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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

CHAPTER V

THE CLASSIFICATION OF LANGUAGES

BEFORE there were comparative linguists, practical men already knew
that some European languages resemble one another noticeably, The
English sailor whose ship brought him for the first ume to Amsterdam,,
to Hamburg, and to Copenhagen was bound to notice that jnany Dutch,
German, and Danish words are the same, or almost the same, as their
equivalents in lus own tongue, Where he would have said thirsty come,
good3 the Dutchman used the words dor$t> komen^ gocd, the German
Dursty kornmen^gut'j and the Dane, jTorrf,Jtew, god The Frenchman
calling on Lisbon, on Barcelona, and on Genoa discovered to his
delight that aimer (to love), nuit (night), dix (ten) differ very little
from the corresponding Portuguese words amar, notte, dcsm9 Spanish
amar, nochey dm> or Itahan amare, nottc> dicci In fact, the difference is
so small that use of the French words alone would often produce the
desired result. Because of such resemblances, people spoke of related
languages. By the sixteenth century, three units which we now call the
Teutonic^ the Romance or Latm^ and the Slavonic groups were widely
recognized, If you know one language m any of these three groups,
you will have little difficulty in learning a second one, So it is eminently
a practical division.
When the modem linguist still calls English, Dutch, German,
Danish^ Norwegian, Swedish related languages, he means more than
this. We now use the term in an evolutionary sense Languages are
related* if the many features of vocabulary, structure, and phonetics
which they share are due to gradual differentiation of what was once
a single tongue Sometimes we have to infer what the comnon parent
was like, but we have first-hand knowledge of the origin of one language-
group. The deeper we delve into the past, the more French* Spanish,
Italian, etc, converge Finally they become one in Latin, or* to be
more accurate, in Vulgar Latin as spoken by the common people m the
various parts of the Western Roman Empire.
Like the doctrine of organic evolution, this attitude to the study of
languages is a comparatively recent innovation* It wa$ wholly alien to
European thought before the French Revolution For more than two