in the thoughts of those who speak them. I have already mentioned the grammatical distinction of gender as an important element in the formation of mythology and religion. Other elements of the same kind are the manner in which certain languages keep the radical portion of every word from phonetic corruption while others allow it to become absorbed and almost lost. Words which display their radical elements retain a certain perspicuity and are less liable therefore to mythological misunderstandings. Thus the Semitic languages in which the triliteral skeleton is generally clearly discernible in every word have produced less of poetical mythology than the Aryan languages. The power of forming abstract nouns of employing compound words of using impersonal verbs has often to be appealed to in the interpretation of mythological and religious modes of expression.
I saw a curious instance of the almost unconscious influence which peculiarities of language may exercise on the expression of religious dogma in the case of a Mohawk who came to Oxford to study medicine and who gave me lessons in his native language. In that language it is impossible to say the father or the son; we must always say my thy or his father or son. Thus we cannot say ‘I believe in God the father’ but we must say ‘I believe in God our father.’ Again instead of saying ‘I believe in God the son’ we have to say ‘I believe in God his son.’ But when we come to say ‘I believe in God the Holy Ghost’ we cannot as in English leave the question of the procession of the Spirit from the father or from the father and the son an open one. We must say either ‘his Holy Ghost’ or ‘their Holy Ghost.’ That is to say language would force a Mohawk to declare himself for the single or double procession a question which most of us may leave to be settled by theologians by profession.
Genealogical as different from Morphological Classification.
The Aryan and Semitic languages are held together as we saw by the closest ties of a real genealogical relationship. They both presuppose the existence of a finished system of grammar previous to the first divergence of their dialects. Their history is from the very beginning a history of decay rather than of growth and hence the unmistakeable family-likeness which pervades every one even of their latest descendants. The languages of the Sepoy and that of the English soldier are in one sense one and the same language. They are both built up of materials which were definitely shaped before the Teutonic and Indic branches separated. No new root has been added to either since their first separation; and the grammatical forms which are of more modern growth in English or Hindustani are if closely examined new combinations only of elements which existed from the beginning in all the Aryan dialects. In the termination of the English he is and in the inaudible termination of the French il est we recognise the result of an act performed before the first separation of the Aryan family the combination of the predicative root AS with the demonstrative element ta or ti; an act performed once for all and continuing to be felt to the present day.
It was the custom of Nebuchadnezzar to have his name stamped on every brick that was used during his reign in erecting his colossal palaces. Those palaces fell to ruins but from the ruins the ancient materials were carried away for building new cities; and on examining the bricks in the walls of the modern city of Bagdad on the borders of the Tigris travellers have discovered on every one the clear traces of that royal signature. It is the same if we examine the structure of modern languages. They too were built up with the materials taken from the ruins of the ancient languages and every word if properly examined displays the royal stamp impressed upon it from the first by the founders of the Aryan and the Semitic empires of speech.
Degrees of Relationship.
The relationship of languages however is not always so close. Languages may diverge before their grammatical system has become fixed and hardened by tradition or literary culture; and in that case they cannot be expected to show the same marked features of a common descent as for instance the Neo-Latin dialects French Italian and Spanish.
They may have much in common but they will likewise display an aftergrowth in words and grammatical forms peculiar to each dialect. With regard to words for instance we see that even languages so intimately related to each other as the six Romanic dialects diverged in some of the commonest expressions. Instead of the Latin word frater the French frère we find in Spanish hermano. There was a very good reason for this change. The Latin word frater changed into fray and frayle had been applied to express a brother in the sense of a friar. It was felt inconvenient that the same word should express two ideas which it was sometimes necessary to distinguish and therefore by a kind of natural elimination frater was given up as the name of brother in Spanish and replaced from the dialectical stores of Latin by germanus. In the same manner the Latin word for shepherd pastor was so constantly applied to the shepherd of the souls or the clergyman le pasteur that a new word was wanted for the real shepherd. Thus berbicarius from berbex or vervex a wether was used instead of pastor and changed into the French berger. Instead of the Spanish enfermo ill we find in French malade in Italian malato. Languages so closely related as Greek and Latin have fixed on different expressions for son daughter brother woman man sky earth moon hand mouth tree bird &c.3 That is to say out of a large number of synonymes which were supplied by the numerous dialects of the Aryan family the Greeks perpetuated one the Romans another. It is clear that when the working of this principle of natural selection is allowed to extend more widely languages though proceeding from the same source may in time acquire a totally different nomenclature for the commonest objects. The number of real synonymes is frequently exaggerated and if we are told that in Icelandic for instance there are 120 names for island or in Arabic 500 names for lion4 and 1000 names for sword5 many of these are no doubt purely poetical. But even where there are in a language only four or five names for the same objects it is clear that four languages might be derived from it each in appearance quite distinct from the rest6.
