Skip to main content

Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

See other formats

424                The Loom of Language
Between the beginning of the ninth and the end of the fifteenth
century A D , Europe assimilated the technique of Muslim civilization,
as Japan assimilated the technique of Western civilization during the
latter half of the nineteenth century Scholars of Northern Europe had
to acquire a knowledge of Arabic as well as of Latin at a time when
Moorish Spam was the flower of European culture, a thriving centre of
world trade, and the sole custodian of all the mechanics, medicine,
astronomy,and mathematics in the ancient world While Arabic scholars
of the chief centres of Muslim culture, such as Damascus, Cairo,
Cordova, and Palermo refused to deviate from the classical Aiabic of
pre-Islamitic poetry and the Koran, the speech of the common people
evolved further and split into the several vernaculars of Syria, Tripoli,
Iraq, Algeria, Tunis, Egypt, and Morocco Their common charac-
teristics are a reduction of vowels, the decay of the flexional system,
and heavy admixture of non-Arabic words To-day Arabic is spoken
by about forty million people
About the fourth century A D , Ethiopia responded to the efforts of
Coptic missionaries, and embraced the Christian faith Thereafter
Abyssinian Semitic, known as Ge'ez or Ethiopia became a medium of
literary activity It died our as a spoken language in the fourteenth
century, but like Sanskrit, Latin, and classical Arabic, continued to
function as a medium of religious practice, and as such is still the
liturgical language of the Abyssinian Church Its living descendants
are Amhanc, Tignna of Northern Abyssinia and Tzgre of Italian
Entrea Maltese, which is of Arabic origin., is the language of a Christian
community. It is transcribed in the Latin alphabet
The reader of The Loom of Language will now be familiar with two
outstanding peculiarities of the Semitic group One is called tnhter-
ahsm (p 70) The other is the prevalence of internal vowel change
When relieved of affixes and internal vowels the majority of root words
have a core of three consonants. Within this fixed framework great variety
is possible by ringing the changes on different vowel combinations.
With only five simple vowels it is possible to make twenty-five different
vocables of the pattern b-g-n, in the English tnhteral grouping,
legin-began-begun It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that a Semitic
language exhausts most of the conceivable possibilities of internal
vowel change consistent with an inflexible triple-consonant frame
A distinct arrangement of three particular consonants has its charac-
teristic element of meaning Thus in Arabic, qatala means "he killed,"
quttla means "he was killed," qatil means "murderer," and qttl means