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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

414               The Loom of Language
is still gaming ground on the Asiatic continent as the vehicle of a new
civilization Russian is now pushing as far North as the White Sea
and as far East as the shores of the Pacific Ocean
The earliest recorded form of Slavonic is Old Bulgarian, into which
two Greek missionaries, Kynllos and Methodos, both from Salonika,
translated the Gospels m the middle of the ninth century. This Bible
language, also called Church Slavonic, became the official language of
the Greek Orthodox Church It still is Since the art of writing was
then the exclusive privilege of the priest-scribe class, Church Slavonic
also became the secular medium of literature The Russians did not
begin to emancipate themselves from the literary tyranny of the Church,
and to create a written language of their own, uil the end of the eigh-
teenth century. Its basis was the speech current in the region of
Moscow As a hangover from their church-ndden past, citizens of the
USSR, still suck to "Kynlliza," a modified form of the Greek alpha-
bet (Fig 12) once current in Byzantium The Poles and the Slovaks—
but not the Serbs or Bulgarians—are free from this cultural handicap
When their forefathers embraced the Roman form of Christianity, an
internationally current alphabet was part of the bargain
Like the Semitic family, the Slavonic group shows comparatively
httle internal differentiation. Slavonic languages form a clearly recog-
nizable unit, including national languages which differ no more than
Swedish and Danish or Spanish and Italian. It is easier for a Pole to
understand a Russian than for a German to understand a Swede, or for
a Parisian to understand a Spaniard or an Italian. For a long time
Slavonic-speaking peoples remained cut off fiom Mediterranean influ-
ence. What reached them was confined to a thin and muddy trickle
that percolated through the Greek Orthodox Church The compara-
tively late appearance of loan-words m the Slavonic lexicon faithfully
reflects this retardation of culture-contact with more progressive
communities Since the Soviet Union embarked upon rapid indus-
trialization there has been a great change. Assimilation of international
technical terms has become a fashion To this extent linguistic isolation
is breaking down. Meanwhile in Russia, as elsewhere, Slavonic lan-
guages constitute a fossil group from the grammatical standpoint They
preserve archaic traits matched only by those of the Baltic group.
Noun-flexion, always a reliable index of linguistic progress, is not the
least of these. Slavonic languages carry on a case system as complicated
as that of Laun and Greek, Bulgarian alone has freed itself from this
incubus