The same applies to grammar. When the Romanic languages for instance formed their new future by placing the auxiliary verb habere to have after the infinitive it was quite open to any one of them to fix upon some other expedient for expressing the future. The French might have chosen je vais dire or je dirvuis (I wade to say) instead of je dir-ai and in this case the future in French would have been totally distinct from the future in Italian. If such changes are possible in literary languages of such long standing as French and Italian we must be prepared for a great deal more in languages which as I said diverged before any definite settlement had taken place either in their grammar or their dictionary. If we were to expect in them the definite criteria of a genealogical relationship which unites the members of the Aryan and Semitic families of speech we should necessarily be disappointed. Such criteria could hardly be expected to exist in these languages.
But there are criteria for determining even these more distant degrees of relationship in the vast realm of speech; and they are sufficient at least to arrest for the present the hasty conclusions of those who would deny the possibility of a common origin of any languages more removed from each other than French and Italian Sanskrit and Greek Hebrew and Arabic. This will be more clearly seen after we have examined the principles of what I call the Morphological Classification of human speech.
Morphological Classification.
As all languages so far as we can judge at present can be reduced in the end to roots predicative and demonstrative it is clear that according to the manner in which roots are put together we may expect to find three kinds of languages or three stages in the gradual formation of speech.
1. Roots may be used as words each root preserving its full independence.
2. Two roots may be joined together to form words and in these compounds one root may lose its independence.
3. Two roots may be joined together to form words and in these compounds both roots may lose their independence.
What applies to two roots applies to three or four or more. The principle is the same though it would lead to a more varied subdivision.
Radical Stage.
The first stage in which each root preserves its independence and in which there is no formal distinction between a root and a word I call the Radical Stage. Languages while belonging to this first or Radical Stage have sometimes been called Monosyllabic or Isolating.
Terminational Stage.
The second stage in which two or more roots coalesce to form a word the one retaining its radical independence the other sinking down to a mere termination I call the Terminational Stage. The languages belonging to it have generally been called agglutinative from gluten glue.
Inflectional Stage.
The third stage in which roots coalesce so that neither the one nor the other retains its substantive independence I call the Inflectional Stage. The languages belonging to it have sometimes been distinguished by the name of amalgamating or organic.
The first stage excludes phonetic corruption altogether.
The second stage excludes phonetic corruption in the principal root but allows it in the secondary or determinative elements.
The third stage allows phonetic corruption both in the principal root and in the terminations.
Transitions from one stage to another.
It is perfectly true that few languages only if we can trace their history during any length of time remain stationary in one of these stages. Even Chinese as has been shown by Dr. Edkins exhibits in its modern dialects traces of incipient agglutination if not of inflection. The Ugric languages show the most decided traces of phonetic corruption7 and in consequence clear tendencies toward inflexion while the modern Aryan languages such as French and English avail themselves of agglutinative expedients for contriving new grammatical forms. So far I quite agree with Professor Hunfalvy who has so strongly protested against substituting a morphological for a genealogical classification of languages. Such a substitution is impossible and was never contemplated. The two classifications are both useful each for its own purposes but the genealogical classification should always be considered the more important.
Nor was it even supposed that the two classifications could run parallel. We saw how an isolating language like Chinese might in the end produce inflectional forms and I hold as strongly as ever that every inflectional language must have passed through an agglutinative stage and that this agglutination is always preceded by the isolating stage.
It should be quite clearly understood therefore that morphological similarity is no proof whatever of real historical relationship. It may indicate such relationship but a very different kind of evidence is required in addition to establish the common descent of languages standing on the same morphological stage. This may require some further illustration.
In the first morphological stage every word can be called a root before it is used as part of a sentence. This stage is best represented by Chinese and to a certain extent by ancient Egyptian. There is no formal distinction in ancient Chinese between a noun a verb an adjective an adverb and a preposition. The same root according to its position in a sentence may be employed to convey the meaning of great greatness greatly to grow and to be great. All depends on position not on grammatical terminations. Thus ngò tà ni means ‘I beat thee’ and ni tà ngò would mean ‘thou beatest me.’ Ngŏ g῞in means ‘a bad man;’ C῞in ngŏ would mean ‘the man is bad.’
When we say in Latin baculo with a stick we should have to say in Chinese O῍ ćάng8. Here O῍ might be taken for a mere preposition like the English with. But in Chinese this O῍ is a root; it is the same word which if used as a verb would mean ‘to employ.’ Therefore in Chinese O῍ ćάng means literally ‘employ stick.’ Or again where we say in English at home or in Latin domi the Chinese say K᾽ŏ-li K᾽ meaning house and li originally inside9. The name for day in modern Chinese is C῞i-tse which meant originally son of the sun10 or connected with the sun.
As long as every word or part of a word is felt to express its own radical meaning a language belongs to the first or radical stage. As soon as such words as tse in C῞i-tse day li in K᾽ŏ-li at home or O῍ in O῍ ćάng with the stick lose their etymological meaning and become mere signs of derivation or of case language enters into the second or terminational stage. And this transition from one class into another does not as Professor Hunfalvy supposes vitiate our division. On the contrary it confirms it from an historical point of view.
