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“ Innumeræ linguæ dissimillimæ inter se, ita ut nullis machinis ad communem originem retrahi possunt.”—F. SCHLEGEL.
“ Die Etymologie hat den vollen Reiz aller der Wissenschaften, welche sich mit den Anfängen und dem Werden grosser Erzeugnisse der Natur oder des Geistes beschäftigen.”—G. CURTIUS.
In the Welsh book of Taliessin, a manuscript of the fourteenth century, the bard declares that “there are seven score Ogyrven in song,” and Prof. Rhậs points out that these are the same as the “seven score and seven Ogyrven," or roots, which, according to another Welsh writer, who lived a century or two later, "are no other than the symbols of the seven score and seven parent-words, whence every other word.” But the doctrine that all our words are descended from a limited number of primæval germs or roots is far older than the Welsh bards. More than two thousand years ago the grammarians of India had discovered that the manifold words of their language could all be traced back to certain common phonetic forms which they termed "elements.” Already the Prâti’sâkhya of Kâtyâyana speaks of the verb " by which we mark being ” as a dhâtu or
Skene : The Four Ancient Books of Wales” (1968), i. p. 527,
ii. p. 132.
? " Lectures on Welsh Philology" (1877), p. 320.
root, and before the Nirukta of Yâska was composed, a fierce controversy had begun as to whether these roots were all necessarily verbs. Yâska sums up the controversy, and after stating fairly the arguments on both sides, decides in favour of the Nairuktas or “etymologists,” the followers of the philosopher 'Sâkatầyana, who held that every noun was derived from a verb. Vain were the pleadings of Gârgya and the Vaiyâkaranas or "analyzers" on the other side. They urged that if all nouns came from verbs, a knowledge of the verb would of itself make the noun intelligible, that whoever performed the same action would be called by the same name (all flying things, for instance, being called feathers, from pat, "to fly"), and that everything would receive as many names as there are qualities belonging to it, while the derivations proposed for many words were forced and unnatural, and as things come before being per se, that which comes first could not be named from that which comes afterwards. But the Nairuktas had their answers ready. All words, they said, really were significant and intelligible, while custom rules that agents and objects should get their names from some single action or quality, the “soldier” from the pay he receives, the “stable” from its standing up. If an etymology were forced, so much the worse for the etymologist, not for the method he pursued ; and as for the last objection, no one can deny that some words are derived from qualities, even though qualities may be later than the subjects to which they belong.'
| Max Müller : “ History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature," and edition (1860), pp. 164-68.
The question over which the Hindu grammarians contended has been revived in our own day. Comparative philology was the result of the study of Sanskrit, and the Sanskrit vocabulary had been ranged under a certain number of verbal roots. Both the term and the conception, indeed, had already been made familiar to the scholars of the West by their Arab and Hebrew teachers, the only difference between the Sanskrit and the Semitic root being that the one was a monosyllable, the other a triliteral. European philology began to recognize at last that words have a history; that we cannot compare Latin and Greek and English words together before we have discovered their oldest forms, and that the common phonetic type under which a cognate group of words is classed must be no mere arbitrary invention of the lexicographer, but be based on reality and fact. Roots are the barrier that divides language from the inarticulate cries of the brute beast; they are the last result of linguistic analysis, the elements out of which the material of speech is formed, like the elementary substances of the chemist. But we must be careful not to fall into the mistake of the Indian grammarians and their modern followers, and confound these roots with verbs or any other of the constituents of living speech. The roots of language are like the roots of the tree with its stem and branches; the one implies the other, but all alike spring from the seed, which in language is the undeveloped sentence of primitive man, the aboriginal monad of speech. Roots, as Professor Max Müller has fitly called them, are phonetic types, the moulds into which we pour a group of words allied in' sound and
meaning. Thus in the Semitic tongues, a root is the union of three consonants, out of which numberless words are created by the help of varying vowels and suffixes. Kåtal, for instance, is "he killed," kotel, " killing," k'tol, "to kill” and “kill,” kåtål,“ killed,” katl, kitl or kutl, "a killing," where the difference of signification is marked by a difference of vowel ; and the whole series of coexisting forms presupposes a triliteral root or phonetic type k-t-l, to which was attached the general sense of “killing." Such a root could not, of course, have found any actual expression in speech; it was an unexpressed, unconsciously-felt type which floated before the mind of the speaker and determined him in the choice of the words he formed. When Van Helmont invented the word gas, he did but embody in a new shape the root
, which we have in our ghost and yeast. The primordial types which presented themselves almost unconsciously before the framers of language, which lay implicit in the words they created, must be discovered and made explicit by the comparative philologist. Just as the phonologist breaks up words into their component sounds, so must the philologist break up the groups of allied words into their roots, for roots are to groups of words what the letters and syllables are to each word by itself.
The influence of the Hindu tradition has introduced into European philology expressions like “a language of roots,” “the root-period of language," and the like, and has made soine writers even speak as though our.remote ancestors conversed together in monosyllables which had such general and vague meanings as “shining,” “going," or “sceing." Prof. Whitney, the leading representative
of the "common-sense” school of philology, has not shrunk from stating clearly and distinctly the logical consequences of such language. He tells us that “IndoEuropean language, with all its fulness and inflective suppleness, is descended from an original monosyllabic tongue; our ancestors talked with one another in single syllables, indicative of the ideas of prime importance, but wanting all designation of their relations." Such a language, however, is a sheer impossibility—even for a body of philosophers or comparative philologists, and it is contradicted by all that we know of savage and barbarous dialects. In these, while the individual objects of sense have a superabundance of names, general terms are correspondingly rare. The Mohicans have words for cutting various objects, but none to convey cutting simply; and the Society Islanders can talk of a dog's tail, a sheep's tail, or a man's tail, but not of tail itself. "The dialect of the Zulus is rich in nouns denoting different objects of the same genus, according to some variety of colour, redundancy, or deficiency of members, or some other peculiarity,” such as “red cow," " white cow," " brown cow;”? and the Sechuâna has no less than ten words to denote horned cattle. The Cheroki possesses thirteen different verbs to denote particular kinds of washing, but none to denote “washing" itself;* and, according to Milligan,' the aborigines of Tasmania I "Language and the Study of Language," p. 256.
Journal of the American Oriental Society,” i. No. 4, p. 402. * Casalis : “Grammar," p. 7.
Pickering : "Indian Languages," p. 26. 5 “Vocabulary of the Dialects of some of the Aboriginal Tribes of Tasmania," p. 34.