Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/360

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

posed by force or persuasion, have been transformed according to races while keeping identical names. The Spanish-American republics adopted the democratic Constitution of the United States; but with those races that form of organization, which had made the United States so great, was quickly transformed into a rule of bloody dictatorships and frightful anarchy. A people may, in an extreme case, forcibly impose its institutions on a different race, as England has done in Ireland, but decadence is the result to the subjected people.

So language, even though it be fixed by writing, is necessarily changed in passing from one people to another; and this is what renders absurd the idea of a universal language. It is true that the Gauls, notwithstanding the superiority of their numbers, adopted the Latin language within two centuries of the conquest; but they soon changed it to suit their wants and their special mental moods, and the French resulted at last—an idiom very different from the Spanish and Italian, though having a common origin with them. In India, with its numerous and various races, there are said to be two hundred and forty languages, some of them differing from others as much as French from Greek, and three hundred dialects. The most generally prevalent of them is modern, being only three hundred years old—Hindustani, formed by the combination of the Persian and Arabic of the Mussulman conquerors with the native Hindi. Conquerors and conquered quickly forgot their own language to take up a new one adapted to the conditions of a mixed people.

These brief illustrations, which could be extended indefinitely, show how deep are the transformations to which peoples subject the elements of a civilization which they borrow. The loan often seems considerable because the names change abruptly; but it is always, in its beginnings, really very small. In the course of centuries, by the slow labors of generations, the borrowed element, with the successive additions made to it, at last differs much from that for which it was substituted. History, which regards words most, takes hardly any account of these successive variations; and when it tells us, for instance, that a people adopted a new religion, we conceive at once, not the creed that was really adopted, but the religion as we know it now. A close study of these slow adaptations is necessary for the proper comprehension of their genesis and of the differences in the case between words and realities.

The history of civilization is thus composed of slow adaptations, of successive minute transformations. If they seem sudden and considerable to us, it is because, as in geology, we suppress the intermediate phases, and regard only the extremes.

However intelligent and well endowed we may suppose a peo-