Skip to main content

Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

See other formats

The Diseases of Language                 425
"enemy " The range of root-inflexion in the Semitic family vastly
exceeds what we find in any Aryan language Within the Aryan group
internal vowel change always plays second fiddle to external flexion
Even in German, where it looms large., the variety of derivatives distin-
guished by affixes is much greater than the variety of derivatives
distinguished by modification of a stein vowel Among the Semitic
dialects modification of the vowel pattern is orderly and all-pervading
The Semitic noun has possessive affixes like those of Finno-Ugnan
languages (p 198). In other ways the grammar of Semitic dialects
recalls features more characteristic of the Aryan tribe The verb has
two tense-forms, imperfect and perfect, denoting aspect (p 103) The
noun has subject and object forms, singular and plural The older
Semitic dialects had dual forms The Arabic dual disappeared in the
seventh century A D Pronouns of the second and third person, like
adjectives, have endings appropriate to two noun-classes, respectively
called masculine and feminine, with as much and as httle justice
as the so-called masculine and feminine nouns of French or Spanish.
Gender-distinction has also infected the verb Thus the third person
of the Arabic verb has the suffixes a (masculine) and at (feminine).
The absence of explicit vowel symbols in the old Semitic script adds
to the difficulties which this load of grammatical ballast imposes on
anyone who wishes to learn Arabic or Hebrew.
Two characteristics make a language more easy to learn than it
would otherwise be One is grammatical regularity The other is word-
economy Nearly all the languages previously discussed an this chapter
are over-charged with irregularities or with devices which unneces-
sarily multiply the number of word forms essential for acceptable
communication The difficulty of learning Chinese and related languages
is of a different sort
Chinese vernaculars make up one of three branches of the great
Indo-Chinese family The other two are represented by the Tibeto-
Bttnnese group and the Tai languages, including Siamese and An-
namese. The several members of the family are geographically con-
tiguous and have two outstanding similarities One is that they are
tone languages Otherwise identical words uttered in different tones
may have great diversity of meaning In fact, tone differences do the
same job as the vowel differences in such a series as pat, pet, pit., pot,
put Their second peculiarity is not equally characteristic of tie