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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

Introduction                           23
This suggestion may not appeal to everyone or suit every type of
home student Still., most people who find it difficult to learn a foreign
language can reheve themselves of some of their difficulties, if they
start with a little knowledge of how languages have evolved Part of the
task which The Loom of Language has undertaken is to bring the dead
bones to life with this ehxir Some people may say that the difficulties
are too great, because we start with so little raw material for com-
parison They will say that it is possible to give the general reader an
intelligible account of organic evolution, only because any intelligent
person who first meets a text-book definition of such words as fishy
amphihan, reptile, bird, mammal, can already give several examples of
each class Indeed, most of us can subdivide some of them, as when
we speak of dogs and cats as carmvors, mice and rabbits as rodents,
or sheep and cattle as ruminants. Most of us could also give some
outstanding anatomical peculiarities which seive to distinguish species
placed in a particular group, as when we define ruminants as beasts
which chew the cud and divide the hoof
Admittedly, there is no such common basis of universal knowledge
about language species and their anatomical peculiarities Most Britons
and most Americans speak or read only one language At best, very few
well-educated people can read more than three Those we usually learn
are not recognizably of a kind, and there are no Public Language
Museums with attractive and instructive exhibits All the same, it is
not impossible for an intelligent person who has had no training in
foreign languages to get some insight into the way in which languages
evolve There are no straight lines in biological evolution, and there are
no straight lines in the evolution of languages We can recognize similar
processes in the growth of all languages We can see characteristics
which predominate in languages so far apart as Chinese, Hungarian,
and Greek competing for mastery in the growth of Anglo-American
from the English of Alfred the Great
When we begin to take the problem of language planning for
world peace seriously, we shall have public language museums in our
centres of culture, and they will be essential instruments of civic
education. In the meantime we have to be content with something less
comprehensive. For the reader of this book, Part IV is a. language
museum in miniature The home student who loiters in its corridors
will be able to get a prospect of the family likeness of languages most
closely allied to our own, and will find opportunities of applying rules
which lighten the tedium of learning lists, as the exhibits in a good