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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/274

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

he could not learn Russian, which he displayed in the ease with which he could come to an understanding with the men of different tribes who came on board the Rurik. His Bemerkungen und Ansichten contain full vocabularies of three Polynesian dialects, among them that of the Radak chain, and proofs of the Radak folk-poems, in which he found a solution of his own for the problem of phonetic transcription, which has been so much discussed since his time. He continued these studies at Luzon, where the Tagalic language (of the Malaysian group) had been reduced to writing, and collected a Tagalic library, which he held as one of his most valuable acquisitions. When his house at New Schöneberg was burned in 1822, after the lives of his family, this Tagalic library was the first thing he tried to save, and, to preserve it from future dangers of the kind, he presented it to the Royal Library. In unison with a conviction of the unity of the human race, he also in philology believed in a single origin for all languages, in striking contrast, as Max Müller has remarked to me in a letter, with his habit of emphasizing the specific in natural history.

A linguistic episode which Chamisso relates is, perhaps, even now of some current interest. The curious custom was in vogue in Tahiti of (on the accession of a new ruler and similar cases) extirpating words from the common (not the old liturgical) speech and replacing them with new ones. About the year 1800, Tameiameia, the King of the Sandwich Islands, likewise, on the birth of a son, invented an entirely new language, and began to introduce it. The newly formed words were not related to any roots in the current language, and even the particles were changed. It is said that some of the powerful chiefs, displeased with the movement, poisoned the child who was the occasion of it, and what had been undertaken on his birth was given up on his death. The old language was restored and the new one forgotten, so that Chamisso only found a few fragments of it. He learned just enough of the Hawaiian language to enable him to speak intelligibly with the natives concerning the most necessary matters, but made no attempt to commit it to writing. When he came to revise his Travels for a new edition, just before he was elected to the Academy, the Hawaiian language had become one of literature, and the murder of a prince was not needed to deliver it from an artificial rival. Publications enough had issued from the Hawaiian press to make a fundamental study of the language practicable. Wilhelm von Humboldt had begun, in the course of his great work on the Kawi language of Java, to cast light upon the Polynesian languages, when death called him away on the same day that Chamisso's election came up. The latter now thought he recognized a calling derived from his voyage and his