Page:Language and the Study of Language.djvu/97

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of what is unnecessary. No language, indeed, in the mouths of a people not undergoing mental and moral impoverishment, gives up, upon the whole, any of its resources of expression, lets go aught of essential value for which it does not retain or provide an equivalent. But an item may be dropped here and there, which, upon reflection, seems a regrettable loss. And a language may, at least, become greatly altered by the excessive prevalence of the wearing-out processes, abandoning much which in other and kindred languages is retained and valued. It is the more necessary that we take notice of the disorganizing and destructive workings of this tendency, inasmuch as our English speech is, above all other cultivated tongues upon the face of the earth, the one in which they have brought about the most radical and sweeping changes.

It has already been remarked (p. 62) that, in the earliest traceable stage of growth of our language, the first person singular of its verbs was formed by an ending mi, of which the m in am is a relic, and the only one which we have left. In Latin, too, it remains in the present indicative of only two words, sum and inquam, and in Greek, in the comparatively small class of "verbs in mi," like tithēmi, didōmi. But the history of verbal conjugation can be better illustrated by considering the changes wrought upon another set of endings, those of the plural. At the same early period of its development, the tongue from which ours is descended had an elaborate series of terminations to denote the first, second, and third persons plural of its verbs. In the oldest form in which we can trace them—when, however, they had already acquired the character of true formative elements—they were masi, tasi, and nti. By origin, they were pronominal compounds, which had "grown on" to the end of the verbal root—that is to say, had first been habitually spoken in connection with the root, then attached to it, and finally integrated with it, in the manner already illustrated: they meant respectively, 'I and thou', i.e. 'we'; 'he and thou', i.e. 'ye'; and 'they'. Thus lagamasi, lagatasi, laganti, for instance, signified at first, in a manner patent to every speaker’s apprehension, 'lie-we', 'lie-ye', 'lie-they': it would