In some respects the ancient language of Egypt as revealed to us in the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions may be classed with Chinese. But the points of similarity are chiefly negative. They arise from the absence of grammatical differentiation and articulation and from the possibility in consequence of the same word or root being used as a substantive adjective verb or adverb. But there is no trace of any material relationship between the two languages.
Chinese stands by itself as a language which has changed very little since we know it in its most ancient literary records. Some scholars maintain that even in its earliest stage it shows signs of previous phonetic corruption. This may be so and it seems confirmed by the evidence of local dialects. But we can hardly imagine that its grammatical simplicity or rather its freedom from all grammar in our sense of the word could be due as in the case of English to a long-continued process of elimination of useless elements. Here we must wait for the results of further researches. The age claimed for the ancient Chinese literature seems to me as yet unsupported by any such evidence as would carry conviction to a student of Greek Latin or Sanskrit literature. Even if we admit that much of the ancient literature which was systematically destroyed by the Emperor of Khin B.C. 213 may have been recovered from oral tradition and scattered MSS. we cannot claim for the works of Confucius and Lao-gze an earlier date than that of their compilers. They may contain much older materials but they give them to us as understood in the sixth century B.C. and they too may not altogether have escaped the effects of the burning of books under the Emperor of Khin.
Ural-Altaic Languages.
West of China there stretches a cluster of languages which are on the point of leaving or have left the isolating stage which show the development of agglutination in high perfection and in some instances rise to the level of inflectional grammar. They are called Ural-Altaic or Ugro-Tataric. In one of my earliest essays ‘A Letter on the Turanian Languages’ 1854 I proposed to comprehend these languages under the name of Turanian. I went even further and distinguished them as North-Turanian in opposition to what in my youth I ventured to call the South-Turanian languages namely the Tamulic Taic Gangetic Lohitic and Malaic. During the last thirty years however the principles of the Science of Language have been worked out with so much greater exactness and the study of some of these languages has made such rapid progress that I should not venture at present to suggest such wide generalisations at all events so far as the Tamulic Taic Gangetic Lohitic and Malaic languages are concerned.
It is different however with the languages I comprehended as North-Turanian. They share not only common morphological features but they are held together by a real genealogical relationship though not a relationship so close as that which holds the Aryan or Semitic languages together.
Rask's and Prichard's Classification.
Though I am responsible for the name Turanian and for the first attempt at a classification of the Turanian languages in the widest sense similar attempts to comprehend the languages of Asia and Europe which are not either Aryan or Semitic under a common name been made long ago by Rask by Prichard and others. Rask admitted three families the Thracian (Aryan) the Semitic and the Scythian the latter comprising most of what I call the Turanian languages. During his travels in India Rask in a letter dated 30th July 1821 claimed for the first time the Dravidian languages also Tamil Telugu etc. as decidedly Scythian11.
The name Allophylian proposed by Prichard is in some respects better than Turanian.
Rack's Scythian and Prichard's Allophylian race was supposed to have occupied Europe and Asia before the advent of the Aryan and Semitic races a theory which has lately been revived by Westergaard Norris Lenormant and Oppert who hold that a Turanian civilisation preceded likewise the Semitic civilisation of Babylon and Nineveh that the cuneiform letters were invented by that Turanian race and that remnants of its literature have been preserved in the second class of the Cuneiform Inscriptions called sometimes Scythian sometimes Median and possibly in that large class of inscriptions now called Akkadian or Sumerian12.
Whatever may be thought of these far-reaching theories no one I believe doubts any longer a close relationship between Mongolic and Turkic a wider relationship between these two and Tungusic and a still wider one between these three and Finnic and Samoyedic. Hence the Mongolic Turkic and Tungusic languages have been comprehended under the name of Altaic the Finnic languages are called Ugric (including Hungarian) while Samoyedic forms according to some a more independent nucleus. All five groups together constitute what is called the Ugro-Altaic family.
Vocalic Harmony.
There is one peculiarity common to many of the Ugro-Altaic languages which deserves a short notice the law of Vocalic Harmony. According to this law the vowels of every word must be changed and modulated so as to harmonise with the key-note struck by its chief vowel. This law pervades the Tungusic Mongolic Turkic Samoyedic and Finnic classes; and even in dialects where it is disappearing it has often left traces of its former existence behind. The same law has been traced in the Tamulic languages also particularly in Telugu and in these languages it is not only the radical vowel that determines the vowels of the suffixes but the vowel of a suffix also may react on the radical vowel13. The vowels in Turkish for instance are divided into two classes sharp and flat. If a verb contains a sharp vowel in its radical portion the vowels of the terminations are all sharp while the same terminations if following a root with a flat vowel modulate their vowels into a flat key. Thus we have sev-mek to love but bak-mak to regard mek or mak being the termination of the infinitive. Thus we say ev-ler the houses but at-lar the horses ler or lar being the termination of the plural.
No Aryan or Semitic language has preserved a similar freedom in the harmonic arrangement of its vowels while traces of it have been found among the most distant members of the Turanian family as in Hungarian Mongolian Turkish the Yakut spoken in the north of Siberia in Telugu Tulu14 and in dialects spoken on the eastern frontier of India.

