Skip to main content

Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

See other formats

The Classification of Languages         177
thousand years before that time, grammatical scholarship had existed
as a learned profession During the whole of this period scholars had
accepted the fact that languages exist without probing into the origins
of their diversity In Greece the growth of a more adventurous spirit
was checked by the prevailing social outlook of a slave civilization
When Christianity became the predominant creed of the Western
world, Hebrew cosmogony stifled evolutionary speculation in every
field of inquiry
Investigations of Greek philosophers and grammarians suffered at all
times from one fundamental weakness They were strictly confined to
the home-made idiom This was the inevitable consequence of a cul-
tural conceit which divided the world into Greeks and Barbarians
The same social forces which held back the progress of mechanics and
of medicine in the slave civilizations of the Mediterranean world held
up the study of grammar To bother about the taal of inferior people
was not the proper concern of an Athenian or of a Roman gentleman
Even Herodotus, who had toured Egypt and had written on its quaint
customs.* nowhere indicates that he had acquired much knowledge of
the language.
The Alexandrian conquest brought about little change of mind
when Greek traders and travellers were roaming far beyond the Medi-
terranean basin, establishing intimate contact with Bactnans, Iranians,
and even with India Both Greek and Roman civilization had unrivalled
opportunities for getting acquainted with changing phases in the idioms
of peoples who spoke and wrote widely diverse tongues They had
unrivalled, and long since lost, opportunities to get some hght on the
mysteries of ancient scupts such as hieroglyphics and cuneiform They
never exploited their opportunities. The Egyptian hieroglyphic writing
was a sealed book till the second decade of the nineteenth century.
The decoding of cuneiform inscriptions is a work of the last hundred
Christianity performed one genuine service to the study of language,
as it performed a genuine service to medicine by promoting hospitals,
It threw the opprobrious term Barbarian overboard, and thus paved the
way for the study of all tongues on their own merits Before it had
come to terms with the ruling class, Christianity was truly the faith of
the weary and heavy laden, of the proletarian and the slave without
property, without fatherland. In Christ there was "neither Scythian,
barbarian, bond nor free, but a new creation " Accordingly the early
church ignored social rank and cultural frontiers. All idioms of the