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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/434

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

as to make complete reciprocal comprehension impossible. At this day the speech of the outlying districts differs to a greater or less extent from that of the capital. We may see, or rather we may hear, the same thing in France and Spain. Although Italy, until recently, had no political capital, Florence has for more than six centuries been the fountain-head of pure Italian, for the reason that the coryphæi of Italian literature were natives of the Florentine district. Much of the so-called Italian used by the uneducated bears hardly more resemblance to the literary type than another language. The same is true of Germany. What is regarded as the best German is spoken near the middle of the present empire, and to it foreigners usually try to conform. The Germans themselves are rather careless about the matter and are content to speak a tongue more or less marked by local words and by a distinctive pronunciation. The speech of Holstein, on the one hand, and that of South Germany and Switzerland, on the other, differs so widely that the natives of these regions who know only their mother dialect are unable to understand one another. I read somewhere that when Schiller first declaimed his early dramas before a middle German audience he was only half understood and that their merit was not appreciated until they were read aloud in a pronunciation unmarred by Swabian, the only kind of German he knew. Even so small a country as Denmark is not without its local peculiarities of speech. In the United States the diversities of speech are so slight as to occasion no inconvenience to a person passing from one end of the country to the other. The reason is that the Atlantic seaboard, roughly speaking, provided the norm for all the region extending westward to the Pacific. The Mississippi valley and the Far West are simply a linguistic extension of the East. The origin of dialects within a given language can only be accounted for hypothetically. They seem to be due to phonetic laws that operated on a larger scale in producing the wider divergencies of speech which are called languages. Limiting the statement to the Aryan stock, it is assumed by philologists that its eight branches are all descendants from one primitive tongue which was at first spoken by a comparatively small tribe. In the course of time the initial group scattered or was dispersed and each fragment became the nucleus of a new language. It needs but a superficial study of all the languages of Europe to make it evident that except the Finnish, the Magyar and the Turkish, together with a few smaller groups, they have many points of resemblance. When, however, we examine the structure of the three just named, we soon find a fundamental difference which is, however, common to the trio. The farther back we trace these eight languages, the closer becomes the resemblance. That the Irish branch of the Keltic differs more widely from the Russian than does the German is owing to the fact that the early settlers of Erin split off from the parent stock at a period prior to those of central and northern