Skip to main content

Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

See other formats

206                The Loom of Language
rion of suffixes. Its oldest Aryan manifestation., called Ablaut by Ger-
man grammarians, is most characteristic of the verb We have met with
examples in the strong class which includes wwm, come^find., ut Ablaut
is common in Sanskrit (matum^ to measure—mita^ measured)^ and in
Greek (trepo> I turn—tetropha, I have turned), but much less so in
Latin To-day it is most strongly entrenched m the Teutonic group
Several types of root vowel change are particulaily characteristic of
Teutonic, especially German, verbs One is die existence of pairs of
which one member is intransitive (cannot have an object), the other
transitive in a caumtwe sense We still have a lew such pairs in English,
e.g /#//-/<<?//, he-lay > $it-sct Thus we fall down (wtrans*), but we/0// a
tree (i e cause it to full) We he down, but we lay (caiuc to he) a book
on the table We nt down, but we w/ (cause to sit) a flag on a pole.
Umlaut is the technical word for a type of root inflexion peculiar to
the Teutonic group It is specially characteristic of the noun, and is
illustrated by die English plurals man~mcn> foot-feet Such pairs origin*
ally had a plural suffix containing the i or j (p 84) sound, which
modified the vowels a, o> u in the stem itself. Thus we get Old High
Geiman gwt-getti (mod Geina Oast-Gastc). Ihe process began first
m English, and was aheady complete m documents of the eighth cen-
tury Alfred's English had/^-/t'/, wuwnvs (pronounce the jy like the u
of French or the u oi German) In the language ol Shakespeare they
appear as/w^/it, and WHWA-WCVS Old English had other pairs which
have since disappeared. Thus the plural of boc? our book (German
Buck) waO<?£ (German Buchcr)*, and that of hnutu* our nut (German
Nuss) was hnyte (German Nus$e)» This trick never became fashionable in
English, Dumg the Middle English period it succumbed almost com-
pletely to the custom of making the plural by adding ~e$ Owing to this
drift towards the invariant root, the liall-inark of a progressive language,
English has escaped the fate ot German and Swedish. There arc a few
Swedish, but no German nouns of the man*-men class; but many
Swedish, and far more German, nouns which retain a plural ending
also have a modified stern vowel. The German and Swedish equivalents
of the man^men class are shown below:
ENGLISH                          SWEDISH                         Oi KMAN
man~men                 man-man                 Mann-Mdanw
mouse-mice              mua-moss                Maux-Mawe
Iousc4ice                  lus-ioss                     Lau$~Laus&
goosO"gecse                g&a-gass
foot-feet                     fot-J otter
tooth-teeth                tctnd»tdnd«r