  • 1.

    Horatio Hale in Journal of American Folklore, vol. i, p. 180.

  • 2.

    Professor Tiele, one of the highest authorities on Comparative Theology, agrees with me as to the intimate relationship between language, religion, and nationality. But he very wisely puts in a reservation, namely that, ‘the farther history advances, the more does religion become independent of both language and nationality.’

  • 3.

    See Letter on the Turanian Languages, p. 62.

  • 4.

    Renan, Histoire des Langues sémitiques, p. 137

  • 5.

    Pococke, Notes to Abulfaragius. p. 153; Stoddart, Glossology, p. 352, See infra, p. 438.

  • 6.

    See Terrien Poncel, Du Language, p. 213.

  • 7.

    Thus, to quote Professor Hunfalvy, sydäm, heart, in Finnish has been changed to syöm, in Vogul. to sim, in Hungarian to szüv and szü. The Ostjak. jógot, bow, is jaut and jajt in Vogul., jout-se in Finnish, ij and iv in Hungarian. The Ostjak. kauh, kouh or keu, stone, is kav or käv in Vogul., kivi in Finnish, in Hungarian.

  • 8.

    Endlicher, Chinesische Grammatik, s. 223.

  • 9.

    Ibid., s. 339.

  • 10.

    In this word tse (tseu) does not signify son; it is an addition of frequent occurrence after nouns, adjectives, and verbs. Thus, lao, old, + tseu is father; neï, the interior, + tseu is wife; hiang, scent, + tseu is clove; hoa, to beg, + tseu, a mendicant; hi, to act, + tseu, an actor.—Stanislas Julien.

  • 11.

    Professor De Lagarde has stated that F. Rückert lectured at Berlin in 1843 on the relationship of the Dravidian and Turanian languages, and that I received the first impulse from him. It may be so, though I am not aware of it. Anyhow, the first impulse came from Rask; Samlede Afhandlinger of R. K. Rask, Kobenhavn, 1836, pp. 323 seq.

  • 12.

    The affinity of Akkadian and Sumerian with the Finno-Ugric languages has been disproved by Donner. Their affinity with the Altaic languages is maintained by Hommel, ‘Die Sumero-Akkaden, ein altaisches Volk,’ in Correspondez-Blatt der deutschen Ges. für Anthropologie, xv. Jahrg. No. 8, 1884, p. 63.

  • 13.

    Cf. Caldwell, Dravidian Grammar, second ed., p. 78.

  • 14.

    ‘In Tulu final short u is left unchanged only after words containing labial vowels (bududu, having left); it is changed into ü after all other vowels (pandüdü, having said).’—Dr. Gundert.

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