An Historical Sketch Of The Indo-European Languages -- By: B. W. Dwight

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 014:56 (Oct 1857)
Article: An Historical Sketch Of The Indo-European Languages
Author: B. W. Dwight


An Historical Sketch Of The Indo-European Languages1

B. W. Dwight

It is not an easy lesson for curious minds to learn to leave dark what is dark; and to state supposed facts with no more assurance than the actual evidence of their existence justifies, according to the most careful measurement of its dimensions. Almost all earnest writers, accordingly, oft the early history of nations and of languages, have undertaken to be luminous amid obscure data, and to interpret the past in the same style of self-confident certainty in which the interpreters of prophecy usually unroll the scroll of revelation for the future. The great Niebuhr, and, more recently, the lesser Donaldson, strikingly exemplify this tendency.

The different languages of the world may be arranged, philosophically, in three great classes, viz.:

1. Those consisting of mere separate unvaried monosyllables, like the Chinese. The words composing this language are, all, so many distinct monads, unrelated to each other, and without any organization that adapts them for mutual affiliation. That class of shallow theorists who account for the origin of language, as others do of nature, by what is termed the development theory,” love to represent all lan-

guage as having been, originally, in this crude state: conceiving of it, as they do, as a mere human invention, a sort of wild, indigenous product of the social state. Language, as such, on the contrary, is a beautiful piece of Divine mechanism, contrived by Him who made man, and who made him to speak both to Himself and to his fellows; and therefore the nearer to its first beginnings we ascend, in our investigations, the more perfect we find it in its form.

2. Those formed by agglutination. This is an advance on the preceding, in style of construction; as here words do show some appetency and affinity for each other, though in the simplest of all modes of combination, viz. mere cohesion. Such are the Tartar, Finnish, Lappish, and Caucasian languages.

Like the Chinese language, the Tartar family of languages reigns over an immense territory in Asia; and covers, with its folds, the Mantchoos, Mongols, and the whole widespread Turkish race; stretching westward from the shores of the Japan Sea to the neighborhood of Vienna; and southward from the northern Arctic ocean to Affghanistan and the southern coasts of Asia Minor.

3. The inflected languages. These are all of a complete interior organization, complicated with many mutual relations and adaptations, and thoroughly systematized in all their parts. In their history lies embosomed that of the c...

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