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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

420                The Loom of Language
they share is that they are not highly inflected There is little trace left of
gender or number concord of the adjective and noun. Case-distinction
of the latter is vestigial So such flexions as exist are not difficult to
learn A second virtue is a thrifty use of verbs These conspicuous
meats are insignificant when we place on the debit side a characteristic
which isolates Celtic dialects from all other members of the Aryan
group, and places them among the most difficult of all the Aryan
languages for a foreigner to learn
The flexional derivatives of other Aryan languages depend on
endings. So they easily accommodate themselves to the convenience of
alphabetical order in a standard dictionary The special difficulty of
the Celtic languages is that the initial consonant of a word may change
in different contexts For instance, the Welsh word for "kinsman"
may be car, gar, chary or nghar> e g car agos "a near kinsman," ei gar
"his kinsman/5« char "her kinsman,"^ nghar "my kinsman " In short,
the beginning and end of a word may change to meet the dictates of
Celtic grammar. So the use of the dictionary is an exploit which the
foreigner undertakes with imminent sense of danger, and little confi-
dence of success A quotation from a book by a Breton nationakst will ^
scarcely give the reader an unduly harsh statement of the difficulty
"As for reading, to look up a word in the dictionary, it is enough to
know the few consonants which are interchangeable—K, P, T with
CH, F, Z, or with G, B, D, G, D, B, with K, P, T, or with C'H, V,
Z; M with V, and GW with W "
THE SEMITIC LANGUAGES
Nine hundred years ago, the Moslem world was the seat of the most
progressive culture then existing China could point to a rich secular
tradition of literature coeval with the sacred texts of Aryan India. The
Aryan languages did not as yet enjoy the undisputed prestige of Anglo-
American, French, and German in our own age If we go back to more
remote antiquity, Aryan, Semitic, and Chinese yield place to the
languages of Egypt* and Mesopotamia, where the permanent record of
human striving began
* Ancient Egyptian was one of the Hanntic languages They derive their
name from Ham, the biblical brother of Shem Besides Ancient Egyptian^ they
include Cushitic (of which Somali and Galla are the chief representatives),
together with the Berber dialects of North-West Africa Though the Semitic
and Hamitic group diverge widely, their kinship is generally recognized They
share more root-words than can be explained by borrowing, and they have
some common grammatical peculiarities