Relations Of The Aryan And Semitic Languages -- By: James F. McCurdy

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 033:130 (Apr 1876)
Article: Relations Of The Aryan And Semitic Languages
Author: James F. McCurdy

Relations Of The Aryan And Semitic Languages

Rev. James F. McCurdy

In passing now from the more critical to the more constructive portion of our Essay, it will be well to throw some light on the nature of the task before us, by exhibiting the more obvious points of contrast between the two families of speech.1 Bringing- thus into view the distinguishing features of each idiom, we shall be the more able to propound the conditions of a just investigation, and to establish the true criteria of evidence as to their relations.

In every language, or group of languages, there are three elements, whose peculiarities determine its special character, and help in different degrees towards its classification. These are, its sounds, its structural principles, and the contents of its vocabulary. In the case before us the numerous points of dissimilarity seem at first sight radical and indicative of a diverse origin, while the points of agreement appear accidental and superficial.

As regards the first element, the sounds of the respective languages, great divergence is apparent among the dentals, in which the Semitic family has developed a strong tendency to multiply sibilant and lisping sounds, and a wider differ-

ence still among the gutturals, in which the same family exhibits an astonishing variety of phonetic expression.

On examining the roots and the general structure of the words, we are at once struck by the strange and unique principles that control the Semitic dialects. While in the Aryan family, roots may consist of only a single (vowel) sound, or of one or more consonants accompanying or grouped about a vowel, it is an almost invariable Semitic law, that the roots of nouns and verbs, so far as the analysis of living forms can testify, are based upon three consonantal sounds. As to Semitic words in actual speech, we see exemplified as universally the peculiar principle that the vowels are used to express subordinate, modified, or accessory notions, while the consonants, which form the framework of the word, embody its fundamental idea. Again, this family has only to a small extent the habit or capacity of compounding words, a circumstance which tended to multiply the number of its roots, while the Aryan languages, having developed that principle largely, were enabled to economize their original stock. Further, the more strictly grammatical features of the two idioms appear to be no less radically divergent. Renan characterizes the Semitic grammar as a sort of architectural and geometrical structure, as contrasted with the latitude and flexibility that mark the inflections and syntax of Aryan speech. In the S...

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