Comparative Phonology; Or The Phonetic System Of The Indo-European Languages -- By: Benjamin W. Dwight

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 016:64 (Oct 1859)
Article: Comparative Phonology; Or The Phonetic System Of The Indo-European Languages
Author: Benjamin W. Dwight


Comparative Phonology; Or The Phonetic System Of The Indo-European Languages1

Benjamin W. Dwight

Phonology is, to modern apprehension generally, a new science. Several centuries, however, before Christ, Sanskrit scholars had thoroughly studied and classified its facts and principles; although, in every other language, it has remained, while possessing a potential presence in it, unappreciated as a science to this day. The ear of the Greek was, beyond that of any other people, vitally susceptible to its charms; but the Greek mind was, in this as in all other relations, too averse from the real God that made heaven

and earth, in its position, to contain to any large degree, in itself, any of the attributes or even instincts of true science; so that all its high philosophical architecture, in every field of- intellectual labor, was only of the speculative order of composition. But, recently, phonology, a science utterly forgotten among men, looking out, itself, like an all-seeing spirit, from within the folds of every language, but seen of no one while lurking there, has been detected and caught by scientific modern exploration, and led forth again, a willing captive, exultingly to view. By the comparison of words in different languages, on an extended scale one with the other, as well as by the careful study of the various graphic symbols of sound in the ancient tongues, the secret treasures of this long-lost science have been finally disclosed; and modern phonology is found, when reduced to its last analyses, to be exactly the same that Sanskrit grammarians, more than two thousand years ago, defined its elements to be, in their own primeval language.

Two lines of investigation are open to the student of words, in the department of etymology: the one concerning the anatomy of their individual constitution, and the other concerning their pathology, or the influence of time and circumstances upon them; or, which is the same thing, their genetic structure as living organisms, and their subsequent history and experience, as they have been borne from one climate or age to another. As, in the forms of matter, we find an inorganic element as the base, in combination with one organific and vital; so, in the forms of words, the stem, theme, or base is the material element, and pronouns, in the shape of suffixes, whether for verbs or nouns, constitute the formative or organific element of language. A similar distribution exists, to some extent, between consonants and vowels, as the individual components of a word. The consonants form its skeleton; and the vowels, the living fulness of its strength and beauty. They give language all its variety of hue, and all the play ...

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