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The Diseases of Language              421
Nearly three thousand years ago, when Aryan-speaking mbes were
letterless savages, Semitic trading peoples hit on the device embodied
in our own alphabet Fully a thousand years before the true relation-
ship between the principal European languages and Indo-Iranian was
recognized, Jewish scholars, who applied the methods of then: Muslim
teachers, had already perceived the unity of the Semitic dialects then
known The Rabbi's interest in language problems was half-super-
stitious, half-practical, like that of the Brahmamc priest or the student
of the Koran His aim was to perpetuate the correct form, spelling, and
pronunciation of the Sacred Texts; but there was a difference between
the Brahmin and the Jew. Because he often lived in centres of Muslim
learning such as Damascus, Seville, and Cordova, and also because he
had mastered more than one tongue, the Rabbi could easily transgress
the confines of his own language Inescapably he was impressed by
similarities between Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic, and compelled to
assume their kinship Though he used the discovery to bolster his
belief that Hebrew was the parent of Arabic, and incidentally of all
other languages, he planted the seed of comparative grammar.
The linguistic preoccupations of the medieval Jews, and of their
teachers the Arabs, were continued by European scholars of the six-
teenth century Protestant scholarship intensified interest in Hebrew,
which took its place with the Latin of the Vulgate and New Testament
Greek, and Ethiopian joined the scholarly repertory of known Semitic
dialects Babylonian-Assyrian (Accadian) was not deciphered and
identified till the nineteenth century. The family as a whole derives
its name fiom Shem> the son of Noah in the Hebrew myth It is now
commonly divided in the following way: East Semitic, Babyloman-
Assynan (Accadian), West Semitic, (i) Aramaic, (2) The Canaamte
dialects (Hebrew, Phoenician, Moabiric); South Semitic, (i) Arabic,
(2) Ethiopian
The Semitic languages form a unit far more closely knit than the
Aryan family, and have changed comparatively little during their
recorded history. As a literary language, modern Arabic stands closer
to the Arabic of the Koran than does French to the Latin of Gaul in the
time of Mohammed This suggests one of the reasons why the Semitic
tongues have repeatedly superseded one another. Three Semitic lan-
guages have successfully competed for first place, and have become
current far beyond their original homes. They are * Babylonian-Assyrian,
Aramaic, and Arabic The oldest representative of which we possess
documents, and the first to assume international importance, was