Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/690

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FROM the Bay of Bengal westward, through northern India, Afghanistan, Beloochistan, Persia, Armenia, Asia Minor, and on through Europe to its farthest bounds—and thence, in modern times, crossing the Atlantic and spreading over both Americas—one great linguistic family occupies a vaster space, peopled by a larger number of famous and powerful nations, than belong to any other ethnic kindred. But this pre-eminence of the Indo-European stock has not always existed. There was a period in the early history of the civilized world when the Hamito-Semitic family was more widely diffused than any other; and at a later time, when the Arabian empire stretched from India to Spain, this preponderance seemed to be restored. Even in our day the Chinese language and literature are probably spoken and read by a larger population than is claimed by any other race. But there can be no question that during the last two centuries the communities speaking languages of the first-named family, or at least some among them, have been the dominant nations of the globe.

In the brief term of less than a century which has elapsed since the connections and limits of this great family have been ascertained, various designations have been applied to it—Indo-European, Indo-Germanic, Indo-Celtic, Aryan. The latter name, being the least cumbrous, is gradually gaining acceptance, even among those who dissent from the inference which its use might seem to imply. The term "Aryan" properly belongs to the easternmost group of these languages, comprising the tongues of ancient Persia and northern India. But scholars like Penka, Poesche, Sayce, Taylor, and others, who contest the Asiatic origin of the Aryan race, are still willing to accept its Asiatic name.

When it was first discovered that most European nations spoke languages of the Aryan (or Indo-Persian) stock, the conclusion was at once drawn that these European Aryans must look for their ancestral home in the East. As no one doubted that all the nations of this stock had sprung from one source, it was natural to inquire in what place the primitive Aryan tribe had its original seat. It was natural also to adopt the view that this seat was to be found somewhere in that portion of central Asia to which the traditions embodied, however vaguely, in the earliest known compositions of Aryan origin, the Vedas and the Zend-Avesta, seemed to point. This region, which comprehends ancient Persia and Bactria, has, from the earliest times of which we have any knowl-